‘Scum of the Earth’ (1963)

Scum of the Earth (1963)

You know a movie is bad when Herschell Gordon Lewis doesn’t want his name on it. It was Lewis H. Gordon who directed this early-60s exploitation flick. I looked for information on Gordon’s pseudonyms and found no indication as to why he used them. Evidence suggests that he produced under a variety of names, including: H.G. Lewis, Georges Parades, Armand Parys, Sheldon S. Seymore, and R.L. Smith. It could be for reasons that the plot of Scum of the Earth explores; Lewis was involved in a lot of potentially sketchy pictures. There was some inherent danger in showing nudity in films and photography in the 50s and 60s. Scum of the Earth is an exploitation meta-narrative exploring the process that led to women taking off their tops in front of unscrupulous art photographers.

The movie plays out naively, in the style of a pseudo after school special. I’m sure all of these photo sessions didn’t take place after someone uttered the phrase “what kind of modeling is this?”According to the film, it was a slippery slope from “come around here and let me see your legs” to “ok, ok, off with the sweater.” The presumption is that you can make anyone do anything you want by threatening to call the police and implicate him or her in a nudie picture consortium. However, this element of the film may be somewhat steeped in reality. The film takes place during a time when pornography was well underground. The biopic The Notorious Betty Page (2005) makes it out to seem as if the girls in her circles were often willing participants, but presented the danger of arrest as a solid obstacle. Scum of the Earth pretends to be informative, showing the dark side of the industry. In the process, it exposes a lot of bare chests. It is genius in that it is what it is protesting: it is exploitive. The acting is terrible, but the elaborate system of blackmail is intriguing, if not somewhat unrealistic. I am starting to sound like one of those people who read Playboy for the articles. Scum of the Earth is fun to watch as a fan of Herschell Gordon Lewis films. Exploitation films from this era seem as if they are describing the lives of people who survived teenage delinquency films of the 50s like Blackboard Jungle. Obviously, nude photography is not the scourge of the land the movie makes it out to be. If you have to see one exploitation flick, it might as well be the one that tries to explain its industry.