THE SEVEN MINUTES (1971)

The movie kicks off like any other Russ Meyer film with a briskly cut burst of vivacity as a striking and buxom woman (Mora Gray) walks her German shepherd (or as is really case, is being walked by her German shepherd). However, the film quickly settles into the car of two vice cops who ogle the girl before she runs out of their line of sight, taking any semblance of an ordinary Russ Meyer film with her. For these two have serious business at the Argus Bookstore; a possibly obscene book, The Seven Minutes by J.J. Jadway, is in need of confiscation.

And begins The Seven Minutes, Russ Meyer’s adaptation of the 1969 Clifford Irving novel of the same name, and his follow up to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls which, despite that film’s X rating, proved to be a hit for 20th Century Fox which caused them to offer Meyer a three picture deal consisting of prestige projects that were seemingly outside of Meyer’s wheelhouse. In other words, there wasn’t going to be a lot of room for tits.

But The Seven Minutes, despite its obvious lack of the central ingredient found in most of Meyer’s work, is most definitely a Russ Meyer film in execution and, given its full-throated support to the first amendment and the savageness in its attack on a hypocritical elite class of squares who cast everything they hate as obscene, it had to have been a subject that was very much close to his heart.

The film centers around the obscenity case being levied at lowly bookseller Ben Fremont (Robert Moloney) for selling The Seven Minutes, a controversial novel that details the innermost thoughts of a woman in the seven minutes it takes her to reach orgasm during a sexual encounter. Attorney Michael Barrett (Wayne Maunder) takes the case for the defense, joining his voice with Meyer’s for the remainder of the film. The obscenity case takes on a whole new wrinkle when local teen Jerry Griffith (John Sarno) is falsely accused and arrested for the sexual assault of a girl (which, set to a Wolfman Jack broadcast, is shocking and effectively realized). For it seems that Griffith, the son of a well-positioned member of the community’s upper echelon, had recently purchased The Seven Minutes which gives prosecuting attorney Elmo Duncan (Philip Carey) a hot-button and high-profile case that he is also using for his own political aspirations. Swirling around the case is a galaxy of supporting players such as Faye Osborn (Edy Williams), Ben’s long-suffering fiancé-cum-insufferable diva; Maggie Russell (Marianne McAndrew), the Victoria Winters of the Griffith estate and Ben’s eventual love interest; Luther Yerkes (Jay C. Flippen), a wheelchair-bound, Mephistopheles-like political fixer who pulls every string on the prosecution side; and Clay Rutherford (James Iglehart), Ben’s co-counsel and friend.

Like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, The Seven Minutes does not stop with the information. This is a film that unfolds and continues to do so well after you can see what is spread out before you. But unlike Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which Meyer had some hand in writing along with Roger Ebert, The Seven Minutes showed up this way. Manny Diaz did an uncredited pass on Richard Warren Lewis’s verbose and stiff screenplay but there is only so much that could be done with this material. If you couldn’t get a smirk or a rise out of the audience through the delicious dialogue as could be done with the zany vocabulary that was in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, all of the life for The Seven Minutes would have to come through the editing, framing, and hard-hitting dramatics. So, to this end, Russ Meyer figured that the best approach would to be to make an industrial film on pornography and its social and legal ramifications.

And by approaching The Seven Minutes in that manner, Meyer could take a more straightforward attitude in discussing what he felt was wrong with America and its ruinous relationship with sex and the display of same. The rotary club socialites sitting around and watching porn while moving the levers to have it banned is not very subtle today but it’s earned its right to be a cliche and, in 1971, the peel-back on the Silent Generation’s ugly underbelly was pretty fresh. But as long as there is a cabal of people sitting around and enjoying the high life by night while selling shame by the truckload by day, that structural sanctimony deserves to be torched in every manner possible. It could be argued that Meyer is attempting to have it both ways by trying to draw a distinguishing line between artistic merit and pornography. But whether he included himself in the whole perverted pool or felt that he himself was on the tasteful end of things is irrelevant given that his assertion that there was nothing cinematic about what occurs below the waist was just one man’s opinion and, specifically, an opinion that Radley Metzger and a whole host of others eventually proved was unfounded.

The whole last hour of the 115 minute film is the court proceeding and all of Meyer’s energy gets contained within four walls amid a mostly ceaseless palate of earth tones with only the briefest of sojourns outside the courtroom. The film’s final thirty minutes is a nutty race against time where the case hinges on a Perry Mason-like reveal which occurs after a mad, trans-American dash to secure some information that has the improbable logic of Mike Brady’s plans getting relay-raced through Kings Island. But to see it all come together and land so perfectly despite the wild strands is such a testament to Meyer’s control and shows that he could have been a very good studio hand had he arrived about five years earlier. Seeing how we probably wouldn’t have gotten Beyond the Valley of the Dolls had that happened, we can just dispel that whole faux-history and be grateful for what we got.

The film also allows Meyer to explore his own issues with penis envy as the sexually violent trouble begins with a passage in the titular book that includes a statue with “a giant phallus.” And in keeping with Meyer’s universe, the hero of the film is ultimately Yvonne DeCarlo who articulates the finer points of the film and goes to great lengths to flame America’s terrible relationship with erotic material. And it should be noted that, ultimately, The Seven Minutes is explicitly about a woman’s orgasm, spoken about loudly and without any shame which seems like a brave thing for a major motion picture from a major studio.

Despite the copious amount of dialogue, Meyer still insists on emphasizing performances with the eyes and through subtle facial shifts coupled with editing on half-beats. Everything moves forward with an anticipatory momentum like a row of perfectly-spaced dominoes collapsing. The performances are all very good but special attention should go to Harold J. Stone as Judge Upshaw, who sells it as a perpetually frustrated adjudicator. Additionally, it was nice to see James Iglehart in a role that was the polar opposite of his Randy Black character from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, suggesting a range that could have been mined further had he not hung it up and retired from screen acting in 1978.

Despite its reputation, The Seven Minutes is mighty compelling even if it preaches to the choir and, ultimately, is a text that would mostly bite Russ Meyer in the ass in the long run. As its central concerns and arguments were the ones later extended to hardcore pornography and more or less made it legal to see (if not always legal to make), Russ’s preferred type of sex film eventually got completely crowded out of the market. How this film lands with the typical viewer of his work depends on whether they see Meyer as a base filmmaker or whether they think his style could be applied to genres outside sexploitation. Ultimately, The Seven Minutes is a small success and gives the best look at what Meyer could do if given the budget and chance. Sure, it’s got a creaky artifice and a backlot patina that’s less charming than the one found in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls but it’s massively impressive in its visual design and bold in its message.

Despite his style being unique and singular, perhaps Russ Meyer dealing with more conventionally entertaining material underwritten by Hollywood money felt a little old fashioned in the wake of the gritty, electrifying jolt that was unleashed in William Friedkin’s The French Connection the same year. Whatever the reason, the film’s failure ended Meyer’s relationship with 20th Century Fox and, by extension, Hollywood. While he didn’t move entirely back into his comfort zone with his next cinematic effort, he’d be there soon enough. But first, enough of the tans and browns and the olives splashed all over the the halls of justice. It was time for something more lush and verdant. Meyer was Barbados bound.

(C) Copyright 2022, Patrick Crain

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