CANNON MONTH 2: The Working Girls (1974)

Stephanie Rothman studied film at USC, was the first woman to be awarded the Directors Guild of America fellowship and wanted to make “highly thoughtful, European-like small films” that were inspired by Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. After her first movie for Roger Corman, who hired her as his assistant, she got to make her first movie, It’s a Bikini World.

It wasn’t really what she wanted to make.

“I had very ambivalent feelings about continuing to be a director if that was all I was going to be able to do. So I literally went into a kind of retirement for several years until more than anything in the world, I wanted to make films,” Rothman said to Film Comment.

She return to making movies on Corman’s Gas-s-s-s and then directed The Student Nurses for Corman’s New World Picture. That’s when she kind of figured it out, telling Interview about how she came to some level of peace — or at least understanding — with making an exploitation movie: “”I had never heard that term before. Roger never used it. So that’s how I learned that I had made an exploitation film. Then I went and did some research to find out exactly what exploitation films were, their history and so forth, and then I knew that’s what I was doing, because I was making low-budget films that were transgressive in that they showed more extreme things than what would be shown in a studio film, and whose success depended on their advertising, because they had no stars in them. It was dismaying to me, but at the same time I decided to make the best exploitation films I could. If that was going to be my lot, then that’s what I was going to try and do with it.”

The Working Girls was one of three movies — along with Terminal Island and Group Marriage — that Rothman would make for Dimension Pictures. While she never got to make the movie she wanted in her career, she did infuse her films with female desire which broke from what was on most drive-in and grindhouse screens at the time.

It’s about Honey (Sarah Kennedy, who was also in The Telephone Book), Denise (Laurie Rose) and Jill (Lynne Guthrie), three young women who have to escape the traps that men put them into — and women, what with a rich woman trying to pay off Honey to kill her husband — and emerging smarter and better off through their own intelligence. The men are almost universally users and get their comeuppance, which is so different than anything else on the screen at the time.

I could tell you all that or I could also let you know that Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson is nude in this movie, which may destroy all of the good will this has built. That said, perhaps sometimes guys needed a spoonful of sugar to take all this medicine.

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