Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Naked Road (1959)

The Naked Road, made in 1959, is featured in Something Weird Video’s Weird Noir boxed set. It’s a very low budget production and it really is weird. Weird in a bad movie way but weird in an interesting and entertaining way as well.

The movie opens with sleazy advertising man Bob Walker (Paul Judson) and model Gay Andrews (Jeanne Rainer) necking in his Cadillac. Bob then makes what seems to him to be the perfectly reasonable suggestion that they should head for a motel where they’ll be more comfortable. Gay is outraged. She’s not that sort of girl. Bob is annoyed. After all, he did get Gay some modelling jobs and he just expects some gratitude. If she’s going to make a federal case out of it he might as well go home to his wife. The mention of his wife upsets Gay even more. She had no idea she was necking with a married man!

Bob, really annoyed, agrees to drive her home but gets pulled over for speeding. Unfortunately they’re in a rural area, the kind of place in which the local authorities prey on unwary city slickers. Bob gets dragged before a Justice of the Peace and hit with a hundred-dollar fine, he doesn’t have the cash on him, but he says he can get the money that night. While he’s off getting the money Gay will be held in custody. 

It looks like poor Gay will be spending the night in custody but then she gets a break A very nice man, a Mr Wayne Jackson (Ronald Long), agrees to pay the fine. He offers to drive her home. He even stops off on the way so she can have a cup of coffee. But Gay doesn’t know that he’s drugged the coffee.

Gay wakes up in Jackson’s apartment, rather confused, with a sore head and (curiously) a sore left arm. Jackson offers her a job, doing public relations. Gay doesn’t know anything about public relations but he tells her it’s easy - all she has to do is go out with a client, have dinner and take in a show, and then show him a good time afterwards. Now the truth begins to dawn on Gay - she’s fallen into the hands of a while slavery racket!

Of course Gay is a good girl and refuses to go along. It is explained to her that if she doesn’t co-operate they’ll give her the Full Treatment - they’ll get her hooked on drugs. So we get the drug racket and white slavery in this movie.

Meanwhile Jackson is having problems with one of his other girls and she may have to be disposed of. That will be a job for Mark (Art Koullias), Jackson’s secretary and henchman.

The acting is pretty bad, but it’s bad in a good way. Ronald Long plays Mr Jackson like a melodrama villain. Jeanne Rainer is very pretty and her performance is so amateurish that it’s deliciously entertaining.

The budget was clearly absolutely rock bottom. The movie looks like it was shot in somebody’s house, which it probably was, with the office of the Justice of the Peace looking like someone’s living room with a picture of George Washington on the wall to make it seem vaguely official.

Producer-director-writer William Martin had a very brief career and it’s easy to see why. He knows nothing of the mysteries of pacing or creating dramatic tension. He just gets his cast together and starts filming. 

This is really more of an exploitation movie than a crime movie or a film noir. It has the same wonderful vibe as 50s exploitation classics such as Girl Gang, The Violent Years or Ed Wood’s Jail Bait. You just can’t stop watching because you have no idea what they’ll come up with next.

While the subject matter is sensational it’s treated in a rather coy manner. There’s no nudity, no bad language and practically no violence, apart from one scene which, like everything else in the movie, is handled oddly. It relies on the idea of the terrible things that are going to happen to Gay but we never see any of them.

The climax does give us some action and a chase scene, oddly staged of course.

Something Weird’s Weird Noir boxed set (which is rather cool and great value-for-money)  also includes such gems as the psychiatry noir Fear No More, the odd women’s noir/psycho thriller Stark Fear and the truly bizarre carny noir Girl on the Run.

Something Weird’s Mike Vraney had an amazing knack for finding good prints (or even the negatives) of incredibly obscure movies. The Naked Road actually looks pretty good. Given the ultra low budget, it probably didn’t look much better when it was originally released. It’s not like William Martin was the kind of guy to spend time getting the lighting just right when shooting a scene. He was happy if the camera was in focus. 

Judged by any kind of conventional standards The Naked Road is a terrible movie but it’s fascinating in the way that only 1950s low-budget American movies can be when they’re trying desperately to be shocking and sensationalistic. For all its faults I must confess I enjoyed it. Recommended, if you have a taste for amusingly bad Z-grade movies.

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