Shitty Movie Sundays: Blue Money (1972)

Self-described cult cinema preservation and releasing company Vinegar Syndrome, on their sales page for Blue Money, describes the film as “a powerful, Cassavetes-esque examination of LA’s burgeoning hardcore [i.e., pornography] film scene.” I don’t agree with the ‘powerful’ part, which is one reason this flick makes the Shitty Movie Sundays cut, but describing the film as Cassavetes-esque is great shorthand. The way this film was written, shot, paced, and acted, is very much akin to one of the films of John Cassavetes, in particular Opening Night, with its look behind the scenes of a theater production.

Sprung from the mind of Alain Patrick, who directed, produced, and had a story credit (Nick Boretz penned the screenplay), Blue Money follows Patrick as Jim Dasal, a French-Canadian transplant to Venice Beach who has gotten himself into a financial pickle. He dreams of sailing the high seas with his wife, Lisa (Barbara Mills), and infant son. To that end, he bought a big boat. As if that weren’t enough of a money pit, the boat needs extensive restoration.

A would-be filmmaker, Jim partners with sleazy pornographer Mike (Jeff Gall) to shoot and sell hardcore porn at a time when it was still illegal to do so. From the very first the Los Angeles vice squad is on to the pair. As vice closes in, stress at home continues to plague Jim, to the point he begins to take out his frustrations on Lisa. For the most part, she’s okay with what Jim has decided to do for money, and her trust in him is rewarded by Jim screwing one of his actresses, Ingrid (Inga Maria). Jim’s life is now descending in a slight spiral. I use the word ‘slight’ because the stakes are not all that high when compared to more effective melodramas.

By the final act, Lisa has left, taking their son with her; Mike has bailed on their business partnership; porn theater owners are getting busted and shorting Jim on film purchases; there’s an eviction notice waiting at his apartment; and he can’t use the studio to shoot more smut, as the police are closing in. But, at least the boat is getting near seaworthy.

Despite the low production quality of this film, and acting that was appropriate in tone, but lacking in skill, the story is an interesting one. It shows one of the many ways that someone with Hollywood dreams could end up in the porn industry, and how it could affect loved ones. Porn has always walked side by side with the Hollywood film industry, and this movie was made during the period when they also walked hand in hand. Indeed, the female lead, Barbara Mills, has mostly adult films in her filmography, and Jim’s actors and actresses in this movie were mostly real life adult performers.

Also, when this film had its initial release, there were softcore porn scenes included. A few years later Crown International Pictures released an R-rated cut with these sequences trimmed. I think it improved the film. It’s difficult to call an extended sex scene in a movie about the porn industry gratuitous, but this movie works best as a character drama, and not a film for sexual titillation.

Jim is a buffoon. We’re with him for just about every scene in the film, and part of the joy, and frustration, is watching him wreck his life with every decision he makes. Again, though, the stakes never feel all that high. This was a movie that called, believe it or not, for more depravity, more desperate decision making.

The aim may have been to craft a powerful commentary of the times, but that ambition ran up against a wall of budget and talent. Still, this film is just good enough to get the wheels turning, always a good sign for a movie. Of final note is the cinematography of R. Michael Stringer. Cinematography is not normally a strong feature of films listed in the Watchability Index, but there are sequences of Blue Money that are striking, particularly when Jim and his crew are shooting at their studio. It’s these scenes, more than any other, that evoke that Cassavetes-esque feeling Vinegar Syndrome chose to push. Blue Money settles into the Index at #251, displacing Cyborg X. Its watchability is hurt by some deathly slow spots, but a surprisingly engaging story keeps it just out of the bottom half of the Index.

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