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CONVENTION GIRLS (1978).

An ad agency producer during the late-1960s, Joseph Adler directed commercials in the '70s to pay the bills, while also cranking out such feature-length oddities as REVENGE IS MY DESTINY (1971), SAMMY SOMEBODY (1976) and this introspective, multi-character slice-of-life, inexplicably marketed as a titillating, lighthearted sexploitation romp. Viewers lured in by the promise of cheap thrills were undoubtedly bewildered, but personally, I'm always a sucker for low-budget films that transcend expectations, just like this ambitious ensemble drama which lists a whopping 24 actors in its opening credits!... Welcome to North Miami Beach's not-exactly-luxurious Marco Polo Hotel ("We only look expensive" is their motto, while Marco's Pub proudly boasts "Dinners from $3.95"), the site of this year's American Association of Doll Manufacturers convention, with the opening ten minutes a whirlwind of perfunctory character intros as everyone checks in, while encountering old friends, business adversaries and potential lovers. There's a pretentious, middle-aged Hungarian toy designer (Peter Ban) and his hot young blonde wife; a pretty Women's Co-op feminist (Nancy Lawson) promotes anatomically correct dolls, complete with pubic hair and erectile penises; a handsome Bayonne plastics salesman looks for new customers; an ex-wife battling to retain custody of her daughter is also a hooker who screws a New York ad exec (Griff Simpson); and a discarded female business partner seeks revenge on her philandering old boss (Frank Logan), even as his lonely wife gets high with a sympathetic cabana boy. Most of the action takes place in hotel rooms, but don't expect much sex or bare skin, because this is one depressed and sorry bunch, who spend most of their time anxious about their jobs, regretting relationships, pitching dumb ideas, and bemoaning their messed-up lives. There's also copious drinking, guys pathetically hitting on ladies at the bar, a father tracking down his estranged daughter, women dealing with rampant misogyny, a child psychologist desperately hawking his latest book, as well as a few brief encounters. In the end, even its somewhat redeemable characters are exposed as jackasses... Good grief, this is one heavy, melancholy bummer. One story thread even ends in suicide, with the script (credited to T. Gertler) cramming all of this soul-searching, backstabbing and impromptu coupling into only 89 minutes. The acting is wildly hit-and-miss and its production values are rock bottom (the actual convention is a pathetic array of booths, with quick snippets of panel discussions and a sorry looking banquet finale), and while there's a smattering of nudity, it amounts to some dimly-lit lovemaking or a brief sojourn to a seedy massage parlor. Sure, this film might fail as bishop-flogging material, but it's still a fascinatingly offbeat little treat. Thanks to the good folks at American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) for unearthing this extremely-weathered 35mm print, which also screened at the Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers.

© 2017 by Steven Puchalski.