When Doris Wishman Titled Her Film Deadly Weapons She Meant it Literally!
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When Doris Wiseman Titled Her FilmDeadly Weapons She Meant it Literally!
Liliana Wilczkowska was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1937. Her family was Jewish and both her parents were murdered by the…
Liliana Wilczkowska was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1937. Her family was Jewish and both her parents were murdered by the nazis when Hitler invaded. Wilczkowska grew up on a kibbutz in Israel and finally made her way to America where she became a stripper. Later a film director would credit her as Chesty Morgan and the name stuck. The glands that inspired her monicker were not the result of surgical enhancement, they were entirely natural, earning her a place in the 1988 Guinness Book of World Records.
Wilczkowska was married twice. Her first husband was killed in a robbery, the second was killed in a car accident. She had two daughters one of whom was also killed in a traffic accident. When one first sees Chesty Morgan one is tempted to start cracking jokes, but there is of course much more to her than her figure.
Ms. Morgan is the star of Doris Wishman’s film Deadly Weapons. Her co-star Harry Reems has his own colorful history. Harry was born Herbert John Streicher and grew up in a Jewish family in Westchester. He was rocketed to stardom when he was plucked from the crew and substituted last minute for the role of Dr. Young in Deep Throat. The movie was an outrageous success but he was soon arrested by the FBI on obscenity charges for his participation in it. The one and only Alan Dershowitz defended him and got him released on appeal. Reems went on to star in countless porn movies but eventually, drugs and drink did him in. He ended up a homeless junkie for several years, but in a somewhat predictable turn of events, he became a religious nut converting to different forms of Christianity and renouncing his past. He spent the rest of his life perusing spiritual enlightenment while holding down a job as a successful real estate agent.
And then there’s Doris, Doris the director. Doris Wishman was a jew too and also had her fair share of tragedy in her life. Her mom died when she was young, and her husband died only five months after their wedding. Wiseman credits his death as the pivotal moment in her life when she decided to go into film.
By the time she died in 2002 she had made more movies than any other female director in the sound era, a dubious title for sure but still an accomplishment. Having watched several interviews with her she, like her movies, is pretty difficult to endure. She has the nasty demeanor of an insufferable relative who criticizes everything and everyone while slowly getting so drunk on your booze that she breaks your favorite lamp and leaves a weird smell on your couch when she leaves.
All of Her movies are bad but for different reasons. The quality of the production varies quite a bit. A Night to Dismember and Indecent Desires look like they were made on a budget of pocket change or possibly a crumpled IOU. Deadly Weapons is more polished, a little more polished, and there is some effort made at creative editing and character development. There is a fight scene in a stairwell that incorporates a Dutch tilt, handheld footage, a close-up montage, and dramatic shadows. It’s terribly made but it’s a lot more effort than what goes in her other films.
The dialogue is in all of them is atrocious and Deadly Weapons is no exception. Why do some writers think that people use the word “must” all the time? Chesty paces anxiously in her seedy hotel room “I must find him” she thinks to herself in an internal reverbed voice. Then there is a brief pause followed by a second repletion of “I must find him!” but with more feeling, or at least with more volume.
As is typical with Wishman and with many very low-budget films there is no sound. Narration and dialogue are dubbed in with random music. Deadly Weapons is made this way except the music is great. There is a certain 1960’s electric guitar sound that consists of a lot of fuzz, a lot of treble, and a sort of acid nasal grime that produces a sound very like an angry cat. Wishman uses it liberally in Deadly Weapons to punctuate action and striptease scenes. There is also some interesting orchestration using small combinations like a pair of bongos and a bassoon, or a snare drum and an electric bass. I could definitely see buying the soundtrack.
Ms. Morgan’s striptease scenes are pretty strange, but again Wishman puts some effort into their creation. We get a sleazy montage of the audience, the band, and the lights coupled with distorted images of Chesty swaying in a bent mirror. This is particularly unsettling considering that Chesty’s proportions are already odd. I want to be careful not to mock a woman or anyone for the shape and size of their body. She was born with an atypical body shape and should not be ridiculed for that, but it is also not as simple as that. In Western culture, breasts are not seen as just another body part. They are an eroticized, politicized, objectified battleground for issues of gender.
Chesty Morgan’s name is indicative of how she and those around her define her. In Andrea Dworkin’s book Woman Hating, Dworkin points out that the difference between the sexes is not sufficient for Western culture. Our culture wishes to emphasize and maximize the difference between men and women in order to create and justify treating the two differently. Maximizing the difference between men and women maximizes the meaning of the two labels. If men and women are very similar then labeling yourself female or male doesn’t mean much, but if the two labels are polar opposites then male and female become powerfully descriptive categories.
In this way, Chesty Morgan’s large breasts can be seen as a vehement affirmation of her femininity. The bigger a woman’s breast the more female she becomes. The more female she becomes the more she reinforces the differences between the genders and her status as different, or other.
The premise and plot of Deadly Weapons has its own strange way of engaging in this battle. Ms. Morgan plays Crystal a woman married to a crook named Larry. He gets killed by the mob and Crystal goes on an odyssey to find the killers and exact her revenge. She murders her targets by seducing them with her oversized charms and then uses those very same charms to smother her victims to death. Thus the title of the film. Like an ancient Greek siren, Crystal can use her “beauty” to lure men to their death but she does not need jagged rocks to kill her prey she destroys them with an ironic twist on male desires.
Looking at Ms. Morgan brings to mind early fertility idols like the ones pictured below. If you are going to pray to a goddess of fertility it only makes sense that her reproductive anatomy would be exaggerated. Her power comes from being an outsized example of not only the female form but the motherly form.
Knowing the little that I know about Wishman I seriously doubt she had anything symbolic or mythological in mind when she made Deadly Weapons or her second film with Chesty Morgan titled Double Agent 73 (73 inches being the measurement of her breasts.) Doris Wiseman was trying to make a quick buck by giving audiences what she figured they wanted.
In the last murder scene, we see Harry Reems sitting on the bed all woozy with drugs, and as Chesty reveals her weapons. Sinister thumping music marks her approach. It’s an interesting dissonance between what is meant to be arousing and what is meant to be menacing. It’s not every day that a film, especially a sexploitation film, tries to make boobs scary.
Wishman’s camera has a more relentlessly male gaze than any male director ever did. The camera stays trained on Chesty’s chest even while other dramas are unfolding. The close-ups are so gratuitous it feels almost random or that her breasts are their own character who require reactions shots and screen time. It’s unsettling.
Even more unsettling are the noises Chesty emits while suffocating her victims. Ms. Morgan is not much of an actress, in fact, she keeps a sort of bored expression on her face throughout the film, but when she has a man writhing betwixt her bosoms she groans and gasps in ways that are difficult to categorize. She may be grunting because she is working hard to smother her victim or her vocalizations may be orgasmic sounds of sadistic pleasure. It’s very unclear.
Before she died in August 2002 Wishman went on The Conan O’Brian Show in March and was interviewed by Conan and Roger Ebert. Ebert asked her,
“I have seen both Chesty Morgan pictures and I gotta tell ya there’s only one reason anyone would want to see a Chesty Morgan picture and that is to see Chesty Morgan nude, and we get all these shots of Chesty with clothes on, and I just wanted to quiz you about that a little bit.”
Doris quickly retorted, “Well I’m sorry you’re frustrated.” The audience laughs and then Wishman places her hand on Ebert’s and asks, “Is there anything I can do?”
I find it strange that Ebert would ask this, not just because it’s obnoxious but we see quite a lot of Ms. Morgan nude. Maybe there is less in Double agent 73.
Deadly Weapons surprised me. It had just enough substance to spark a string of meaningful metaphors even if most of those metaphors were not intentional. You can show big boobs in a simple effort to make money but just because your motivations are simple does not mean that your actions and their consequences are. You can only make money off of boobs because of a larger context having to do social and political issues. In the end that is a major contributor to why I watch these films. It is interesting to interpret art that contains unintentional meaning.
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