Review by Matt Bailey
Posted on 10 July 2004
Source Something Weird Video DVD
In 1967, deep in the hotbed of sexploitation filmmaking (the Florida suburbs) a narratively dense and experimental film — a Rashomon of titty flicks — sprang forth from the fertile loins of legendary producer David F. Friedman. It was not his most original creation, nor his most beloved, but it was a hell of a lot of fun to watch. That film was The Brick Dollhouse.
The Brick Dollhouse has one of the thinnest plots I have ever witnessed in cinema, and when we are talking about sexploitation films, that is saying a lot. Most sexploitation films (like the pornographic films that followed in their wake) construct the barest of plots on which to hang stripped-off clothes. Here, the justification for the abundant bosom-baring is a murder mystery. Someone has killed Min Lee, the “exotic” member of a group of denizens of a sleazy apartment complex. Was it her girlfriend Sandy, the bulldagger Diana Scarwid lookalike who talks like Marge Gunderson? Was it Linda, the anorexic with an English accent as cheap and as obviously fake as her wig? Perhaps it was the girl who, if she had not spent half of the movie topless, I would swear was a drag queen; or the girl who acts like Patty Duke in Valley of the Dolls, only much, much more high. I will not give away the hilarious twist ending or the identity of the actual culprit, but I will confide to you that you would, in a thousand years, never guess it.
What makes this movie worth watching, however, is not just its amazing attempt at narrative sophistication by constructing the film almost entirely from visualized reminiscences recounted from several points of view. Neither is it the shocking appearance of a few rather elegant tracking shots in the film, which, to an avid viewer of sexploitation films, is akin to discovering them in a film from 1910. Nor is it the wildly varied and entirely unsuccessful attempts at “acting” by the cast of buxom beauties. What sets this film apart from most others of the time is its eye-popping color photography of its unbelievably garish settings and lurid personages: The girls’ apartments are veritable museums of mid-century kitsch home décor: lavender stucco walls, Margaret Keane paintings, crass pastoral landscapes in oil, Picasso knock-offs in shades of pink, thickly-daubed portraits of matadors, “Oriental” lacquered furniture, pink princess telephones, ostentatiously ornate ceramic lamps, gigantic plush ottomans — the list goes on and on. For a cheap, shoestring-budget production, the filmmakers really went out of their way to create an authentic swinging pad. It is a marvel to behold and the bright lighting and histrionic gesticulations of the actors in these settings only enhance the bizarre Candyland-like atmosphere.
With all of this going on, it is difficult to follow the thread of the story, particularly when the murder victim is nowhere to be found in at least half of the flashback scenes. At a mere 55 minutes, however, the film is over before you really begin to care too much about what is actually happening. Once the murder is solved, the girls welcome their new roommate and Min Lee’s replacement: a tall black woman with white false eyelashes. To the intense grilling of her new roommates — “Do you like boys? Do you get high? Do you like nude parties? Do you like orgies?” — she replies with the only possible correct answer: “Sure thing, baby!”