DVD Review

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By BRIAN THOMAS     March 04, 2002

The story of the 40 Thieves, the roadshow men that criss-crossed the country showing unrated off-Hollywood flicks back in the days before ratings systems, is a fascinating one. But documentary filmmaker Ted Bonnitt realizes that this subject is just too broad to cover here, so he targets the last surviving Thieves, Dave Friedman and Dan Sonney, for this quasi-amazing film. The first third of the documentary introduces these two exploitation legends, and through them, the first few decades of roadshow features. Sonney recounts how his father first got into the business, and the distribution of such features as FORBIDDEN ADVENTURE, MANIAC, MAU MAU, REEFER MADNESS, and hundreds of other exploitation titles. Much of the solid information comes in interview segments with Frank Henenlotter, exploitation historian and director of such classics as BASKET CASE and FRANKENHOOKER. Many great clips from the films are edited together with the interviews, but some of the best clips are from home movies. Friedman is oddly silent about his entry into the business pre-1960 it may be that the rights to his story are tied in with his autobiography A YOUTH IN BABYLON. However, there is a visit to the carnival that Friedman still owns, and we get a tantalizing peek inside his personal museum.

The story rambles into Friedman and Sonney's careers from the 1960s on. Some time is devoted to Friedman's groundbreaking work with Herschell Gordon Lewis on pictures like GOLDILOCKS & THE THREE BARES and BLOOD FEAST, though Lewis isn't mentioned.

Unfortunately, Bonnitt also includes a lengthy section in the middle in which he follows his subjects around through a "typical day." This will remind many of a visit with their grandparents (providing your grandparents made nudist camp pictures), as the film grinds almost to a standstill, with scenes of Sonney washing dishes and having dinner. Any hope you'll have that there's some hidden point to seeing these guys getting in and out of cars is doomed, so fast forward until you see Friedman talking about BLOOD FEAST again.

The documentary gets back on track with a discussion of Friedman and Sonney's partnership in the skin picture business, establishing the notorious subgenre known as the "roughie" (well represented with scenes from THE DEFILERS and A SMELL OF HONEY, A SWALLOW OF BRINE), then segueing into their years of more lighthearted pictures like TRADER HORNEE. Most of these films are now available through Something Weird Video, and there's a short visit to the SWV warehouse that'll send a chill up the spine of trash lovers everywhere.

Fortunately, Bonnitt takes a firmer hand with his subjects on their commentrak, keeping them from wandering too far afield. Many of the same stories are repeated almost verbatim, and Bonnitt's cutting keeps threatening to distract the boys, but there's also plenty of good annotation to the feature. Typically, it ends with Sonney wondering how they're going to make a buck with the commentrak. Filmmakers Eddie Muller and Bonnitt sit down for a second commentrak that fills in some gaps in the subject, while giving some information on shooting the documentary.


Movie Grade: B+     Disc Grade: A

Reviewed Format: DVD

Rated: Not Rated

Stars: Dave Friedman, Dan Sonney, Frank Henenlotter, Mike Vraney

Writers: Eddie Muller and Ted Bonnitt

Director: Ted Bonnitt

Distributor: 7th Planet  Productions

Original Year of Release: 2000

Suggested Retail Price: $29.95

Extras: audio commentaries; trailers; image gallery; soundtrack music; filmographies; biographies


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