Monday, May 30, 2011

Male Whore on the Beach

Initially you might think the title “Female on the Beach” (1955) refers to its star, Joan Crawford. But the real “seductress” in the film is beefy Jeff Chandler. Sauntering through much of the film in tight swimming trunks, displaying massive thighs and pecs, he is just a gigolo, employed by a scheming middle-aged couple to seduce and scam wealthy women. The latest target? Joan Crawford, of course. However, Joan is too cynical, hard, and unemotional (read: “too masculine”) to fall for the obvious machinations of the luscious bathing beauty. Or is she?

The scheming middle-aged couple is played by Cecil Kellaway and Natalie Schaffer – Mrs. Howell! – and they are hilariously calculating in their exploitation of Jeff’s sex appeal to achieve their monetary ends.

While the gaze of so many films is that of the male ogling the female, “Female on the Beach” reverses all that. Look who’s clothed and who is unclothed. Thus this film offers the welcome “gay lens” of a camera-eye always on Jeff Chandler. And it’s hard to find a more worthy object than Jeff.

Ruggedly handsome and a solid actor, Jeff Chandler was equally at home whether in westerns, war pictures, adventures, costume epics, or melodrama. Born Ira Grossel in Brooklyn, NY, in 1918, Jeff's life and career were all too short - he died at the age of 42 from blood poisoning following surgery.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Buster Keaton: Beautiful clown

Referring to her friend Natalie Talmadge's marriage to silent comedian Buster Keaton, the screenwriter Anita Loos once wrote, "I used to think that looking across a pillow into the fabulous face of Buster Keaton would be a more thrilling destiny than any screen career" (Cast of Thousands, 1977, p. 38).

In his trademark rumpled suit and porkpie hat, Buster Keaton downplayed his beautiful features and kept his flawless gymnast's body hidden. Known as "The Great Stone Face," chaos would ensue around him while his expression betrayed no emotion, except through the depth of his eyes.

A diminutive man - he stood only 5'5" - his characters were frequently bullied and bested by larger, "more masculine" men - be it father, soldier, prizefighter, or romantic rival. His defence was to keep his physicality and emotions safely protected under the guise of the sad clown. Thus it is not a far stretch to think of his characters as akin to gay men before coming out, who keep their feelings and true selves hidden from the dangers around them.

In fact, the trajectory of many of Buster Keaton's films can be seen as being a kind of "coming out" process. His triumph is finally to make his place in the world - usually not through brute strength or "traditional masculinity," but instead through ingenuity, tenacity, and above all, grace. Both balletic and poetic rather than strapping and rough, his victory is that of every "little" man who ever felt weak, disparaged, and picked on.

And, he's gorgeous. For Buster Keaton beefcake, Battling Butler (1926) is tops, but the film also has an interesting subtext about bullying, albeit cloaked in comedy.

Buster begins the movie as the ultimate pampered fop (his idea of camping involves a tent with brass bed, bearskin rug, and butler). When he tries to impress a new lady friend by claiming to be prizefighter Battling Butler, a series of events catches him up in his lie, and he ends up in an actual fight against the real Battling Butler.

Occuring not in the ring but in a dressing room, Battling Butler is brutal. Buster begs, pleads, ducks, cowers, and attempts to flee - like a damsel trying to save herself from a villain - while Battling Butler pursues him relentlessly, cornering him and looking as if he is actually screwing Buster against the wall.

Finally Buster snaps with all the rage of a victim turning against his abuser, reverses the fight and knocks out his opponent. When he realizes what he is done, Buster is shocked at his own accomplishment. However, his victory doesn't turn him into a prizefighter, it merely exposes his lie to his lady friend - who says she prefers he not be a prizefighter anyway. Happy ending...

The closing shot is priceless - as kinky as it is sexy. Escorting his lady through the evening crowd, Buster is naked except for top hat, shoes, boxing trunks and gloves. He is still the dandy, but now has a physicality he is proud of.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Male Beauty and the Beasts

Buster Crabbe as Kaspa the Lion Man in King of the Jungle (1933)

Although King of the Jungle (1933) was inspired by the success of the earlier Tarzan, the Ape Man, the character of Kaspa is very different from that of Tarzan. While Tarzan is presented from the outset as a fully mature, wily, and even fearsome hunter, Kaspa is gentle, a sexually developed but naïve boy-man/male-female, straddling age and gender in very interesting ways.

The first time we see the adult Kaspa (Buster Crabbe), he is cuddling lion cubs, and looks more like a big muscular baby in a diaper playing with stuffed animals.  Later, dialogue drives home the point that Kaspa is really just a big, innocent boy, rather than a mature man.

When a lioness is killed, Kaspa takes over the protection of her cubs, essentially becoming the lioness. And for the rest of the film, we never see him kill as a hunter does, but always defend and protect, even at the expense of his own well-being, much as a mother will sacrifice herself for her children.

The story is simple: Kaspa was raised by lions after his parents were killed on safari. When he is grown up, he is discovered and kidnapped by circus promoters, who bring him to the States against his will to perform as a side-show attraction. There, he remains with the circus in spite of his own misery, in order to find a way to free the circus lions and take them back to Africa.

Not only is being made into a side-show curiosity an ultimate objectification, but every woman who sees Kaspa frankly drools over his breathtakingly exposed flesh. The film has no female sex objects; the object of desire in this movie is the gorgeous physique of Olympic swim champion Buster Crabbe.  However, Kaspa is not particularly interested. When one woman lewdly invites him to “give her a tumble,” he replies with one of his first English words: “Scram!”

She invites Kaspa to "give her a tumble." His reply: "Scram!"

Unlike Tarzan, who has his sexual awakening when he sees his first woman, Jane, Kaspa never really has a full male sexual awakening. Differences in character and story account for this. In the Tarzan films, Tarzan meets Jane on his own turf – the jungle – where she is vulnerable and helpless to stop his curious advances, and he is fully in control. However, Kaspa meets his love-to-be when he is at his most vulnerable – in the city of San Francisco where he has temporarily escaped from the circus. In San Francisco, she is “king” while he is helpless – a nearly naked boy-man running wild through the city (a tradition still alive and well here, I might add).

Kaspa meets Ann and friend. In this amusing reversal, "Adam" offers an apple to two "Eves."

Throughout the film, Ann (Frances Dee), although ostensibly Kaspa’s love interest, is always more his protector and confidant than object of desire. And, Kaspa’s goal is never to “get” Frances or even to save himself, but instead it is to free – and thus save – the lions. His goal is neither sexual nor for his own benefit – as a typical “male” goal would be – but instead is selfless and “maternal,” as he remains steadfastly in the role of “lioness” that he assumed at the beginning of the film.

Thus Kaspa embodies not only "masculine" charactertistics but many of the "feminine" as well. He is sexual object rather than objectfier, caregiver rather than hunter, and captive rather than captor. He is a kinder, gentler, more sensitive alternative to the traditional jungle-man hero. (Perhaps we can think of him as "Tarzan as a bottom!")
Whoever designed Buster Crabbe's loincloth gets a gold star!

Perhaps best known as the original Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers of 1930s serials, Buster Crabbe (1908-1983) is one of my all-time favorite serial and B-Movie actors. Besides being incredibly handsome, with a beautiful swimmer's physique, he was a more competent actor than many have given him credit for. He brings a naturalness to his roles that belies his craft at creating believable, dimensional characters. Whether in westerns, sci-fi, noir, or jungle epics, he is always interesting...and always beautiful.

The following 10-minute clip from YouTube is a condensed version of the first half of King of the Jungle.

How can you see the whole film? "King of the Jungle" is hard to find on DVD, as it has not (yet) been released by a major studio. However, I was able to find a copy from, which specializes in making their own DVD transfers from original film elements.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Adonis in Distress

Here's the way it always goes, right?... a beautiful damsel is set upon by a rapacious villain, kidnapped and imprisoned, her virtue and life threatened, until she can be rescued by the brave hero.

Or is that how it always goes?

On occasion in classic film, the beauty in distress is a humpy male, who is stripped of all his masculine power - not to mention his clothes.

In The Mask of Fu Manchu, an outlandishly delicious horror film from 1932, matinee idol Charles Starrett makes the mistake of tangling with the fiendish Dr. Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) and his evil daughter (Myrna Loy), leading to his being stripped, whipped, restrained nearly naked on an operating table, and enduring a will-zapping injection.

Myrna oversees his stripping and whipping, making no attempt to hide her mounting sexual frenzy, as she orders her slaves to whip him faster, faster, faster! The hapless Charles dangles by his wrists, groaning and spinning helplessly, in one of the most outrageous sexually-charged S&M scenes I've ever seen in any film, much less an 80-year old classic! (Note the two hulking male slaves that do it all to him mercilessly. Be still my fluttering heart.)

Here's Charles Starrett with his clothes still on.

Here he is before, during, and after being stripped and whipped.

Following his whipping, Charles is strapped to an operating table, near-naked and writhing, as Boris prepares the dreaded serum. A ring of muscular slaves stands guard while Myrna looks on. Hold on tight as the injection is about to begin! (Key ingredient of the serum: venum from a gigantic snake. No phallic imagery there, of course.)

If ever there were an Adonis in distress, Charles Starrett is he.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Porter Ricks, DILF

What is it about Dads that turns us on? Is it that the young children hanging on their arms and legs are living proof of their virility? Do we key into their paternal instinct, longing to shrink down and be enfolded in their fatherly strength?

My nomination for sexiest TV dad of all time is Porter Ricks, the father on Flipper, played by Brian Kelly. It used to be his elder son, Sandy, the blond boy-siren played by Luke Halpin, who enflamed my elementary school lust. But when Flipper came out on DVD, my grown-up passions went right for Dad.

Athletic, loving, and oh so very hot, Porter Ricks is my #1 DILF. Luckily, Flipper is an undersea adventure, taking place in steamy Florida, so there is ample opportunity to enjoy Porter stripped down to his swim trunks, displaying plenty of paternal muscle and dark body hair.

And underneath all the big beef, his character, a widower, exudes a deep and lonely sadness that makes him all the more sensitive... and all the sexier.

Am I too old to be adopted?

Watch this episode of Flipper:

Who gets your nomination for the sexiest TV dad ever?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Manhood lessons

Any movie that includes a lengthy steam-room scene with Gilbert Roland and Robert Stack in towels, naked torsos glistening, deserves a loving post in this blog (not to mention a permanent place in the blog header).

But “The Bullfighter and the Lady” (1951) is so much more than mere beefcake. A meditation on what it means to be a man, the story is driven by the relationship between Robert Stack, a cocky American tourist, and Gilbert Roland, Mexico’s leading torero (bullfighter).

This role comes early in Robert Stack’s career. Usually he plays the Alpha male in every movie, and so it’s unusual to see him play a character who is so green. But if there’s one man who can out-macho Robert Stack, it’s Gilbert Roland.

If there's any man who can out-macho Robert Stack (left), it's Gilbert Roland.

In the opening sequence, when Robert first sees Gilbert’s prowess in the ring, he is mesmerized, as captivated as an adolescent idolizing a hero. Essentially he wants to be Gilbert – without, of course, understanding all the risks, work, and weight that entails.

Robert Stack sets eyes upon Gilbert Roland and is mesmerized.

Gilbert Roland, the torero par excellence, as gazed upon by Robert Stack.

Nevertheless, he manipulates an introduction to Gilbert, persuading Gilbert to teach him how to bullfight. Robert is strutting, over-confident, immature, while Gilbert has true adult masculine gravitas. He is the torero par excellence, revered – essentially fetishized – by both sexes. Gilbert understands, while Robert does not, the full burden of shouldering such responsibility.

I won’t spoil the film by revealing plot, except to say that Robert must learn (the hard way) what it takes to grow up and fill a man’s shoes.

The lessons are underway. Gilbert Roland close behind Robert Stack, arms encircling him to hold the cape.
He is both instructor and protector.

In a scene with interesting phallic imagery, Gilbert Roland teaches shirtless Robert Stack how to aim his sword.

The great torero.

In addition, the film is perhaps the only one I’ve ever seen (of its period at least) that doesn't take a patronizing approach toward Mexican culture, instead evoking and exploring it in all its centuries-old dignity.

[This film isn't on DVD (yet), so how can you see it? There are some VHS copies floating around (remember those?), and you can also stream it on NetFlix if you're a member.]