Dead Women in Lingerie (1991) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
As the old cliché goes, a camel is a horse designed by a committee.
In that sense, Dead Women in Lingerie is a camel of a film. It seems
to have been created by making a pastiche of several scripts written
by four different kinds of writers, each of whom thought he was
writing the film alone. Imagine on the one hand, a Depression-era
work of earnest social activism by John Steinbeck. Now imagine a
private eye murder mystery written by Dashiell Hammett. Now imagine
a zany, sophomoric detective spoof like Ace Ventura. Now imagine a
1950s romantic comedy with Rock Hudson and Doris Day. Each of those,
on its own, is capable of finding an audience, but where is the
audience for a combination of the four?
I don't suppose there is one, because this 1991 film has been all but forgotten.
The murder mystery begins the film, as we see a
pretty young woman (left, a very young Laura Harring, years before
Mulholland Drive), presumably an illegal alien, being murdered
somewhere in the L.A. area. We see her from the murderer's P.O.V.,
so she is basically delivering a soliloquy to the camera. It's a
pretty standard opening scene for a low budget film noir. The
murdered woman had been working in a garment factory, sewing
lingerie. Since she was also young and attractive, she made a little
extra money wearing the clothes in the small, private fashion shows
presented for prospective buyers. She was wearing the lingerie when
she was killed. Another woman dies in lingerie soon thereafter, and
she also turns out to be a pretty young Mexican woman who doubled as
a lingerie worker and lingerie model in the same factory. The police
and the INS agents don't seem to be very interested, so the
factory's fashion designer (Maura Tierney), fearing for the lives of
her models and herself, hires a private detective to work on the
That was the portion of the film which seemed to be written by Dashiell Hammett. That basic storyline proceeds in a workmanlike, unoriginal manner, detouring for a few red herrings, until the real killer is unmasked. Usual stuff.
But some strange things happen along the way.
First of all, the lingerie designer and the private detective fall in love, and this is the Rock Hudson portion of the film. The relationship begins platonically. The woman first invites the private eye to pretend to be her boyfriend at a family dinner, in order to avoid being fixed up with Eddie Haskell. I'm not kidding. It's the guy who never plays anything but Eddie Haskell (right), playing something other than Eddie Haskell, but really still playing Eddie Haskell with a different name. The scenes with the family include the usual sitcom banter and bickering from the usual TV stalwarts like June Lockhart and Lyle Waggoner. As inevitably happens in the Rock/Doris format, the Rock character goes from being the beard to being a real boyfriend, and a seriocomic romance develops.
The detective is a real wise-ass and kind of a clumsy
dork, so his investigation of the brutal murders includes zany
slapstick, lowbrow hijinks, nudge-nudge sexual innuendo, and
inappropriate cavalier remarks about the grisly murders. You can
picture the flavor of these scenes if you imagine a series of
heartbreaking murders investigated by Ace Ventura, Pet Detective.
The final element comes from various unnecessary and tacked-on scenes in which the characters have long, sincere conversations about the plight of illegal immigrants in the USA, including several comments about an amnesty law which was kinda topical at the time. I say "kinda" because the film was made in 1991, but takes place in 1987, when the law actually was topical! There are also heavy-handed discussions and demonstrations about the unfair tactics of the INS, all of which grind the film's forward momentum to a halt, as if the film were made for broadcast TV, with PSAs inserted in lieu of commercial breaks. Thus did Steinbeck lend his influence.
I'm not sure if any cast could have made this bizarre combination work, but if it could have been done, it would have required a truly great talent in the part of the detective. Frankly, I don't even think Jim Carrey could have pulled all those disparate threads together into something both funny and touching, but I do know that the guy who played the part, John Romo, couldn't even come close. He wasn't very good at either the comedy or the drama, and he didn't even seem like a professional actor. For example, he never seemed to know where to look, and he always seemed to be wondering what to do with his hands. His IMDb biography shows that he never worked as an actor again. In fact, although he was also the co-author of the script, he never received another writing credit either.
His was not the only career murdered by this film. His co-author, Erica Fox, also directed the film, but her IMDb bio shows that she never received any subsequent credits either as a writer or a director. She was more fortunate than Mr. Romo in that she was able to find other work in the production side of the industry, where she continues to be active. Romo, on the other hand, seems to have disappeared completely from the face of the earth after this film.
I guess I could beef a bit about the murder plot. The first victim, the one who makes a soliloquy to the camera-acting-as-murderer's-eyes, speaks to the murderer in both English and Spanish. All well and good, because she is a Mexican, after all, but that turned out to be a very unfair red herring. Those of us who enjoy trying to solve a murder mystery will subsequently be looking for someone who can speak Spanish, so our ears will perk up, for example, when we hear that the Anglo factory manager (Jerry Orbach!) can unexpectedly speak pretty good Spanish, thus placing him back on the suspect list. Well, it turns out that the murderer is some red-headed Anglo guy who is a corrupt INS agent. Oh, yeah, I know that it is logical to assume that an INS agent assigned to the barrio would be required to speak fluent Spanish, but in this case we have specifically been shown that he cannot, because at one point we have seen the detective translate for him!
Oh, I guess I'm being persnickety. Given the fact that nothing else in the film really works, I guess the failure of the mystery plot shouldn't have surprised me. Both Maura Tierney and Jerry Orbach do pretty decent jobs with their parts, but there was nothing they could do to save this turkey.
Return to the Movie House home page