Herschell Gordon Lewis: Alley Tramp (1966)

Herschell Gordon Lewis: Alley Tramp (1966)

There’s exploitation and then there’s sexploitation. It’s certainly just another way to easily pigeonhole a film into some semi-specific genre, so it helps even as it sounds a bit daft. And in a rare instance of refraining from using washes of blood for no good reason, director extraordinaire, Herschell Gordon Lewis angles towards tits and ass. Alley Tramp has nothing to do with classy broads, well shot footage or a plot that’s anything other than shallow, but it’s an artifact. And a semi-entertaining one.

In any discussion of what is or could be art, there’re opinions that’ll fly loose about what’s good or bad. But regardless of the answer, bad art is still art. A painting doesn’t stop being a painting if it’s hideous. And that’s the case with Alley Tramp. There are countless scenes ended with an off center kitchen table after the characters exit to the right, so no, it’s not well put together.

By 1966, though, it’s kinda surprising that Lewis wasn’t able to craft a better flick from a visual standpoint. By this time he’d been releasing movies for the better part of a decade. Alley Tramp seems more cobbled together than some of those earlier efforts – even Blood Feast. There’s an early scene with Marie and her friend sitting around until Phil (Marie’s third cousin) shows up. But when Marie goes off screen to answer the door, her friend’s left sitting on the couch to stare off to where viewers should assume the entrance is.

There’s no good acting, but enough flesh and bedding down random strangers to sate creepy, b-movie fans. But what Alley Tramp actually does well is to (accidently?) comment upon the burgeoning youth culture that would attempt to change the American paradigm in the coming years.

Marie is aware of her parent’s fooling around with various callers – whether in the office or at home. It gives her an excuse to do as she pleases. There’re a few flare ups that pit the young against the old. The behavior that the teenager exhibits directly relates to the protests that would wash across the country in the coming years. There’s no bra burning or police skirmishes, but Marie references being treated like an adult frequently enough to have it all be easily understood.

Because she is an alley tramp, though, Marie eventually gets pregnant. And in ’66 the only ‘cure’ for such problems is a back alley abortion, which leads to an ending of the film that seems rushed, to say the least. There’s a burst of occurrences and familial healing – at one point Marie’s father even says something about “keeping it in the family.” Gross.

Mitigating the angle of teenage rebellion is Marie’s eventual ruin. Yeah, she wrangles her cousin to be by her side and her parents seem happy. But the last two scenes find the main character becoming nothing less than revolting to the viewer. Of course the word ‘nymphomania’ gets tossed around, but it all just seems like a cop out. Maybe Lewis simply didn’t have a budget to flesh it all out. Bummer.