Saturday, January 10, 2009

Squeeze Play (1977)

Directed by Sam Weil (Lloyd Kaufman)
Starring Jim Harris, Jennifer Hetrick, Rick Gitlin, Helen Campitelli
Rated R
Shop for this poster!

You could present a good argument that this is Troma's first "Tromatic" film. Directed by Lloyd Kaufman under an assumed name and written by his brother Charles, it looks very much like an embryonic, stripped-down version of their mid 80's mega-hits (Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke 'Em High, etc). Certainly the smash n' grab, cut n' run camera style is already in place, as is Troma's knack for dredging up every rubber-faced lowlife in the five boroughs and half of Jersey to mug and moon for their cameras. What is lacking is the sheer lunacy of their later work, the gutbucket gore and willful outrage. In fact, Squeeze Play's first half looks more like a test run for the cameras than any sort of finished product, as we wander aimlessly through the quietly kooky lives of a few part-time softball players/full time assholes and their hairdresser girlfriends from Springtown, New Jersey, where the winning softball team gets carte blanche to manhandle the women and generally act like half-retarded apes.

This year (this year being 1976, a year when tight denim flares were apparently very in among softball-playing yobbos), the big ballers in Springtown are (naturally) the Beavers, a gang of grabby, sexist louts led by curly-haired greasball Wes (Jim Harris). The Beavers are thrown the curveball of their collective lives when lightning-armed southern bell Mary Lou (Melissa Bell) decides she wants to join this boy's club. She pitches a near-perfect game (in a sundress and barefoot, no less) but the men treat her so miserably - pulling up her dress and taunting her until she cries - that she storms off the field in defeat.

Of course you realize, this means war. The various Beaver girlfriends form their own team. Pop (the singularly named Zachary, who may not have been too far removed from his character), a local vagrant seen swilling dollar wine at all the games, convinces the girls he can whip them in to shape. Apparently he'd been a ball player of some renown before the sauce got a hold of him. And so, the training montage happens, to the strains of a cloying, piano-driven mid-70's mush-rock track from Don Yowell about "Seeing through the stained-glass window of your mind." The girls call themselves (what else?) The Beaverettes, and schedule a game against their boyfriend-bullies. But first, they have a wet t-shirt contest. Feminism was wild stuff in the disco era, Jack.

The t-shirt contest ends up dramatically affecting most of the lead characters. A huffy Wes breaks up with his girlfriend Samantha (Jennifer Hetrick), after he sees her getting mauled by a fat bastard named Bozo (Michael Moran). Mary Lou is accosted by a Bogart-impersonating gumshoe named Koch (Tony Hoty), sent by her father to insure her virginity stay intact. After a scuffle, she breaks free and elopes with Buddy (Al Corley), who summarily attends to her virginity problem. Disco-suited Fred (Rick Gitlin), being a shy, retiring type, has so far kept his feelings for melon-chested cutie Jamie (Helen Campitelli) to himself, but that fuckin' contest pushed him over the edge, and so he ends up in a car with the now gloriously shirtless beauty. As dawn breaks, he screams to the heavens: "I'm swimming in it, a real woman!"
And indeed he was.

But ultimately, all the bed hopping and daddy-thwarting must end so the Beaverettes can attend to the real business of the hour: beating the boys in a rousing game of softball. I know, that doesn't sound like the most exciting proposition to me, either. By the way, I am assuming that the cast got their fill of yogurty goodness during filming because if you look closely, empty cups of Dannon yogurt are littered on tables in every other scene. An odd choice for product placement, but you take what you can get in Tromaville.

Game highlights? I dunno man, take your pick. Is it when one girl catches a flyball with her purse? Is it the scoreboard kid reading porn, eating pizza, and peeing when no one's looking? Is it whenever one of the girls takes off their shirt to distract the boys? Or is it when the guy catches a ball with his ass?

Most people seem to go with the ass gag. There's a string on the ball. It's very Ed Wood.
"They're gonna have to call for a clean ball," wisecracks the announcer. "She really cracked that one."

Squeeze Play is played much straighter than you'd expect from a Troma film, so straight it barely passes for comedy half the time. Perhaps it's just because I am not a sports fan, but I thought the half-hour long, inning-by-inning coverage of the climactic game pretty tedious, even with the odd flash of boob. Still, despite it's glacial pace and dearth of laffs, Squeeze Play was Troma's first big success, and most surely got the momentum rolling for all the nuttiness that followed. If you're at all interested in Troma's early, pre-Toxie daze...well, I'd still go with Waitress! (1982) or Stuck on You (1983), I suppose. Listen, it's better than a punch in the face, and at least you get an eyeful of Helen Campitelli's oversized sweater puffs. So whatever. Let's not dwell on it.

Availability: Squeeze Play is available on DVD from Troma.
Buy Squeeze Play! on Amazon.
-Ken McIntyre

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