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Below The Belt

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Drive-in sexploitation maven Harry H. Novak had trouble doing his job at the dawn of the cynical '70s. Sophisticated cops-and-robbers pictures like Bonnie And Clyde and The French Connection made his hardboiled crime stories look soggy and naïve, while an influx of European erotica and "respectable" hardcore porn made his attempts at titillation look coy and juvenile. Novak's solution? Pander, pander, pander. Beating Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather to the screen by a year, Novak's Boxoffice International released the 1971 Mafia saga The Godson, with Jason Yukon as a clever young mobster who draws unwelcome attention from rivals when he turns one of the family's brothels into a smashing success. Also in 1971, Boxoffice put out Below The Belt, starring John Tull as a sadistic buttonman who takes out his frustrations over a dim-bulb boxer by beating up women. The Godson was written and directed by William Rostler, Below The Belt by Bethel Buckalew, but both follow Novak's early-'70s formula: A few minutes of gangland tough talk in some featureless office gives way to extended scenes of simulated sex, with the principals positioning heads and legs precisely enough to avoid an X rating. Then the crooks hook up and talk some more before the next buxom distraction wanders in. The movies are a little gamier than the "nudie cuties" of the '60s, but they share the same innocuous settings and the same flattened-out eroticism–it was more important for the era's exploitation journeymen to keep the naked bodies well-lit and in focus than to make them look sexy. Godson cruised the streets of sunny suburbia decades before Quentin Tarantino's antiheroes, while in Below The Belt, the criminal element convenes in a rural milieu as sweaty and dusty as those in Buckalew's "hicksploitation" outings Midnight Plowboy and The Pigkeeper's Daughter. As always, the archivists at Something Weird have packaged this single-disc double feature with a bevy of hilarious trash trailers. (The camp champion of this particular set is Fugitive Girls, which features a stereotypical hippie clutching his recently kicked crotch and muttering at his female attacker, "Good Christ, a lesbian!") The Godson also features a commentary track by a roomful of exploitation fans and Novak himself, who mostly answers dry questions about drive-in distribution patterns. For a while, though, Novak tries to out-perv Russ Meyer, especially when commenting about star Uschi Digart's breasts. "You'd like to go swimming with her," he says in the voice of a sweet old man. "She'd keep you afloat."