Leslie Uggams was one of those “triple threat” artists that were so prevalent in the ’60s and ’70s, a time when just a modicum of talent — and many of them had just that — warranted your own variety show. Who would guess, though, that amongst her generally classy roles on TV, in the movies, and on stage, there would be a hunk of sleaze like Poor Pretty Eddie? This alternately hilarious and repugnant film drags in just about every type of exploitation there is: sexploitation, blaxploitation, hicksploitation, rape-and-revengesploitation, even a little bit of dogsploitation for good measure.
Uggams stars as Liz Wetherly, a famous singer looking for a little rest and relaxation before the start of her next tour. She seems to realize that she’s in a ’70s exploitation film, though, because she decides to drive through the rural Deep South, where her car — you guessed it — breaks down. She manages to make it to a seedy little lodge/restaurant run by Bertha (Shelley Winters), her boy toy Eddie (Michael Christian), and man-mountain Keno (Ted Cassidy).
Eddie immediately recognizes Liz and is drawn to her as the embodiment of his personal goals (he’s a wannabe singer with a taste for Elvis jumpsuits) and sexual desires. Although Liz wants nothing to do with him, Bertha is jealous of the “juicy pickaninny” and demands that Eddie fix the car as soon as possible so that she can kick rocks. Eddie, however, takes his sweet time, and she’s forced to stay the night. The great Slim Pickens shows up as town sheriff Orville and plants even more of a seed in Eddie’s delusional mind, claiming that “That ol’ high yellow, she couldn’t hardly take her eyes offa you…It sure would be a shame to let that lil’ thing go to bed all by herself.”
As such, Eddie creeps into Liz’s room and tries to seduce her, but her response — “maybe that honky brain of yours is too thick to understand” — plus a knee to the groin, makes it pretty clear what Eddie’s only option is: good ol’-fashioned rape! Yes, it’s the favorite pastime of ’70s sleaze filmmakers everywhere…Except this time, it’s set to an AM Gold soft rock tune and interspersed with clips of DOGS HUMPING.
The next morning, a remarkably composed Liz tells Bertha what happened, but Bertha proclaims that if Liz goes to the police, she’ll testify that Liz is lying. She suggests that Liz just let it go and asks an old man who’s eating at the restaurant to drive Liz to Atlanta. What Bertha doesn’t realize, though, is that Liz apparently has “RAPE ME” tattooed on her forehead, because the old man doesn’t get five miles down the road before he pulls the car into a secluded spot by the river and makes her go down on him.
Lucky for her, Eddie comes to the rescue! He saves her from the horny ol’ dude and rewards her bravery with…another rape.
The supposedly simple-minded Keno, meanwhile, is the only one with any sense — including Liz, who, after talking a big game, ends up surprisingly submissive. After Eddie drags Liz back to the lodge, Keno slips her the keys to Eddie’s truck so that she can escape. She ends up going to the cops and telling them that Eddie raped her, thus beginning an outrageous scene in which Orville unleashes such gems as:
- “Real rape?!”
- “I can’t say as I blame him!”
- “Did he bite ya on the titties?”
- “Would you like to suck on a tomato?”
In typical backwater fashion, Orville takes Liz to confront Eddie at the local club, and since the justice of the peace (Dub Taylor) is also the owner of the establishment (not to mention a regular on Hee Haw), they hold a “trial” right there and then. Eddie denies raping Liz, so Orville and the judge demand that she prove his guilt by showing “a suck mark or two” on her breasts. The judge rips her shirt off, at which point Eddie again comes to her rescue and takes her home…only to rape her AGAIN.
The next day, the now completely delusional Eddie arranges for he and Liz to get married, but the wedding ends in a bloodbath. I’ll let you guess who lives and who dies, but suffice it to say that this could be the lamest “black vengeance” ever recorded. Liz is a useless sack of crap who basically has to be rescued. The whole “fun” (if that’s the right word) of rape-and-revenge flicks is that the rapist suffers a gruesome fate, but everyone involved gets off easy, if you ask me.
All in all, though, Poor Pretty Eddie is something to behold. In the cringe-worthy tradition of Fight for Your Life, with a dose of drug-fueled surrealism, it’s like Deliverance meets Twin Peaks meets Mandingo meets…Leslie Uggams.
I just watched this recently on Amazon Prime. It’s not my type of film at all, but all the odd touches (yes, including the dogs humping) made it an interesting experience, and I’m glad I watched it.
Spoilers, I guess:
In defense of the ending; I was also upset at first with how submissive Liz becomes, but I think the film deserves points for showing how traumatizing something like this would be. It doesn’t let the audience off the hook with a cathartic revenge at the end. The fact that the only thing Liz shoots is her reflection is a maybe too-on-the-nose tipoff that the one she’s truly disgusted with is herself.