[DVD REVIEW] ED WOOD’S THE UNDERGRADUATE (1971) & THE YOUNG MARRIEDS (1971)

Alpha Blue Archives has resurrected the final films of Ed Wood, and we’ve taken a look at their NECROMANIA disc previously. As pointed out in that review, Wood’s final years as a filmmaker were spent writing and directing adult films, some previously assumed to be lost. Alpha Blue has released these four films paired with extra films from the starlets who arguably make the biggest impression in each film, cramming over three hours of content onto each disc. The latest two are THE UNDERGRADUATE (written by Wood but directed by Ron Black) and THE YOUNG MARRIEDS (written and directed by Wood), along with films of Suzanne Fields and Alice Friedland (respectively).

THE UNDERGRADUATE opens with a weird montage of static title cards printed on seemingly random images: a guy on snow skis, an ancient tile mosaic, police arresting someone, etc. A voiceover informs us that we are about to learn all about sex in a frank discussion of the many facets of sexuality. What follows is a spectacularly boring “sex education” film in which a group of students take an essay test in a college Sex Ed class. After a brief introduction to the characters, we watch as they ponder their answers and then watch them acting out the sex acts they write about. Almost every sex scene is scored with bland library music and features the character droning on about what’s happening on-screen (usually some pretty boring sex). Only a scene featuring Suzanne Fields appears to have any “live” audio, with Fields giving her partner directions on how to best please her. Otherwise, get ready to thrill to footage of a model squirting spermicide into her vagina while her voiceover explains the pros and cons of different types of birth control.

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The professor gives the students 30 minutes to complete their test, which seem to pass entirely in real time. At around the 42 minute mark, he has them all pass in their tests and discusses the merits of PENTHOUSE and SCREW. He then shows the class a stag film about a threesome while talking about the current state of the stag film industry. When the stag reel ends, he gives the students a brief “drugs are bad” speech, opens the floor for questions, and dismisses the class early (nobody had any questions). Sorry for the spoilers, folks, but that’s literally everything that happens in the movie. It may come as no surprise that producer John Flanders (who is actually credited as producer and director in the opening credits) only produced one other film: THE POSTGRADUATE COURSE ON SEXUAL LOVE. It’s worth reprinting the IMDB plot description from that film in full here: “A professor in a sex-education class gives his students a lecture on sexual practices, which are then demonstrated on screen.”

Alpha Blue has transferred an old Beta copy of THE UNDERGRADUATE for this disc, and it looks like it was just directly transferred without any kind of cleanup or color work. The same goes for the other three Suzanne Fields films collected on this disc: WARD SEX (a 40-minute fragment of a feature film about horny nurses who sleep with all their male patients), THE YOUNG MODEL (in which a lothario photographer is hypnotized by one of his models while a cheap cover of “Age of Aquarius” plays on the soundtrack), and SEX SPA (the only other film on the disc with an opening title card; a young woman goes on a special sex regimen to lose weight while a genuinely hilarious Moog cover of “Life Goes On” by the Beatles plays) are all transferred from 16mm prints. Adult film fans who have been spoiled by Vinegar Syndrome’s treatment of their films might find the presentation here a little tough to take. These releases are certainly a case of quantity over quality for the most part (the disc also includes a trailer for WARD SEX, also clearly taken from a VHS or Beta tape, that shows a lot of footage not included in the 40 minutes of the film on the disc).

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The next release holds up somewhat better. THE YOUNG MARRIEDS was Wood’s final film as director, and is transferred onto this disc from the only known existing 16mm print. There’s no mistaking this as someone else’s work from the opening frames: footage of a rocky beach plays while an overheated voiceover explains how humanity came from the sea, and after a few minutes this abruptly cuts to footage of a stripper while off-screen goons hoot and yell encouragement (“Women should be forced to come here to see how it’s done!”). At some point during the confusing montage of different strippers in different clubs with the same two guys catcalling, the audience is introduced to “Ben,” the film’s male lead. He leaves the club, picks up a female hitchhiker, and they have sex in the woods.

The action then moves to Ben’s house, where he has an argument about sex with his wife Ginny (Alice Friedland). From here, the film follows Ben and Ginny as Ben tries to get her to “loosen up,” although he completely ignores his own hang-ups: he is “freaked out” by “queers and lesbians,” but claims to have no “normal” problems (his infidelity is completely ignored). First Ben convinces Ginny to let him take nude pictures of her, then she demands he be her slave, leading to one of the most unconvincing scenes of a person’s bare ass being slapped with a leather belt in cinematic history. Ben sort of moves the belt toward Ginny’s body, which it kind of grazes, to which Ginny reacts with ecstatic moans. This was obviously a very uncomfortable scene to shoot for everyone involved. After this, Ben convinces Ginny to go to an orgy at a friend’s house, and the film abruptly ends at the conclusion of the party.

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THE YOUNG MARRIEDS is a much more engaging film than THE UNDERGRADUATE, and like NECROMANIA at least has some of Ed Wood’s peculiar brand of weirdness going for it, especially in the dialogue. Two of the other three Alice Friedland films on this disc were transferred from 16mm prints: KISS MY ANALYST (a young woman tells her analyst the story of how she came to have an orgy with some friends) and ANALYZE YOUR SEX (a young woman and her analyst seduce each other with stories of sex) are extremely similar films that have almost identical running times (about 47 minutes). KISS MY ANALYST is the worst-looking of the three 16mm transfers, mostly because it looks like the print had gone almost entirely red. All three of the films look considerably better than the last film on the disc, THE ADVENTURES OF FLASH BEAVER, which looks like it was transferred from a VHS tape scavenged from a shipwreck.

Despite its atrocious audiovisual presentation, THE ADVENTURES OF FLASH BEAVER is worth noting for a few curious touches. At one point in the film, there is a “commercial break,” which expects the audience to buy that they are watching a movie on Channel 69, KLIT, Duluth, Minnesota! Near the end of the film, there is also a “Changing Reels” title card. The film is supposedly a comedy (that horrible wash of white noise that occasionally pops up on the soundtrack is actually a laugh track), but there are no other jokes anywhere near as weird as those two. Also, why would a film being broadcast on TV need a “Changing Reels” message? Such are the mysteries of low-rent 70s porno.

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It’s great to have these films available, but after seeing what Vinegar Syndrome does with their adult film releases, it’s hard not to wish a little more care had been taken into cleaning up the picture of these films. Still, between their being lost or having them at all, there’s no contest. And it’s hard to fault Alpha Blue for cramming so much extra content onto these discs. Fans of Wood can safely bypass THE UNDERGRADUATE unless they’re rabid completists or also happen to be huge fans of Suzanne Fields; THE YOUNG MARRIEDS stands a little better on its own, and THE ADVENTURES OF FLASH BEAVER is the best extra feature on either of the discs (even if it is hard to watch).

-Jason Coffman

Jason Coffman

Jason Coffman

Unrepentant cinephile. Contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly. Member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. Co-director, Chicago Cinema Society. Attempted filmmaker. Proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's GURU, THE MAD MONK and Zalman King's TWO MOON JUNCTION.
Jason Coffman
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