Two weeks ago, America was shocked by horrific news from Cleveland, Ohio. It seems a school-bus driver named Ariel Castro had apparently been holding three young women in his basement for nearly a decade. They had endured sexual abuse, and one had borne a child while in captivity. The women had vanished separately from this tidy working-class neighborhood between 2002 and 2004. At the time of their abduction, they were 20, 16, and 14 years old. According to his lawyer, Castro plans to plead not guilty.
In Wednesday’s Hollywood Reporter, I read Stephen Galloway’s exclusive interview with Joe Francis, founder of Girls Gone Wild. Francis has just been convicted by a Los Angeles jury of assault and false imprisonment for his brutish behavior toward three young women he met in a local nightclub. He talked them into his limousine, whisked them to his Bel-Air home, and went wild when they wanted to leave. Now Francis, hotly proclaiming his innocence, insists that his jury was “mentally fucking retarded” and “should all be lined up and shot.”
I don’t know what’s going on with the number three, but naturally I’m appalled by the idea of men holding women against their will. I’m also peeved that these terrible news items have brought to mind one of the most annoying movies of all time. I’m talking about a so-called comedy called Three in the Attic.
Picture me in 1968. I was a UCLA grad student varying my academic routine by covering film for the school paper. Because Three in the Attic was meant to appeal to hip young Baby Boomers with an open attitude toward sex, AIP invited me to the sneak preview. I couldn’t believe what awaited me.
The leading man, Paxton Quigley, is played by Christopher Jones. In an instant cult classic called Wild in the Streets (also AIP, also 1968), Jones portrayed a handsome twenty-two-year-old rock ‘n’ roller who got himself elected president of the United States. Three in the Attic casts him as a campus lothario who succeeds in romancing (and sleeping with) three different co-eds. The first is a sweet and beautiful blonde, Yvette Mimieux. The second is a sassy black art student, played by Judy Pace. (The idea of a white guy enjoying an on-screen fling with a black girl was regarded as the height of hip in the late Sixties.) The third is a hippie chick (Maggie Thrett) who has traded in her bagels-and-lox upbringing for flower power. They consume some magic brownies; she covers him with body paint; he claims he’s an abused homosexual, then gets her in the sack.
Soon Paxton, while pledging fidelity to each of his conquests, is screwing them all, until they discover his secret and vow revenge. Trapping him in the attic of a campus dormitory, they demand non-stop sex. Oh puh-lease! At base, this is another of those male fantasy flicks, in which women are so desperate for a man’s special touch that they’ll do anything -- anything, do you hear me? -- to avail themselves of his sexual powers. And, this being a Hollywood movie, it winds up with a happy ending. A female dean at the college (the usually estimable Nan Martin) shows her sympathy for the girls’ situation by letting them off scot-free. And then Jones belatedly discovers that Mimieux is his own true love, so we’re assured they’ll live happily ever after.
Forced sex: one man being serviced by three women. AIP thought back in 1968 that this was a fresh and larky idea. In Cleveland, in 2013, it doesn’t seem so funny.