Color, 1973, 87 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by Andy Milligan
Starring Laura Cannon, Neil Flanagan, Harry Reems, Paul Matthews, Earle Edgerton, M.A. Whiteside, Dorin McGough, Richard Towers, Daniel Dietrich, Fred J. Lincoln
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Something Weird (DVD-R) (US R0 NTSC)

Made Fleshpot on 42nd Streetat the tail end of infamous exploitation Fleshpot on 42nd Streetauteur Andy Milligan's bumpy partnership with famed NYC sleaze peddler William Mishkin, Fleshpot on 42nd Street is considered by many (relatively speaking) to be one of the director's best films and a surprising change of pace from his preceding programmers like Bloodthirsty Butchers and Torture Dungeon (both of which get a shout out here). More of a throwback to Milligan's startling early short film Vapors, it's a grungy and surprisingly affecting look at Times Square just as the last wisps of the Love Generation had faded away. Sporting a cast comprised of East Coast adult film up and comers and members of Milligan's own stock company, it's been a bit of a mystery title for years with prints of varying lengths floating around and the advertising of two different versions indicating that it was originally shot in a hardcore variant. As it turns out, that latter assumption was more or less correct, though this is about as far from a porno chic title as you can get.

Pretty young Dusty (Forced Entry's Cannon, billed as "Diana Lewis") is shacking up with Queens sugar daddy Tony (Last House on the Left's Powers) and just wants to eat some steak once in a while, so of course he tells her to go get a job and keep the place cleaned up. That's the last straw so she stuffs some of his valuables in her pockets, swipes his radio and TV, and flies out the door while he's at work, then ends up swapping sexual favors at the pawn shop (with Carnival of Blood's Edgerton) to get forty bucks. Dusty decides to go back to her old habit of turning tricks and reconnects with pal Cherry Lane (Flanagan, a secret weapon in many Milligan films), a bitter, bitchy drag queen who's seen it all and forms a kind of hooker alliance. Dusty's first client, married Irish-Catholic guy Jimmy (Matthews), turns out to be "a little weird" and likes to smack her with a belt (to the strains of a Mission: Impossible knockoff). Jimmy sets her up for a $150 one-hour Fleshpot on 42nd Streetgig a week later with some buddies (including porn pro and fellow Last House alumnus Fred J. Lincoln), but in the interim Fleshpot on 42nd Streetan afternoon at a dive bar with Cherry has her crossing paths with Staten Island nice guy Bob (Deep Throat's Reems), who's just inherited his house from his dead mother. With her life at a crossroads, Dusty thinks she might have a shot at true happiness outside the city... but this is a Milligan film, which means nasty surprises could be lurking right around the corner.

Far better acted and more atmospheric than its grindhouse origins led viewers to believe, this film started amassing a bit of a cult following as soon as it hit home video years ago and served a proof that Milligan was far from the no-talent hack he'd been branded by those who suffered through awful, woefully inadequate prints of his more famous horror efforts. Though he may never be a mainstream draw on the repertory circuit, Milligan remains a fascinating figure whose increasingly available filmography in prime condition keeps revealing a far more interesting, entertaining voice than was he appeared to be back in the day. His acidic, queer approach to his subject matter is perhaps more relevant and enjoyable now than ever. Of course, this film is also a priceless snapshot of the titular street in its scuzzy heyday with great coverage of the denizens, delis, theater marquees (Blood and Lace, The Statue, and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth among them), and back alleys in their prime. However, the most valuable asset is the committed performances by Cannon and Flanagan, who etch fascinating and sympathetic characters with crackling chemistry. In fact, a 90-minute film of just them hanging out at that bar could have been just as worthwhile.

As mentioned above, this film has been seen in a variety of prints over the years with different scraps of footage missing including bits of dialogue Fleshpot on 42nd Streetand parts of sex scenes. Fleshpot on 42nd StreetThe version from Something Weird that hit VHS and then DVD-R was hard matted at 1.85:1, which was sort of workable but typically tight for a 16mm Milligan production and representative of the R-rated Girls of 42nd Street version that went into public circulation. Miraculously, the much longer original cut of the film finally surfaced on Blu-ray in 2019 from Vinegar Syndrome, a limited 2,500-unit slipcover edition sold directly through the label or through Diabolik (see above). The new 4K scan from the 16mm camera reversal is a major revelation in terms of picture quality, with the frequent dark scenes now registering clearly and revealing tons of fun little details in the costume choices (especially the memorable, catty Simmons Sisters). It's also the first time the film has been presented in its full aperture 1.33:1 version, which reveals a significant amount of additional image info and feels much closer to the compositions one normally associates with Milligan. (An opening disclaimer also indicates the hard matting on prints may have been to safely obscure much of the plentiful full frontal nudity, which would have wrecked that R rating.) A 1.85:1 matted version is also included for comparison, but it's doubtful too many viewers will make that their default option for repeating viewings. The DTS-HD MA English mono track is also vastly improved with the music in particular sounding a lot more punchy than before; optional English SDH subtitles are also included (and still can't help much with some of the unintelligible dialogue in that final scene). This edition also reinstates all the missing footage including two brief explicit interludes between Reems and Cannon, which feel like the Mishkin-mandated concessions they probably are but still make for a valuable restoration after the decades of mystique surrounding them. A new audio commentary with the power team of Samm Deighan, Heather Drain, and Kat Ellinger starts off with a humorous observation about the late Milligan's likely response to having three women chat about his film and then launches into a discussion of the film's themes, depictions of New York City and humanity (with nods to everything from Paul Morrissey to Lou Reed), and relationship to the director's real life including his stints with the influential Caffe Cino. A comparison featurette (4m1s) also shows side-by-side comparisons of the 42nd Street also shows how radically the area has changed since then, not necessarily for the better, with an overview of the Staten Island exteriors as well.


1.33:1 VERSION

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1.85:1 VERSION

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Reviewed on March 20, 2019.