Thursday, December 14, 2017

#2,476. The Sister in Law (1974)

Directed By: Joseph Ruben

Starring: John Savage, Will MacMillan, Anne Saxon

Tag line: "She Kept It All In The Family!"

Trivia: John Savage who starred as the principle lead in this film also provided much of the music. He wrote and performed three original songs for the film

Throughout the '70s and ‘80s, Crown International (an independent studio that had been around since 1959) released an array of exploitation films, from teen comedies (Malibu Beach, Weekend Pass) to horror flicks (The Crater Lake Monster, The Hearse) to a few that straddled the line between the two (1989’s My Mom’s a Werewolf).

At first glance, writer / director Joseph Ruben’s 1974 movie The Sister in Law has all the makings of a typical Crown International picture. There’s plenty of nudity, an a handful of spicy sex scenes. But unlike many of the company’s other offerings, The Sister in Law is a searing drama, relating the often intriguing tale of a family that is coming apart at the seams.

After spending the past year hitchhiking across America, Robert Strong (John Savage) returns home to discover that his sister in law Joanna (Anne Saxon), the wife of his older brother Edward (Will MacMillan), has moved in with his parents (Jack Cooper and Jan DeCarlo). According to Joanna, Edward has shacked up with a younger woman, and intends to file for divorce. Yet as unusual as Joanna’s current living arrangements are, things take an even stranger turn when she and Robert hop into bed together!

Robert manages to hide their affair from the rest of the family, including Edward, whose writing career has hit a snag. In fact, Edward needs money so badly that he has agreed to become a bag man for a local gangster.

Unfortunately, the mob wants Edward to make a pick-up in Canada the very weekend he’s flying to California, where he hopes to land a job as a screenwriter. So, Robert agrees to take his brother’s place, and, accompanied by Edward’s new girlfriend Deborah (Meredith Baer), makes his way north to the pick-up location, not realizing until it’s too late that the contents of the package he will be transporting could change both his and Edward’s lives forever.

John Savage (in one of his earlier roles) and Will MacMillan are excellent as the brothers with differing ideals. Robert is a free spirit who doesn’t have many worldly possessions; he took very little along with him on his tour of the U.S.A. As for Edward, who until recently was a successful author, he wants nothing more than to maintain the luxurious lifestyle he has grown accustomed to, forcing him into an alliance with some very shady characters.

A fierce sibling rivalry between the two brothers occasionally rears its ugly head (a friendly game of basketball in the pool eventually turns violent), especially when it comes to the women in Edward’s life. Though he plans to divorce Joanna, Edward would be none too happy to find out that Robert is now sleeping with her (their sex scenes are easily the film’s steamiest moments). It is also obvious early on that Joanna (played so well by Anne Saxon) only seduced Robert to get back at Edward. During their trip to Canada, Robert even has a fling with Deborah! Clearly, the brothers have their issues, and we see just how poisonous their relationship has become when Edward sends the unsuspecting Robert to Canada, never telling him what it is he is supposed to pick up.

The Sister In Law does have its share of exploitative scenes. At one point, Joanna and Deborah get into a catfight, during which they both fall into the pool. But with its folksy soundtrack (with music performed by Savage himself) and an ending that will shock the hell out of you, The Sister In Law proves to be much more than a trashy skin flick. Odds are you’ll be thinking about it for days afterwards.

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