Thursday, June 4, 2009

Too Hot To Handle (1977)

1977 - Too Hot To Handle (Derio-International 13 Productions/New World Pictures)

[also released as “She’s Too Hot To Handle”]

Director Don Schain Story Don Schain, J. Michael Sherman Screenplay J. Michael Sheridan, Don Buday Producer Ralph T. Desiderio Cinematography Fredy Conde Editor Barbara Pokras Music Hugo Montenegro Production Co-ordinator Vic Diaz Unit Manager/Assistant Director Jose M. Dagumboy 1st Assistant Cameraman Rev Sem Pio 2nd Assistant Cameraman Delfin Teope Special Effects “Rollie St”/Rolando Santo Domingo, Hilario Santos Stunt Co-ordinator Jun Matagay Gaffer Juanito Gali Script Supervisor Trisha Kinney Assistant Editor Andrea Scharf Hair Stylist/Make-up Artist Tony Artieda Asst. Hair Stylist/Make-up Artist Resty de Leon Miss Caffaro's Wardrobe Designed by Cheri Caffaro Miss Caffaro's Wardrobe Created by Lily of the Valley Assistant to Production Co-ordinator Ronnie Espiritu Music Editor John Mick Music Co-ordinator Marshall Leib Sound Effects Supervision Sam Shaw Song: "Lady Samantha" Music John Montenegro Lyrics Michael Justin Performed by Cheri Caffaro Additional Sequences Photographed by Manuel Bolotano

Cast Cheri Caffaro (Samantha Fox), Aharon Ipalé (Domingo De La Torres), Vic Diaz (Sanchez), Corinne Calvet (Madame Ruanda), John Van Dreelen (MacKenzie Portman), Jordan Rosengarten (Justin Stockwell), Butz Aquino (Carlos Rossimo), Subas Herrero (Octavio Calderone), Grace Lee (Miss Chow), Paquito Salcedo (Lu Chang), Vic Silayan (District Attorney), “June”/Joonee Gamboa (Mr Bulacon)

Teaser Storyline for Too Hot To Handle: The exotic urban bustle of Manila provides the backdrop for the appearance of Samantha Fox, a woman of means, mystery and ulterior motives. Samantha lounges poolside at the Manila Polo Club, absorbed in the progress of a rugged polo game. She is spotted by Mackenzie Portman, a dapper, middle-aged banker, who invites her to view his collection of "rare medieval instruments." That night, Samantha arrives at Portman's estate dressed in black leather (from high boots to long gloves). She enjoys the champagne and caviar tour of his medieval torture chamber, and appears to enjoy the bizarre bedroom rituals which Portman has devised. Bound by leather thongs to the four-poster bed, Portman is in ecstacy-until Samantha provides the final touch. She coolly suffocates him, removes the traces of her presence, and consumes the last caviar canape before leaving.

Domingo de Ia Torres, Chief of Detectives, begins the investigation into the notorious banker's death. De Ia Torres is handsome, elegant, "to the manor born." With his rough-edged sidekick, Sanchez, he attends the Portman funeral. For a moment, as he scans the crowd, his vision is arrested by the sight of a lovely blonde enjoying the burial rites. He watches her leave in the company of a Chinese man, and makes a note to find out more about her. Samantha travels to the Chinese quarter to negotiate her new contract with Chow, an underworld businesswoman. They arrange for three "hits"-to be accomplished by Samantha without interference or advice. Meanwhile, de Ia Torres, sparked by a picture of Samantha in the society pages, has tracked her to the Manila Polo Club. While Samantha suns herself on her yacht and conducts business by phone with her European stockbroker, Domingo discusses the lady and her yacht at the marina. He is impressed to learn that she is a born sailor who manages the ship herself, without benefit of a crew.

The scene shifts to the elegant residence of Justin Stockwell, patron of the arts and collector of sculpture. Samantha Fox, in the guise of Melinda Burroughs, writer for Nouveau Art Magazine, is gaining entrance to the estate. Stockwell, an arrogant patrician, is intrigued by this bespectacled, severely dressed young woman. In a test of knowledge, he finds her both witty and intelligent, and agrees to a feature-story and photos. Later that night, while Samantha views slides of the Stockwell manse, she becomes aware of unusual sounds. She edges to the yacht's deck, and karate chops a wet-suited private detective as he attempts to climb aboard. She then returns to continue her "research."

The next day, Samantha journeys to visit an ancient Chinese gentleman. Lu Chang. He is a very old friend, and they discuss the ways of the world in reserved Oriental fashion. He then presents her with a vial of clear liquid to aid her in her mission: the destruction of Justin Stockwell.

Detective de Ia Torres receives a teletype from Miami, Samantha's last resting place. He learns that she is independently wealthy, a world-traveller who was orphaned at 15. Back at the Stockwell estate, a new Filipina maid enters Justin's lair to assist him with his powder-and-salts bath ceremony. The maid bumps into him accidentally, and he shocks her with an outburst of gutter Tagalog, the language of the Manila slums. But Stockwell is not unaware of the charms of his new maid as he eases into the luxury of the bath and calls for champagne. With deft movements, the maid pours a vial of liquid into the swirling bath water and watches complacently as Stockwell realizes, with horror, that he is becoming completely paralyzed. The maid then reveals the mystery to Justin Stockwell, international smuggler. She removes the wig and make-up of a native girl to become Melinda Burroughs/Samantha Fox. Then, she stuffs towels in the jacuzzi drain, watches him drown, re-garbs herself as the Filipina maid, and leaves as quietly as she entered.

With another murder of a prominent crook on their hands, the police escalate the investigation. De Ia Torres interviews Stockwell's maid, who'd received a call from the agency to stay home, and the agency manager, who'd never placed the call. He gets a lab report, revealing traces of brown make-up on a bath towel and a mysterious substance in the bath water. He also receives word from Nouveau Art magazine that their Melinda Burroughs in no way resembles the blonde writer who interviewed Stockwell.

Soon afterwards, Samantha Fox and Domingo de Ia Torres meet at a society party. Domingo executes a ruse to get her away from a crowd of admirers: he plays cop, and she responds by playing criminal. It becomes apparent that each has met his (or her) match. The tension and attraction between them heightens when de Ia Torres beckons a sketch artist to draw the attractive Samantha with horn-rimmed glasses and a severe hair-do. Samantha meets his implicit challenge by telling him the whereabouts of the private detective whom Domingo had sent to reconnoiter the yacht. Their relationship develops: they hunt wild boar together, testing each other's shooting prowess and love of the hunt. On a shady Manila street, they are accosted by four thugs; Samantha watches while Domingo demolishes three of them, then jumps in to rescue him from the fourth.

Samantha then "leaves town," in order to visit the luxurious beauty spa of Madame Ruanda, ageing coquette and infamous white slave trader. Madam~e Ruanda is captivated by Samantha/Solvang's charms and invites her to an intimate meeting. When Mme. Ruanda is woozy from drink and anticipation, Samantha proceeds to execute her, using one of Ruanda's own beauty schemes. While Samantha engineers the Madame's electrocution, she forces her to watch a videotape of the usual electrolytic/mudbath rejuvenation ritual.

Meanwhile, de Ia Torres and his team of investigators have decided that an Asian syndicate is behind the slayings, and that one or both of two island drug lords are next on the "hit" list. He orders 24 hour surveillance of these two criminals. He also resumes his dates with Samantha, marveling at the excitement a bloody cockfight arouses in her, and wondering at her nonchalance upon seeing the two drug lords at a jai alai game. Samantha is attracted to Domingo; she is also attracted to the back room of the Bulacon Art Gallery, where they sell interesting pieces of weaponry.

At a Manila nightspot, de Ia Torres, Samantha and Rossimo, one of the druglords, have an interesting confrontation; Domingo watches, amazed and amused, as Samantha dances with a potential victim. Another confrontation follows that night, when Samantha and Domingo succumb to each others charms in the bedroom of her yacht. After violent but tender lovemaking, Domingo learns that her parents were killed by gangsters; he asks her to give up her career as a hit woman and become his wife. She is tempted to say yes, but declines. There contest for the lives of the narcotics barons resumes.

Samantha calls both Calderon and Rossimo, the two gangsters, and invites each to a secret meeting at a deserted site outside the city, promising to reveal to them the identity of the contract holder. While driving to the rendezvous, she takes the cop who is tailing her on a furious chase through the city and the suburbs. Sanchez de Ia Torres' valued assistant, is driven off the road to his death in a fiery explosion. Samantha arrives at the abandoned ruins where two gangs await her …

Review from the Bad Movie Report website:

Ah, the annual Cheri Caffaro movie. Thus far, we've gone through half the lady's oeuvre, reveling in the seamy, bondage-obsessed world of the Ginger Trilogy (Ginger, The Abductors and Girls Are For Loving). This leaves three more films: A Place Called Today - and my limited exposure to that promises more pain than I am prepared to deal with at this time; the Philippine WIP picture Savage Sisters - of which I still have not tracked down a copy; and this week's picture, her last as an actress: Too Hot to Handle.

Okay, there is H.O.T.S., which she wrote. So we still have three more years in which to ride this train, she still has three more years to make another movie. Or I have to track down that episode of Extreme Ghostbusters in which she supposedly provided voice talent. (I say supposedly because sometimes, sadly, the info given the IMDb is faulty... I have been surprised to learn that Forever Evil star Red Mitchell appeared in The Subterraneans two years before he was born, and one of the serving ladies in the cafeteria line of that same movie was actually a white Canadian actress. And, by the way, did you enjoy me in White Men Can't Jump?)

Our story opens in scenic Manila, where Samantha Fox (Cheri Caffaro) is lounging about the tennis courts at an exclusive country club. She is immediately hit upon (via telephone) by a chap named MacKenzie Portman (John van Dreelen), who invites her to come over to his place to examine his collection of "medieval sporting devices". This, I admit, is at least an original pickup line. When she accepts, Portman also requests that she "wear black".

And wear black she does, a stunning full-length leather evening gown; this is probably as appropriate a place as any to mention that Ms. Caffaro designed her own clothes for this movie. By and large, her designs are striking and quite good, though occasionally a particularly dreadful example of mid-70s couture will singe our eyeballs. But enough of that, you are all probably quite curious about these "medieval sporting devices". Those of you who combined that phrase with the leather dominatrix outfit and came up with "torture devices" may now advance to Double Jeopardy, where the scores can really change.

Yep, Portman's boudoir is a red velvet vision of racks and chains, with a four-poster bed the centerpiece. Those of us who have been watching Caffaro movies for a while quite expect our heroine to purr sexily and ask for a demonstration. And thus does Portman wind up, nude and spread-eagled face down, while the half-naked blonde slaps his flesh coquetteishly with a whip. The preliminaries out of the way, Fox climbs astraddle the bound man, ties a plastic bag over his head, and retires to smoke a cigarette while he suffocates.

Samantha is, you see, an international hit woman (and jet setter. Cheri is always a "_________" and jet setter). The local cops, de la Torres (Aharon Ipalé) and Sanchez (Vic Diaz) are puzzled, of course - either a "kook" is responsible for Portman's death, or it is the work of "a professional". "And whoever it is," deduces Torres, "I'll bet a month's salary she's an absolute knockout."

Which is as good a cue as any for Samantha to show up at Portman's funeral wearing a low-cut mourning ensemble, where Torres recognizes her from a photo in that day's paper. It must have been a slow news day in Manila, if they're running stock photos of Caffaro with a vaguely-seen caption like "International Ne'er-Do-Well Parks Yacht in Local Harbor". Sensing a connection, Torres immediately loses her, so she can meet with Miss Chow (Grace Lee), who gives her the contract on three new targets, and What Luck! They're all in Manila!

Samantha begins her hardcore research on Victim Number One, Justin Stockwell (Jordan Rosengarten), by pretending to be a reporter for Manila Arts magazine, come to do a story on Stockwell's art collection. Later, on her yacht, Samantha is examining the slides she took at his estate, formulating her plan of action (hm, Filipino maid... sunken bathtub... Filipino maid...) when an interloper boards her yacht - and this guy is no ninja, as she could have been playing Spinal Tap cranked all the way to 11 and still have heard this guy.

So it's time for a slow-motion Caffaro fight scene, as she and the wet suited weasel have at it (everybody say "Ee-yah!" as flatly as possible!). Since it's the Philippines, each picks up a conveniently located stick and we have a bit of elementary escrima to liven up the proceedings, although it's still very bad form to glance obviously where you know the other guy is going to kick before you even aim your stick . Anyway, her opponent winds up tossed off the boat and I pause to scribble the note: Who the hell was that?

Fox then drops in on an ancient Asian gentleman, Lu Chang (Paquito Salcedo - now there's a Chinese name for you), who, in accordance to Bad Movie Law, speaks in nothing but obscure Oriental aphorisms in lieu of actual dialogue. From Lu she purchases a small vial of blue liquid which he refers to as "the song of the nightingale", if that gives you any inkling of how this scene goes. He also mentions that he has many sons, but never had a need for a daughter until he met Fox - a hint of backstory which is more infuriating than it is intriguing, couched as it is in fortune cookie syntax, and never alluded to again.

So Stockwell finishes up another day of being a rich white bastard by retiring to his bathroom to brutalize the new maid (the one in the slides is out sick) before commanding her to prepare his bath ("First the salts, then the oils!" - though he didn't instruct her to pour that small vial of blue liquid in there, hmmmm....). No sooner does Stockwell settle in his sunken Jacuzzi than the maid doffs her black wig and pulls off her fake nose to reveal that she is none other than... Samantha Fox! Gasp!

Okay, I do need to say this: it's sort of a Wild Wild West moment: there's never much of a doubt that it's Caffaro as the maid, but the makeup is decent enough - and above all, her body language is different enough - that I have to admit that the disguise would have worked. Especially in the case of a swine like Stockwell, who never regards his servants as people, let alone individuals.

Anyway, Fox tells the staring Stockwell that she put a "powerful paralytic" into the bath, which will be undetectable once her work is done; then she stuffs a towel into the tub's drain and watches the paralyzed man vanish beneath the water's surface. We'll also note that when she peeled off her nose, she used the same towel to rub off the excess makeup. Some professional...

The next day, the comedy team of Torres and Sanchez are at the Stockwell mansion, wondering if it is an accident or another hit by a professional - gosh, what bearing on that do you suppose the makeup on the towel will have? I'll spare you the suspense and tell you none, as the makeup is found to be common, over the counter stuff. So chalk up another lesson learned on the Bad Movie Slate: liquid latex and spirit gum is found next to the lipstick and eye shadow in the Philippines. No wonder so many movies were made there in the 60s and 70s.

Torres then runs across Fox at some society soiree where she is the center of attention of a small group of wealthy businessmen. Torres whisks her away under the guise of "questioning about a jewel heist", but later admits to her that was the only way he could think of to get her all to himself. Fox doesn't mind, and we quickly find ourselves in the limbo of what passes as sexy light banter in Caffaro movies, culminating in Torres' invitation to a walk by the country club's lake, and the single most odious line in the movie, Fox's "As long as you promise if you rape me, you'll work the case."

Apassing sketch artist is commissioned to draw a portrait of Fox, but the wily Torres announces that she is too full of her own beauty as it is, and commands the puzzled artist to put her hair in a bun and draw horn-rimmed eyeglasses on her... in short, until it is a portrait of Fox as that reporter for Manila Arts magazine. "One point for you," admits Fox, and tells Torres that the "private dick you sent to my boat" was left on a dinghy a day's swim from shore. (fresh note on my pad: Ah, so that's who that was.) Now that the Policeman and the Hit Lady have all their cards on the table, there is only one thing left to do: go to bed for some hot, dangerous lovin'.

Which means it is time for... nooooooooooooo! A MUSIC VIDEO! Yes, Samantha and Torres must tussle in the sheets to the tune of "Lady Samantha". Love scenes that double as music videos: a blight on the American cinemascape.

Then it's time for Victim #2, as Samantha watches videotapes of a "Madame Ruanda" (Corrine Calvet) as she performs some sort of bizarre beauty treatment on a woman on national - or at least Filipino - TV. This ends up with an ad for Ruanda's spa, so guess who winds up in a Yoga class at the spa? And who catches the eye of Madame Ruanda, herself a notorious lesbian?

Why, it must be Samantha. of course, who sneaks around the compound under cover of darkness, though I find myself wondering if an all-white ensemble, even with an attached hood, is really ideal for nighttime stealth. Samantha peers into one of the bungalows, and witnesses some sort of rape scene in progress. Then she returns to her own room in time for one of Ruanda's lackies to invite her to the Madame's chambers for a personal audience. (At this point on the notepad: What was that scene about?)

After drinking Ruanda under the table (and using the Bad Movie Heroine's Best Friend, that form of chloroform that takes effect in under three seconds), Fox ties Ruanda to a chair and pops the beauty tape into the nearby TV (I note that the tape in inserted into the top of the TV like bread into a toaster - I seem to vaguely remember TVs like that). In the video, Ruanda is explaining that her new process requires the woman being treated to be tied to her chair, because light electrical charges are used. Then, copying what Ruanda is doing on the screen, Samantha layers mud onto her face and finally plugs her in.

Sigh. So the filmmakers saw Theater of Blood.

Look! It's our pals Torres and Sanchez again! Turns out that Ruanda was the most notorious white slaver in the region! (Ah, so that's what that scene was about...). Obviously, Torres tells the district attorney, the rumors about a new Asian-American crime syndicate moving in is true, and these murders are eliminating the various local crime lords, leaving only the two competing drug czars, Rossimo and Calderone. Torres not only posts men to guard each dealer, but also warns each man in person that someone is gunning for them.

Far be it to tell them that it's Samantha, however, as he finally gets her on the phone and demands to know where she's been the last few days. But never mind that, since he has no hard evidence, the best thing to do is to take her to the cockfights. Yes, the cockfights. In slow motion. Intercut with a nude, gyrating Samantha. Must be art.

Then it's time for the festive night life of Manila, though Torres balks at the lateness of the hour. "Come on," she tells the cop, "Pop a few vitamins or whatever you do when you're 33!" At the next club, they run into Rossimo (the musically-named Butz Aquino), who asks her to dance (Caffaro must always dance in her movies. Just accept it). "Watch out," warns Torres, "she's a killer on the dance floor." The groaners usually assigned to James Bond are starting to sound like farging Oscar Wilde compared to some of this witty repartee.

In bed, later, it is time for dramatic origin stories. Samantha became a professional assassin because her father was killed by rank amateurs who also accidentally killed her mother, leaving her an orphan (the Lu Chang connection is never explained). She also reveals that she's been checking up on Torres, and the only reason he's a cop is to repay what his family felt was their good fortune after relocating to the Philippines. (Uh.... yeah. Okay.) Even better, Torres wants her to give up her life as an assassin because that is not behavior he wishes to witness.... in his wife. Yep, my marriage proposal was kinda oblique and ham-fisted, but I just handed my pinball crown to him.

It all ends pretty badly anyway, or at least with both parties naked and huffy. Torres swings back into his job, while Samantha calls up both Rossimo and Calderone, and using an astounding array of vocal disguises - oh, alright, a French accent and her own voice - tells each criminal that if he wants to know who's gunning for him, to come to a certain stadium that night. The two drug lords and their men ditch their police tails easily enough, but the persistent Sanchez is following Samantha, and in the process of losing him, she accidentally causes him to drive off a cliff (well, it's no less far-fetched than anything else in the movie). Extra points awarded for the car crash scene, which is fiery and quite impressive.

At the stadium that night, Rossimo, Calderone and their men stand in the field, looking suspiciously at each other, neither realizing that Samantha is in the stands with a sniper rifle (if I'm not mistaken, that's an AK-47 with a scope, a fine assault rifle, but not particularly known for it's long-range precision). They are probably unaware of her presence due to that stunning dark red outfit she's wearing. Oh, and forget what I said earlier about the rifle's precision - all she wanted to do was fire a shot at Calderon's feet, which is enough to cause a lethal shootout between the two edgy factions.

Torres confronts her the next day on her yacht, demanding to know how Sanchez died, an event about which Samantha seems genuinely sorry. She's preparing to leave, and Torres not only refuses to leave his job, but also swears to follow her (which sounds contradictory, but that's The Man for you). Samantha offers him a final toast; he refuses until she takes a drink. Then he keels over while she spits her drink back into her glass. Stop me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't something powerful enough to put Torres under that quickly still have hit her, even if she hadn't swallowed it? Aren't tinctures held under the tongue until they're absorbed?

My head hurts.

So Torres wakes up, three of his four limbs tied to various pieces of furniture. A note from Samantha is taped to the wall; she's leavin'... on a jet plane... (cue song which will be stuck in your head for several hours now) and has left a time bomb in the hold of the yacht. If Torres patiently and diligently unties the knots ("They're Chinese."), he will still have a few seconds left to get off the boat before it blows. The rest of the scene intercuts between Samantha passing through customs and boarding the plane, while Torres works at the knots, finally freeing himself and running for the door. The boat explodes, as Samantha sadly watches through the jet's window. The final fate of Torres is uncertain. The end.

You always want your idols to go out with a bang. Too Hot To Handle is an okay movie, it just never engages you in the ways that a good action flick or sleaze epic should. All the ingredients are there, from the complicated murder plots to the dangerous, self-destructive love affair between the two people firmly on opposite sides of the law. There should be more fireworks here, but none ever develop. I am forced to say that, though he still has a fruitful career as a producer, it is likely a good thing that Don Schain no longer directs.

Caffaro herself had matured into a competent performer by this point. She'd likely never turn up on any of the Academy's nominated rosters, but any awkwardness suffered earlier in her career is gone, and she even pulls off the tearful origin story well. Her opposite number, Aharon Ipalé, however, is another story. Moroccan-born, Ipalé has also had a long career, generally playing dark, handsome men with one accent or another. Here, though the hope was likely that he would pull off a sort of Alejandro Rey in The Flying Nun turn, he just seems like a man who is having trouble reading his lines in an unfamiliar language. And even the normally reliable Vic Diaz has trouble doing anything with his role.

In the earlier Caffaro movies, the "Ginger Trilogy", I made mention of the fact that the manner in which Ginger MacAllister used her sexuality was almost predacious; here, Schain and crew have taken the "almost" out of that sentence. The video box's tagline reads "Her mission--seduce and destroy! Her deadliest weapon--her body!" Two of her victims literally fall victim to her seductive wiles, and she flirts knowingly with two others. The result, in each case, is death; even arguably in the case of her paramour, the lover who, in return, also seeks to destroy her and possess her at the same time. These two really are made for each other.

If the earlier Trilogy took place, as I theorized, on Planet Ginger, a sort of parallel world where the fight for evil inevitably led to bondage and bondage inevitably led to sex.... this is the Dark Side of Planet Ginger, where bondage inevitably leads to the person in the submissive role begging for their life, to no avail. The naughty, comparatively innocent charge of those early movies were lost in the gritty wash of mid-70s entertainment. After the 60s had been horribly bludgeoned to death and the grindingly slow parade of outrage that was Watergate, we all wanted to hurt someone, and our movies showed it.

It is not only the abandonment of that innocent/naughty blend - which made the Ginger movies so popular - that led to the downfall of the Caffaro machine. It was more likely a sense of betrayal on the part of her fans as she attempted to grow beyond the Ginger persona into something harder, to match the heroes of the times - the Charles Bronsons, the Clint Eastwoods. You'd think that bondage or S&M fans would be accustomed to a certain amount of betrayal - can you think of any movie that dealt with either of these scenes that didn't end up badly for at least one of the participants? * But there are still a number of fan sites that examine the Ginger movies, and Monterey Video put them out in a box set a few years ago.... while Too Hot To Handle silently slipped into the limbo of Out Of Print movies - sadly, a fate it probably deserves.

Review from the Dr Gore website:

I was at another Blockbuster clearance sale and saw this one lying there. Soon I would have another B-movie for my collection. The video box cover has a hot blonde dressed in a pink bikini posing with a machine gun. How could I resist such cinematic brilliance?

"Too Hot To Handle" stars the leggy blonde from the "Ginger" series. She still can't act but her tan line is a lot less noticeable in this one. She decided to go for the all body tan. The good news is that she gets naked quite frequently. The bad news is that the movie is rather lame. She plays a contract killer by the name of Samantha Fox. This naughty girl needs love too and wants you to touch her, touch her now. She wants to feel your body. She is looking to knock off some sleazeballs and zzzzzz... Her fighting skills are as good as her acting skills. This is to say that they are atrocious. But then again, she does get naked. Hmmmm...

I would say skip this one. If Ginger had got it on with Madame Ruanda, I would endorse it. No female fooling around, no other women get naked, just Ginger Fox doing a bad impression of a naked assassin.

SCORE: 1 out of 4 naughty Samantha assassins

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