Just when you think the monthly Flipside untamed cinema screenings at the BFI (Belvedere Road, Southbank, London, SE1 8XT) can’t get any more entertaining and deranged, that’s just what happens. Wednesday’s session began as always with the hardcore comedy double-act of Will Fowler and Vic Pratt. Next, Julian Marsh III rolled out of the audience to explain that contrary to blog rumour, Miss Leslie’s Dolls was not a lost movie – because he had a 35mm copy at home (and while Marsh didn’t mention it, there are also two prints in the BFI archive). Marsh also played back a recording of a conversation with Charles W. Pitt (Roy Sanders), the male co-lead in Miss Leslie’s Dolls. Pitt provided a good humoured account of his very short career as a film actor, and expressed his regret that he couldn’t be in London for what was apparently the first public screening of Miss Leslie’s Dolls in 30 years. Thus when Pitt referred to one of his female co-stars as ‘a pro’, I assumed he was talking about her non-movie career, since this woman’s acting was as stiff as the clients would have been in that other profession.
The screening kicked off with a rather wistful animated short by Bob Godfrey and Zlatko Grgic called Dream Doll (1979). It told the story of a middle-aged London man who escapes the drudgery of his everyday life with a great deal of help from some sex dolls. After that we went straight into Joseph C. Prieto’s Miss Leslie’s Dolls (1972). The screening was from one of the two prints in the BFI archive, and the film showed distinct signs of deterioration especially at the beginning, but the quality improved and at times the colours were even bright!
The ‘narrative’ begins with Miss Leslie (Salvador Ugarte playing a woman trapped inside a man’s body) messing around in a ‘graveyard’ that somehow manages to be less convincing than the cardboard cut-out tombstones in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). When a car comes into view and splutters to a stop because it is out of gas, Miss Leslie scuttles off into some undergrowth carrying a nubile looking corpse. The occupants of the motor, three students and their teacher, decide to brave the storm raging around them and soon end up at Miss Leslie’s isolated house.
Miss Leslie offers to put up the stranded travellers. Ugarte is lip-synced with a female voice but you’d have to be blind not to realise he’s a geezer wearing make-up and a dress! The two female students Lily (Marcelle Bichette) and Martha (Kitty Lewis) are both trying to bed Roy, while their teacher Alma Frost (Terry Juston) is a lesbian fox with her eye on the first girl. Miss Leslie is, as most film-fans will clock very quickly, an axe-wielding and mother-fixated psychopathic transvestite. He’s killed at least half-a-dozen girls over a twenty-year period, in a series of vain attempts to banish their souls and then put his own ‘metaphysical’ being inside a female body. He also murdered his own mother soon after bumping off his first nubile victim, but he still has regular conversations with ma’s skull. Likewise, his collection of life-size dolls are not made of wax but are, in fact, preserved human corpses! Miss Leslie’s guests are far too interested in copping off with each other to notice any of this – until it is, of course, too late!
Lily and Martha are murdered by Miss Leslie, but only after Roy has succeeded in bedding both of them, and Alma Fox has had a lesbian romp with the first girl. Roy is locked in a cell by Miss Leslie, who obviously doesn’t want to kill the object of his gay transvestite lust. After one of the most ridiculous through-the-woods chases in cinematic history, Miss Leslie catches up with Alma Frost in the ‘graveyard’ and succeeds in forcing her soul out of her body and occupying the still living flesh (meanwhile his own hideously scarred body disintegrates). Now looking like Miss Frost, but still speaking like Miss Leslie, the psychopathic cross-dresser enters Roy’s prison cell where he gets it on with the hunky young man. Roy is a little puzzled by Miss Frost’s changed voice, but doesn’t think too much about it because he obviously can’t believe his luck in getting off with a teacher who’d previously rejected his amorous advances. As the Miss Leslie/Alma Frost amalgam and Roy Sanders make the-beast-with-two-backs, the cell door closes of its own accord, the key turns in the lock and flies away, and the film cuts to the credits.
If Edward D. Wood had made Thundercrack it would look like Miss Leslie’s Dolls. The anti-moral of Joesph Prieto’s movie seems to be that inside the body of every uptight man or woman who has boxed themselves into a single sexual identity (gay, straight, monogamous or otherwise), there is a polymorphous pervert struggling to get out! And if you think that sounds good, then make sure you don’t miss Flipside’s upcoming Halloween witchcraft special featuring Derek Ford’s ultra-rare 1971 documentary Secret Rites, which stars the notorious sado-masochist and self-styled ‘King of the Witches’ Alex Sanders. It’ll be an almost totally nude groove sensation!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!