Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Tracing the Pattern of Evil

By the late 1960s George Harrison Marks’ reputation as a top glamour photographer, already cemented on home turf, had begun to spread to America. Swank magazine regularly commissioned and bought photosets from him back then through Marks’ American agent. Evidently Swank were sufficiently impressed by Marks’ work to dedicate an entire issue of their ‘glamor photography’ magazine to documenting the man, his business and of course his photos of nude ladies. A fire damaged copy of this 1967 publication exists in the gavcrimson archive. In reality Marks was beginning on the road to financial ruin, and would be declared bankrupt two years later. Not that you’d ever guess that from this publication, which with its references to Marks as a man ‘without cant or hypocrisy’, ‘the foremost photographer of the nude’ and ‘now in his early 40s, handsome, talented… he is in danger of becoming a legend in his own lifetime’ all must have done wonders for Marks’ never small ego, well maybe not the ‘early 40s’ bit.

Another American who took a shine to Marks’ work and his models was pioneering NYC fetish publisher Leonard Burtman. In fact Burtman took such a shine to Marks’ models that he later married one of them, a former Miss Hungary called Jutka Goz. Female domination was Burtman’s bag, and through his magazine ‘Bizarre Life’ Burtman had commissioned many British photo-shoots on this theme. A Marks taken photograph of Monique Deveraux in a PVC cat suit graces the cover of Bizarre Life No.10. Sensing a new market Marks began making 8mm shorts like Macabre and The Garden of Pleasure that introduced themes of female domination and scenes of bloody flagellation to Marks’ films. The eventual outcome of all this American interest in Marks’ work was the offer to make a feature film for the American market, one that like the Burtman photo-shoots and the 8mm films, would cater to the hungry fem dom audience.

While it is unclear who exactly put up the money for PATTERN OF EVIL, in his later years Marks was fond of implying that the American Mafia had a hand in it. “I was halfway through (Pattern of Evil) and I found out who I was working for, the ‘mob’” Marks told Psychotronic Video magazine in 1993 “halfway through filming they walked in. The bloke had a loud blue checked suit on, he looked like a comic from the old school. I took my agent aside and in all innocence, I asked him ‘is he in showbiz? He looks like a comic’. He said ‘yeah, he’s really funny, he’s got a gun in his pocket and he’s with the mob’”. Having been made an offer he couldn’t refuse, Marks shot Pattern of Evil at his London studios around 1968. For the cast he rounded up an impressive Who’s Who of the era’s glamour modelling scene with Maria Frost, Cindy Neal, Yvonne Paul, Monique Deveraux and the Mrs Leonard Burtman to be Jutka Goz all appearing onscreen. Pattern of Evil also featured early appearances by the ubiquitous Nicola Austin, and Howard Nelson playing Arthur Vanderhorn, a character whose surname Nelson would inherit as a nickname soon after.

Based on appearances Pattern of Evil had less to do with Marks’ usual output and a greater kinship with NYC ‘roughies’ of the Madame Olga and Mike Findlay variety, the type of films that would be Pattern of Evil’s chief competition once its shady investors brought it back home with them to New York. With its scenes of sadism, a murder, Marks’ models in leather and a climactic session on a rack, Pattern of Evil stood little chance of being passed by the UK censor. Not that this stopped Cinema X from featuring it as the centrepiece of their ‘cinema macabre’ issue (Vol 3, No.2) making Monique Deveraux their cover girl for that issue and running this article on the film:

Retitled FORNICON for its eventual US and Canadian release, the ‘solid year of court battling to get this sexy little film past the American censor’ mentioned by Cinema X was also played up as a major selling point in the US press book and poster campaign. Similarities in its lengthy US legal woes and that of the 1968 cause celebre ‘I Am Curious Yellow’ are understandably also made in the press book and poster. With the distributor clearly hoping that Pattern of Evil would repeat that film’s controversy and resultant big box office.

Fornicon pressbook synopsis: “John Webley (played by Paul Holcombe), a sexual-obsessed playboy who becomes involved with a series of beautiful women, is a young P.R. executive with a big cosmetic combine which is controlled by Madame LaBanca, an imperious female who takes her sex wherever she can find it, male or female. (Madame LaBanca is played by Rena Bronson, London's top model.) The company plans to introduce a sensational new perfume on the market to be called Formula-69. It becomes apparent, however, that someone is determined to steal the formula, and to kill John at the same time. During an unusual "sales meeting" at Madame LaBanca's palatial home, John introduces a beautiful blonde (played by Cindy Neal) who will be featured in their advertising campaign. She does a suggestive striptease, and at the conclusion whispers the slogan: "I'll take everything off... except my Formula-69." When John arrives home that evening, he discovers his wife's body in their bed. Scotland Yard suspects him of the murder, but they do not have enough evidence to hold him. He sets off to find his wife's killer. The climax of the film is a wild costume party which takes place in the dungeon-like basement of Madame LaBanca's home. John suggests that all of the guests play a new form of "Truth Or Consequences," and his prime suspect, Greta Marr (played by Monique Devereaux) is placed on a medieval torture-rack in an effort to extract the truth from her. She breaks down, names the killer, and John is cleared.”

Fornicon stills: courtesy Rio Movie Posters

Fornicon playing at a North Carolina Drive-in, July 1971 (image: Chateau Vulgaria)

Fornicon playing in Canada with an Isabel Sarli film (image: John Charles)

Canadian Fornicon advertising : courtesy Rio Movie Posters

In 1975 the film was re-released in the states under the title ‘DON’T CHANGE HANDS’.

A surprise revelation during my delving into all things Pattern of Evil is that the film did receive a belated release in the UK, but as predicted several years earlier by Cinema X, only on the ‘membership only’ club cinema circuit. Under its American Fornicon title it played for a week at the Compton club in January 1974.

The arrival of the hardcore porno chic era in America, heralded by the release of Deep Throat in 1972, rendered soft sex items like Marks’ film archaic, but Pattern of Evil had one last date with the big screen. At the end of the 1970s it joined the ranks of The Sex Thief, Loving Feeling and The Pornbrokers as British films to have hardcore scenes inserted in them for American consumption, when it was released with porn inserts under a fourth title ‘BLUE PERFUME’. Marks’ director credit is obliterated from the Blue Perfume advertising, which credits one Charles Vienna as director. Mr. Vienna presumably being the man responsible for the hardcore footage which was filmed in NYC. As well as a release in the NYC area, IMDB reports that Blue Perfume played in Chicago in June 1979. In spite of being 11 years old by this point and a hardcore insert job, Blue Perfume garnered a mostly positive response from the NYC adult film press, quotes from which are all over the poster.

Blue Perfume pressbook synopsis: “THE STORY: "You can take off everything except, Blue Perfume" On an early morning, John (the ad manager of a perfume company) is waking to a busy day. His sleeping wife Susan rolls over and the day begins with a bang. When he arrives at the office, he waits for Dawn Star (the Catherine Deneuve look alike) whom he wants to use to promote the company's new formula, Frangrance 69. They are due at Madame La Bianca's (directress of the firm) for his presentation. At La Bianca's we meet Greta Mars, her slave and other members of the board. Madame is worried. It seems someone is trying to sabotage the plant in order to keep the new scent off the market. John concours with her, relating the attempts on his life earlier in the day. He is anxious to get on with his presentation, hoping that Madame will like Dawn well enough to use her as the Frangrance 69 girl. By the time Dawn is finished, everyone is convinced. While dismissing John, Madame mentions a masquerade party that evening at her country estate inviting him, Susan and Dawn. Susan, while cleaning house, is surprised by the ringing of the doorbell. La Bianca has arrived (unexpectedly but not unwelcome) with riding crop in hand. There ensues a session of lovemaking that one is unlikely to forget. After she leaves, Susan falls asleep exhausted, only to awaken and find someone in her bedroom, who strangles her. John arriving home and finding his love dead, promptly calls the cops, who don't quite believe his story. He goes to Dawn for consolation and to talk about his concern for his own life and that of the company's. Between the bed, bath and the bed, Dawn leaves little time for John to worry. She does suggest they go to LaBianca's masquerade and see if they can figure out whodunit. As in everything she does, Madame throws no ordinary party . . . no one is above suspicion and John suggests a game of "Truth or Torture" on the rack. As in all good mysteries, we will not divulge the perpetrator. Suffice to say that a hot time is had by all until …”

Sadly Blue Perfume would be Pattern of Evil’s last stop on its long and turbulent journey from 1968 British softcore to 1979 American hardcore film, and neither the original version of the film nor its hardcore insert alter ego ever made it to home video. Its 1979 re-release, and the presence of beefcake in the hardcore insert footage, did however earn Pattern of Evil the distinction of being surely the only Harrison Marks film to ever be reviewed in a gay men’s publication.

For the last word on the subject then, we go back to 1979 and Gay Scene’s take on Blue Perfume:

“‘Blue Perfume’ written, produced and directed by Charles Vienna is a hilarious film. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be a funny film. Billed as an English-American co-production, the main part of the film was shot in London, the orgy (closing scene) shot in NYC. The film opens with a bang- sex bang that is, but ends with a thud. It’s all about a new perfume, Fragrance 69 that ad manager, John, is promoting. John’s wife is found murdered and later that night, before her body is even cold, he’s screwing model Dawn Star (don’t you just love the names of porno stars?) and laughing it up, it’s all terribly British, you know and the plot is so ridiculous that I won’t bother to reveal it here. The big orgy party features numerous New York porn regulars, Dave Ruby, who was GAY SCENE’s plaything of the month, is quite active in this sequence. He’s the big, muscled, hairy-chested guy with a beard. Peter Halcombe, as John, is a new-face who is well-hung and knows what to do with it. There is some overly long sex play in a sunken tub, with lots of suds, a rubber ducky, a toy whale and a toy submarine that the camera lingers on from time to time. I kept wondering if the photographer was influenced from seeing too many Shirley Temple films!”

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