“I learned on my wedding night that love was really a trap that could make you hate. A hate that made you want to kill your husband.” — Actual dialogue from The Sin Syndicate (that was probably jotted down by Michael Findlay while Roberta was talking in her sleep)
The cinematic path of Roberta Findlay is one of rugged terrain some of which has been covered up by nature or, in some cases, by Roberta herself in the hopes nobody would follow or find her. A 10,000 foot view of it would show it incomplete; broken in spots with pieces of the trail completely gone, never to be seen again. Representation of certain periods flourish only to recede into a string of titles that are lost or might as well be due to the odds that the original elements no longer survive. And this is the case with not only her filmography but of her husband’s, too; which, from a certain perspective is crucial to the understanding of Roberta’s output. For even 1964’s Body of a Female, the first film directed by Michael Findlay (co-directed with John Amero with Roberta appearing in front of the camera), is lost to time despite its important historical value.
In order to find the opening point to the River Findlay, one has to enter through 1965’s The Sin Syndicate, Michael Findlay’s first solo feature. Opening on some rough action surrounding a mobster named Rocky Lancen (Madison Arnold) and his grip on the crime rackets, The Sin Syndicate quickly settles into an omnibus portrait of the Zero Girls, those women who found themselves in terrible situations and were swallowed whole by Lancen and now operate on a street where trash seems to fall from the sky and gathers at the bottom of the chain link fence they lean upon.
Naturally, each story in The Sin Syndicate is dour and unpleasant per the requisites of the roughie subgenre. And it is here that Michael Findlay’s cinematic depravity (which was as much part of his legacy as his godawful demise atop the Pan Am building in 1977) is on full display as women are duped, beaten, gang-raped, and, probably worst of all, forced to make out in front of a leering and bearded Michael Findlay. And to add insult to injury, this all spills out with the most repetitive library scores laid atop it. While it’s easy to understand the importance of stretching a dollar, couldn’t beer and pizza been sacrificed for an evening to allow for another ten bucks to go towards securing just one more tune to mix things up?
But, despite this, the movie also ends up hacking through Michael’s objectively troubled frame of mind and fully sides with the women in the film. In each tale, sex is a currency and women a commodity. The bitterness in their voices is certainly tainted with the kind of poison that Michael Findlay could have bottled and sold for a king’s ransom but it’s also touched with the kind of direct and weary tone found in the real-life grievances of the women characters in Roberta’s work that would come later down the line. While she had little or nothing to do with the production of The Sin Syndicate, she absorbed a great deal in regards to the film’s visual style and lighting which, according to the film’s scant credits, are Michael’s work.
As a hazy string of memories detailing the plight of each woman, The Sin Syndicate sometimes contains some strong imagery, great New York exteriors, fascinating stock footage of the Cuban Revolution and the aftermath of the London Blitz, and interesting photography. But it all adds up to a pretty big nothing. Had Michael Findlay failed to fold Roberta into his filmmaking orbit, this movie would also be one of many forgettable roughies that were cranked out in the nascent days of sexploitation and then lost to time. But, since he did, the film’s proclamation that “This Is Not The End” turned out to be more prophetic than he could have possibly intended.
(C) Copyright 2022, Patrick Crain