Can we just agree, right up front, Edward D. Wood Jr. was not even close to the worst filmmaker of all time? Did he operate on miniscule budgets? Yes, he did. Did he overreach his means in an attempt to make movies with huge ideas? Absolutely. Was he idiosyncratic as hell, following his own odd muse down rabbit holes that took what should have been straightforward genre films into very strange directions? Guilty as charged. But to call him the worst filmmaker of all time is ridiculous. Honestly, to claim the man was inept is actually pushing it a little. He knew what he was doing with each of his films. He understood that he did not have the money to accomplish what he was trying to do. He just hoped the audience would embrace a serious suspension of disbelief, overlook terrible special effects and performances, and get on board with his borderline existential screenplays. Needless to say, they very rarely did. If you have already made up your mind to the positive or negative about Ed Wood, TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE will probably do very little to change the way you think about his work.
The Riley’s, a wealthy suburban couple, hire private detective Mac McGregor (Michael Donovan O’Donnell) to find their missing twenty-year-old daughter Shirley (Donna Stanley). McGregor immediately takes the case and starts charging trips all over the world to the expense account provided by the couple. On these trips, he peeps on naked women before he finally returns to Los Angeles to get down to the business of finding Shirley. And that’s all there is to the plot of the film—if you can call it that.
TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE was made more than a decade after what could be considered the golden era of Ed Wood films like GLEN OR GLENDA, BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Unlike those early films, there was no grand meaning in TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE that Wood wanted to impart. It was simply a sexploitation comedy that existed to showcase as many lovely young women in as little clothing as possible for seventy minutes. To Wood’s credit, he could have phoned in a by-the-numbers nudie cutie, but instead he tries to satirize the genre to varying degrees of success.
There is a fun sense of humor to the film that Wood injects into McGregor’s travels. Of course no one believes that the actors are in the far-flung locations of the “lavish” trips that McGregor takes on the Riley family dime. Wood has fun with that fact by filming the “trips” via travel agency posters claiming that the action has moved to Italy or India, followed by a quick skit that is stereotypical to the supposed locations.
The same sense of humor applies to the connective tissue of McGregor’s investigation. Wood vamps it up in a cameo (in drag, of course) as Alecia, just one of the potential counter-culture folks who would possibly know where a young woman such as Shirley might have gone. McGregor is forced to swallow his homophobia and play nice with a gay couple who have information and who rub his nose in their sexuality not through shock value, but with an honestly loving relationship. And of course, there is the obvious joke that Shirley is revealed to the audience to be happily and openly working as a high-end prostitute from practically the opening scene, underlining just how low-rent McGregor’s detective skills actually are.
I first saw TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE last year at Fantastic Fest where it had only its second public screening aside from supposedly “premiering” at a Los Angeles strip club in 1970. At the time of that viewing, I was several days into the festival, exhausted, and not in the best frame of mind. The film failed to grab me as anything more than a standard nudie cutie that very occasionally leaned into softcore porn in a couple of scenes. But watching it again on this new Blu-ray from AGFA and Something Weird, I was charmed by its tongue-in-cheek tone and how oddly progressive the film was in its treatment of LGBTQ characters and how overall sex positive it is. Yes, it is very rough around the edges and never fully gets away from its main purpose of showing as many pretty naked women as possible, but Wood’s affection for under-represented and misunderstood subcultures shines through, elevating it just enough that it stands as an admittedly heightened, but fascinating time capsule of a late ’60s/early ’70s Los Angeles not often caught on film.
The commentary track by Wood biographer Rudolph Grey, legendary cult filmmaker/genre film preservationist Frank Henenlotter, and Joseph A. Ziemba of AGFA is terrific. Full of anecdotes about Wood’s career and an appreciation of what he tried to do on miniscule budgets, the three speakers never ignore the sadder aspects of Wood’s life and career, but they also never condescend—which is a nice change of pace when it comes to most discussions of his career.
In addition to nearly seventy minutes of previously released outtakes from TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE, the bonus feature of 1969’s THE LOVE FEAST is included. A fairly straightforward sexploitation comedy starring Wood as a photographer of nude models who finds himself in the middle of an orgy that he is too exhausted to take part in, it is of historical interest to most Wood scholars, but he appears to be so worn down by the ugly symptoms of his well-known alcoholism that it is hard to watch at times.
Of course the main draw of this Blu-ray is the pristine 2K scan of the only known 16mm print of TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE that is known to exist. It is astonishing how good the film looks. The colors pop and there is no visible damage to the film. The sound is surprisingly good, highlighting a swinging, jazzy score that is honestly a blast to listen to. It is hard to believe that nearly fifty years later a sexploitation flick that was quickly tossed off to make a quick profit would be given such a loving home video presentation, but the affection for Wood is such that it makes this release possible. Thankfully, the film—full of the director’s signature obsessions and quirky comedy—proves itself to be worth saving.
TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE is available today on Blu-ray from AGFA and Something Weird.
–Matt Wedge (@MovieNerdMatt)