Steambath  (1973) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's words in white:

While I was changing channels in 1973, the PBS offering stopped me in mid-click with a nude Valerie Perrine. Nudity was not common on broadcast TV in 1973, and it got my attention, but what held my attention was possibly the best piece ever made for television. It is a filming of a stage play that takes place in a steambath. As it opens, Bill Bixby arrives, and starts meeting the other people in the bath, a strange mix of people, including an old seaman, a stock broker, two gays who call themselves the fags, and other odd sorts. Then in walks Valerie Perrine, who takes off her robe, and showers nude in front of everyone. She spends the rest of the film with only a towel around her waist, and one draped over her shoulders.

Perrine and Bixby finally realize that they might be dead, but the most startling revelation is that God is a Puerto Rican steam bath attendant, who manages the world when not busy mopping the floors. This is a sort of limbo, where God brings in a few recently departed at a time, and prepares them for the afterlife. The concept is fascinating, and the writing lived up to the concept. By popular demand, PBS replayed it, and I watched it more than once, but have not seen it mentioned in the decades since. Now it is finally available on DVD.

IMDB readers have it at 8.9 of 10, but with only 59 votes, which hints that this is an unknown gem waiting for the rest of you.  While plays tend to be talky when brought to screen, this one is never tedious, and touches on some profound issues, but with lots of humor. It was obviously mastered from video, and there were some obvious cuts to reduce the nudity, but neither factor detracted from my enjoyment.


Valerie Perrine is seen naked from the rear. Her breasts are visible from the side/rear.

Two of the males, Neil Schwartz and Patrick Spohn are seen naked from the rear in a song and dance number.

Scoop's notes in yellow:

Steambath is an off-Broadway stage play that was filmed for presentation on PBS. The author was Bruce Jay Friedman, a groundbreaking absurdist playwright, something of a New York stage legend, who was well known in certain circles for his humorous and intelligent stage works, but whose only significant film contribution was the story concept for Splash.

This brought back a lot of memories for me, and I like it a lot, but it isn't general interest stuff. It's sort of a humorous reworking of Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist classic, No Exit, so most of you can look at Valerie Perrine's nude scene and move on.

By the way, the two "fags", the guys who always spoke their lines together and did their notorious naked song and dance in the steambath - actors Neil Schwartz and Patrick Spohn - recreated their roles 10 years later for the TV series based on this play. (Jose Perez also recreated his role as God/Towelboy). Mr Spohn was a true showbiz curiosity. The Steambath stage play, the Steambath PBS special and the Steambath TV series constituted the sum total of his performing credits at IMDb. The internet theater database ( lists only a minor role in Gigi in 1973. The Broadway database ( lists him in two other plays 1969-1972.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • no widescreen

  • mediocre image quality

  • no features

If you are interested in filmed versions of New York stage plays from the 70's, you need to take a look at the theater section of  - awesome stuff - the performances of Streep, Ralph Richardson, Langella, Dustin Hoffman, Blythe Danner, Lee J Cobb, John Gielgud, Faye Dunaway, and others performing the works of Tennessee Williams, Clifford Odets, and the other giants of the 20th century theater. A real find for theater lovers.

The Critics Vote

  • no reviews online

  • Two Emmy nominations

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. Voting results: IMDb voters score it an astronomical 8.9/10. If it could hold that level, it would be the #2 film of all time.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Tuna says "B+". Scoop says "C+. I agree with Tuna's assessment of its quality, but not of its appeal. It's a terrific filmed stage play, and will be a real treat for the one of you out of a thousand that might be interested in such a thing."

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