[M/tv Logo] The Films of Alan Smithee



A Remarkable

I Was Noriega's
Love Slave

The Seme-y
Seams of Seem

in the
Cheap Seats

On the Set
with Smithee
(a diary fragment)


About the

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Smithee at
the University
of Pennsylvania

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Smithee and Dolores Fangot

plain scarf

After the cornucopia of signs that was Johnny Guitar (1954), the auteur decided that the message of female empowerment through catfighting needed to be spread to the drive-ins. Smithee, a director whose postwar "up and coming" phase (and bribery of management) was still remembered fondly on the B-movie lots, found a friendly ear among backers eager to capitalize on the decade's heady mix of crime anxiety, rogue females and communist paranoia.

The resultant opus, Whorchestra!, was at first to be a ten-day shoot with a script about a ring of spying, zaftig, Communist hookers disguised as an all-girl jazz band. His insistence on musical authenticity, however, led to auditioning jazz players of primarily Negro descent, which would have presented severe distribution problems in the southern United States. He ultimately relented, and changed the whores' cover story to that of a big band, playing the hits near airbases destined to be links in the Strategic Air Command. His selection process led to a wealth of talent, both young women eager to prove their musical talents on film as well as experienced tourers displaced by the return of GIs to the bandstand.

There was an unique bond among many of the women, which led to the production of the hottest music and acting improvisation on record — and this bond was due solely to the intervention of one of Smithee's most intriguing and elusive collaborators — the artist, hoaxer, slattern, and judo enthusiast, Delores Fangot.

The former DiDi Fangonetti of the Bronx, Delores knew from an early age that she was destined for artistic greatness — or, at least to lean beside and cadge a drink from it, once in a while. While leaping from rooftop to rooftop in dungarees, sharing beers with her teenage companion, Amy Camus, (whose own path to fame is quite the tale), she whispered plans of moving to the Village, sharing a pied-à-terre with sensitive, neurasthenic males who'd enlist her to steal the latest couture at Saks. She spent the days in temp jobs, and the nights in bars, developing the dark siren look that drew women of all clothing predilections to their doom.

When an ex-WAC truck driver (equipped with an iced case of beer, a bag of Dexedrine and a month without erotic release) took one of DiDi's idle nymphet flirts at face value, she kidnapped DiDi, and changed her life forever by taking her to California, non-stop, in a multitude of ways. (It is rumored that Ms. Fangot's penchant for easy-to-wear black jersey turtlenecks resulted from this cross-country odyssey — that, and her tendency to steal tips.)

When Smithee, slumming in West Hollywood dives for girls "disenchanted" with their lives (and trust funds) to contribute heavily to his vision, found himself armed with a smashed beer bottle against Delores (who mistakenly thought him competition for a mid-level starlet), he knew he found his Cold-War muse. They set up shop on Sunset, started a modest basket of blackmail fund schemes, and planned their first ventures.

To remind one of the discursively un-seminal climax of Whorchestra! (the first Smithee/Fangot effort), the battle of the bands occurs just as boy singer/FBI agent Smithson Jones, torn between the two women bandleaders, discovers the identity of the Communist courier (easy to spot, since she's the only one who completes a pass with him):

As the music heats up, the duo throw roses at Jones, with enough force to scratch him; at that point he slowly puts on the ring the more underhanded of the two gave him, sparking the fight.

The bands keep trading solos as the hair flies, and Jones watches as the spy tries to escape; she falls into the hands of the FBI, whose agents smile bemusedly at the lovely, tough ladies fighting. Jones is about to interrupt them with a pitcher of cold water, to inform them of how they've just served their country, when to his horror the women, enclenched, finally acknowledge their rivalry masked their intense mutual desire. As they kiss, the couples between the bands move out into the light, and the perky girl singer croons "You Made Me Love You (Dear Mr. Gable)" to her beloved butch sax player.

The audience goes wild, some throwing chairs, many cursing, but soon the exquisitely dressed daughter of the town's crime lord silently orders her all-female team of bodyguards to clear the ballroom, so she can finally listen to the music of her dreams in peace. As Jones gives up and joins the tide of repulsed patrons, the sax gal breaks into her own rockabilly composition, "(no longer) High N'Dry," the walking bass begins to strut, and idle band members begin to seriously neck. The bodyguards lock the doors, and Jones rushes to his motel room, hoping to punish them the only way he knows how...

The last scene shows Jones in his policeman friend's car, hidden in the bushes by the state line, as he watches the two buses filled with carousing, semi-naked women glide by.

He borrows the police radio and calls out the troops — he calls for arrest due to a violation of the Mann Act — taking a woman across state borders for immoral purposes....

The fact that civic and religious groups nationwide called for the burning of all prints only added to its box office. Along with Preminger, Smithee exposed the rating and censorship agencies for the restraint-of-trade conspiracies they were — which only piqued his interest in the greater secrets to be discovered, at the cost of his future potential for success.


Copyright © 1996-2003 by C.D. Thomas