Courtesy of Secret Key Motion Pictures (Alternative Cinema going by yet another name!), SKIN IN THE FIFTIES is another 2-disc special edition of vintage smut.

Disc 1 offers us the restored version of W Merle Connell's 1956 quickie THE FLESH MERCHANT.

In this, gullible young Nancy (Joy Reynolds, TEEN AGE) lands unexpectedly on her big sister Paula's (Lisa Rack) Hollywood doorstep. Nancy announces that she's there to stay, wanting to follow in her sister's footsteps as a successful fashion model.

Paula is noticeably unhappy with her little sister's decision and tries to persuade Nancy to return home. But Nancy has already clocked a business card for the Antoine School of Art where Paula works, and goes there the following day looking for employment.

Whether it be good or bad luck, Nancy arrives just as the sleazy Mr Barnes is fretting over the non-arrival of one of his models, and he promptly gives our heroine the job. All she has to do is walk into the class and strip off ...

But it soon turns out that the School is actually a front for a prostitution racket ran by the local mob. Nancy is coerced into selling her body, and later discovers that her sister has fallen into the same cycle.

The two try to escape their fates, but it isn't that easy fleeing the mob ...

All of which leads to some gratuitous albeit tame nudity (we're talking legs crossed to conveniently hide any pubic hair), bad acting, typically 50's-style machine-gun-fire dialogue delivery, a lame shoot-out between the police and the gangsters and a showstopping speech against prostitution and the scumbags who buy these women, from a despairing Paula.

THE FLESH MERCHANT is obviously a very cheap production. It utilises actual locations such as people's houses rather than sets, makes clumsy use of stock music material and offers nothing in the way of set design or inspired camera-work.

But for it's time it is impressively bleak at times, if a little too sanctimonious come the denouement. But you have to remember this was the 50's, and morality played a large part in whether a film got seen commercially or not.

The overacting and melodramatic score work well in counteracting the barren decor and static camera-work, and the script ticks over nicely, pausing only when Connell chooses to ogle natural breasts on cellulite-heavy women on occasion.

As a skin-flick, there's little to hang around for here. But as an expose of prostitution in the 50's, THE FLESH MERCHANT is an interesting if diluted and ultimately pedestrian experience.

The film is presented in its original full-frame ratio and looks very sharp, with good contrasts of strong black and white images. There's not too much grain on offer, yet there are a large number of vertical lines present. For a 1956 obscurity, the restoration job is a solid one.

The English mono audio is a loud, clear and consistent track with no drop-outs or hissing.

Although there is no scene-selection menu, the film can be remote-accessed via 10 chapters.

The only extras on disc 1 are 4 extended scenes from the film - all involving more nudity - which last a total of 19 minutes.

We also get 14 trailers, including ones for GRINDHOUSE TRASH and INGA.

Over to disc 2, and we get a collection of short "loops" from the 1950's. In total there's 19 loops, most of which are between 1 and 2 minutes long.

All loops are presented in their original full-frame ratios, in black and white and with mono soundtracks. As you can imagine, the visual and audio clarity differs greatly from one short film to the next.

Of the loops on offer, most are extremely tame affairs. Indeed, most appear simply to be handheld footage of women stripping to their knickers in some dance club. For the majority of the time, the most you can expect from these films are bad jazz music and hairy armpits!

The 6-minute "Nudes on a Bed" is by far the most graphic of these short films, placing two women on a mattress, having them open their legs and expose themselves then gently rub an empty cola bottle against each other's privates.

The loops can be viewed individually via a static scene-selection menu, or watched in one mind-numbing sitting by selecting "Play All".

A plethora of trailers for other Alternative Cinema titles round off disc 2.

The hankie brigade may be seriously let down by the absence of hardcore content in this latest collection of smut. But THE FLESH MERCHANT is curiously appealing in a quaint way, while the loops are historically interesting for a while.

Kudos to Secret Key for unearthing these oddities ...

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Secret Key
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review