When gangster Dutch Siegel (Harry Reems) loses his trash-talking girlfriend Jessie (Cara Lott) to a temper tantrum, he immediately turns his sights on the beautiful Kitty (Ginger Lynn), a cigarette girl at his favorite speakeasy. But Kitty is a nice young lady, and Dutch doesn’t know how to handle nice girls, so he hires Rita (Amber Lynn), a fellow gangster’s moll, to teach Kitty how to be trashy. Rita in turn enlists local newspaper boy (Tom Byron) to be their practice dummy, so to speak, and with him shows Kitty how to talk nasty in public and be nasty in private.
Porn classic Trashy Lady (1985), a gangster flick set in the Roaring 20s, won awards at the AFAA and AVA, plus was nominated for several XRCO Awards as well. Originally shot on 35mm, it was well-received at the time and was a rare breed indeed; most porn by the mid 1980s was shot on the cheaper video format. But director Steve Scott was known for caring as much about the story as the sex, and his integrity toward his work apparently included making sure the film itself looked as good as the gorgeous women who populated it.
A lot of work went into finding period authentic props, locations, cars and costumes for Trashy Lady, and to significant success. The exteriors were shot at Howard Hughes’s old offices at 7000 Romaine in Los Angeles, at these gates, though the amazing rainbow-hued art deco thing just inside the gates is never seen:
There are more images of the building at the Skyscraper Page forums, where I learned that this is also the building Dick Powell drops Rhonda Fleming off at for her job in Cry Danger!
Several interiors were shot there as well — the cast iron staircase railing is prominently featured — though the smaller rooms such as offices and places where everyone gets down to gettin’ down seem to be on unrelated (and usually sparse) sets. That sparseness is surely due to the budget, a large chunk of which went to getting actual 1920s props and jewelry; I would swear that Cara Lott is wearing my grandmother’s aquamarine jewelry set in the opening scenes. But unlike a larger-budgeted feature, very little work went into restoring those vintage items, making Dutch’s office look as though it were furnished after spending a twenty at a local thrift shop.
Trashy Lady is super hardcore, and as the hardcore scenes go, they do the job, if you’ll pardon that turn of phrase. Harry has a little trouble staying in proper form, if you get my drift, but this was a few years before he hung up the towel, so perhaps his heart (and other organs) just weren’t in it anymore.
There’s not a lot of music over the scenes — and none of that faux sex screaming that modern porn breaks your eardrums with — so you’re hearing all the squishy bits do their thang. I make no judgment on this, I merely inform. That said, I’m not a fan of the chewing gum that Ginger, Amber and Cara smack throughout the film. It’s just loud enough and just slobbery enough to be kind of gross, which takes away from the overall aesthetic.
Amber Lynn as Rita. (Image from the Blu-ray.)
Director Steve Scott was known at the time for several gay porn films; in 1984, Stallion Magazine credited Scott with directing eight of the top 50 gay porn films ever released. Though much of his work is unavailable, through bootlegs and the magic of the internet, several of his films survive, some of which are considered classics today. Unfortunately, Scott himself is mostly forgotten. He passed away in 1987, though was reportedly working on another film with Harry Reems, tentatively titled Jr., at the time of his death.
That report comes from the notes of an unknown archivist of gay porn in the late 1970s and early 1980s, whose notes are housed at the Cornell University Library under the name The Gay Male Pornographic Video Collection. Historian Whitney Strub examines this collection in a fantastic essay called “Indexing Desire,” and observes that the archivist, who noted the many deaths of porn actors and creators in his collection, seemed particularly saddened by Scott’s untimely passing.
This collector placed many of Scott’s films in a category he titled “Straight Pornography with Gay Input.” It would interesting to note whether Trashy Lady fell into that archivist’s category of being straight with “Gay Input,” and I would assume so, though it’s hard to discern any gay input in the film. It’s remarkably heterocentric, especially when compared to much of the 1970s arthouse porn which combined a host of sexualities into single films. Trashy Lady appears to be an early example of the clear division between gay and straight porn that became so common in the post-shot-on-film days. Less remarkably, it is very, very white, in that way that reminds you that people of color were so thoroughly excluded from mainstream porn during this era that even the white actors had to be a specific shade of pinkish-white to get hired.
Speaking of skin, everyone in the film, Reems’ craggy face excluded, sports the most astonishingly perfect complexions. Strub comments on this trend toward a new standard of appearance in porn in the 1980s, speculating that, once the AIDS crisis emerged, consumers demanded cleaner-shaven, smoother porn stars, with the implication that this smoother outer appearance reassured viewers of a healthy body underneath.
“Isn’t this the fucking cat’s ass?” Cara Lott isn’t a very good actress, but she’s a lot of fun. (Image from the DVD.)
Scott’s commitment to his work applied to the screenplays as much as to the visuals, and Trashy Lady is more than just a cheeky reverse Pygmalion. There’s a little Vertigo here — Dutch really wants Rita for himself, and has Kitty turned into a mini-Rita for his own ends — and some Public Enemy, too, just for the hell of it. The story is actually a lot of fun, even if exactly zero actors in the film are any good at comedy.
Ultimately, as interesting Trashy Lady is, its real worth is as pornography rather than as film. When people ask if something is art or not, they’re not quite asking the right thing. Trashy Lady and other films of this kind are undeniably art; the question is, are they good art? For whatever it’s worth, no, Trashy Lady is not good art, but it’s probably one of the more fascinating porn flicks of the 1980s, and whether you’re looking for unique vintage porn or just a whole lot of hardcore sex scenes with beautiful women, Trashy Lady delivers.
Trashy Lady has been recently released by Vinegar Syndrome in a DVD/Blu-ray combo. The film is restored (both DVD and Blu-ray screen captures here are from the set), and comes with a brand new audio commentary with cinematographer Tom Howard and filmmaker David McCabe. The most exciting bonus feature is Scott’s first film, Coming West, a 1971 porn from a female perspective.
Bigger Than Life: The History of Gay Porn Cinema from Beefcake to Hardcore, Jeffrey Escoffier
“Indexing Desire,” Whitney Strub, from Out of the Closet, Into the Archives: Researching Sexual Histories, edited by Amy L. Stone, Jaime Cantrell
All screenshots are from the original DVD or Blu-ray. Some compression of the image may have occurred.