top

Chastity
(1969)

Director: Alessio De Paola
Cast:
Cher, Barbara London, Stephen Whittaker


Over the years I have come across a number of claims about the motion picture industry that have painted the industry as having an unfair side to it. One such claim is that many stars have become stars because they had a loved one financing them all the way to stardom. At first, this may seem like a tired cliché, but the truth is that the grooming of a loved one to becoming a motion picture star has actually happened a few times over the years. Let me give you some examples. One of the earliest examples was back in the golden age of Hollywood, with Marion Davies. Time has been kind to this star - recollections of Davies reveal that she was an agreeable person and very easy to work with, and modern critics say that she did have some big screen talent. However, during her motion picture career she was often regarded as some kind of a joke. She was the mistress of millionaire William Randolph Hearst, who spent millions of his own dollars to fund gargantuan movies where she was the star, movies that almost always lost money despite the rave reviews that came from newspapers owned by Hearst. Another example of a millionaire grooming a loved one into becoming a big star happened several decades later with Pia Zadora. After she married millionaire businessman Meshulam Riklis, it didn't take long for her to start being built up as some kind of big star by him. First, he had her appear in print and television advertisements for Dubonnet wine, which built up awareness of her. After that, he financed a movie where Pia was the star, the notorious Butterfly. It was savaged by critics, and the feeling of fury from the critics just increased when Pia won a Golden Globe award for best new star of the year, something critics said happened because Meshulam had spent additional money campaigning for the award.

Though it hasn't always been millionaires who have made efforts to make their loved ones into movie stars - it's happened on a smaller scale as well. There was director John Derek, who directed several movies with his model wife Bo Derek. And then there was the case of Cher. Years before she became a respected movie actress, her then-husband Sonny Bono made an effort to make his wife a movie star. It's an interesting story that I've managed to piece from several sources, one of them being Phil Hall's always entertaining column The Bootleg Files (which is now at the Cinema Crazed web site.) The story starts in the late 1960s. During that time, Sonny & Cher's careers were at a crisis. While they had several hit songs during the early part of the decade, the hits suddenly stopped coming. Their style of music was now considered hokey and square compared to the psychedelic rock music now coming out. Cher liked the new style of music coming out and wanted Sonny and herself to record some of their own, but Sonny, who had final say about everything in their act, said absolutely not. Instead, he had the idea to make a comeback by making a movie with Cher, despite the fact that their previous movie, the charming Good Times, had lost more than three hundred thousand dollars for Columbia Pictures. But Sonny apparently saw that another movie in the same vein would not work. Apparently looking for respect, Sonny decided that this new movie would be a serious art drama, for starters. And he decided that while Cher would star in the movie, he would work behind the scenes as the screenwriter and the music composer. After completing the script, titled Chastity, Sonny and Cher set out to work to get funds, raising the half a million dollar budget by various means, from begging from friends to mortgaging their home and selling all their furniture.

Once funds were raised, filming started shortly afterwards, and accounts indicate that the shoot was very trying for everybody involved. Further problems came when the movie reached the Chastityediting stage, where Sonny screened the footage and realized what a real problem he had on his hands. Still, the movie managed to be edited to feature film length, and when Sonny shopped the completed movie to various distributors, he got the attention of American International Pictures, the biggest independent distributor in the country. Years later, A.I.P. head Samuel Z. Arkoff recalled, "Despite her youth, we recognized that Cher had talent and charm," and he bought the movie's distribution rights. A.I.P. soon after released the movie on their traditional drive-in circuit, but the drive-in audience wanted nothing to do with an artistic drama. Critical reaction wasn't much better, though some critics did state that Cher showed some acting talent. That wasn't much comfort to Sonny and Cher, who were now so broke and in deep debt to the I.R.S. that they soon were down to doing a night club act. But that turned out to be a blessing in disguise; Hollywood talent scouts came to their act and saw potential, and subsequently the couple were hired to star in a 1970s television variety show that as you probably know became a big hit. And Cher eventually showed her acting chops a decade later in movie like Silkwood and Moonstruck, winning an Oscar for the latter movie. However, Chastity remained very hard to see for years until 2004, when it was released on DVD.

The DVD tries to sell the movie with this plot description: "Desperate to escape her dark past, wild child Chastity (Cher) hits the streets on a quest for freedom - only to find herself launched on an electrifying odyssey of self discovery. But as she thumbs her way cross-country - and ends up at a seedy brothel in Mexico with fewer and fewer options - she finally begins to see that the only safe place to run... is into the arms of the one man who truly loves her." As it turns out, that plot description isn't totally accurate - though there is a young man (played by Stephen Whittaker of Bury Me An Angel) who shows some attraction to Chastity, I wouldn't call his feelings love. But despite this somewhat inaccurate plot description, it did prove to be handy to me. Without it, I think I would have been lost for the entire movie. Chastity starts off with the title character running to the camera. Then she's suddenly in the rain, hitching a ride from a trucker. She spends the night at the trucker's home, but does not sleep with him. The next morning, she's on the road again. She stops at a gas station and pretends to be a gas station attendant. Then she hitchhikes again. She has coffee and steak and eggs with the Whittaker character, and then spends the night at his home, though she does not sleep with him. The next morning, she goes to a church, but gets frightened and runs out. She immediately steals a car and drives to Mexico. Then... is it necessary for me to go on? There is no real plot to be found in Chastity. Instead, it consists of the title character going from one place to another with no real purpose. Although each vignette is not very long, it doesn't take long for the movie to become very tiring. The movie doesn't seem to want to accomplish something like the character accomplishing a big goal.

Viewers will be asking themselves, "Just what is the point of this movie?" Well, if they have read that plot description before watching the movie, they will have a little clue. The intent of the movie seems to be an examination the character of Chastity more than having any sort of plot. I guess the movie could have possibly worked with this angle, but as it is, it's a mess. We don't find out what Chastity's dark past is until the final few minutes of the movie. And while the revelation of her dark past does explain in part why Chastity is the way that she is, it does little to have made the trip with her one where we can end up feeling some sympathy to her. To put it bluntly, Chastity is an annoying character. She ends up being nasty to just about everyone that she encounters, even the ones that show her some sort of kindness. Maybe had the movie revealed her dark past early on, we could understand and even sympathize with why she acts so p*ssed off most of the time, but as it is, the movie gives us no reason to care about her until the very end. I will say that Cher, while saddled with an unsympathetic and grating role, does manage to make Chastity a convincing character. While her character is unquestionably obnoxious, Cher does refrain for the most part from going over the top with Chastity's words and actions. Chastity will probably remind you of real annoying people that you've met in your life. Cher is also given some quieter moments with her character, and in those scenes she also does well. When her character (thankfully) shuts up momentarily, you can look at her face and her body language, and instantly know what this young woman is thinking at that very moment. It's a subtle but very effective bit of acting.

As for the other performances in Chastity, it's kind of hard to judge them since the majority of the supporting cast have very limited roles, so limited that we only get to learn the name of one other character in the movie other than Chastity. Though I will say that Whittaker gives a standout performance since he manages to convince the audience that his character not only has some attraction to the obnoxious Chastity, but is also not terribly shook up by her erratic behavior. I couldn't help but wonder how Whittaker managed to do this - did he get help from director Alessio de Paola? Paola, by the way, with this movie made his directorial debut, coming out of nowhere. I have no idea why producer and writer Sonny Bono hired him to direct (and Paola vanished after this movie... unless he was Bono himself using a pseudonym), but I will say he showed a little competence behind the camera. Though a low budget enterprise, the movie has an acceptable look, not looking all that cheap or amateurish. The lengthy Mexico sequence has some genuine flavor and local color. And he occasionally uses hand held cameras to pretty good effect. However, he can't overcome the fact that he was saddled with that aforementioned sorry script. Though he attempts to make just about every scene play out at a brisk pace, he all the same can't disguise the fact that pretty much nothing of significance is happening. With so little happening, he manages to stumble particularly hard at the ending, a conclusion that doesn't resolve anything and leaves the viewers hanging. As the end credits started playing, I once again said to myself what I said earlier on: "Just what is the point of this movie?" The only conclusion I could come up with is that it was a gesture of love by a man (Sonny Bono) to his wife. Though if this is what he thought a great romantic gesture was, it's doesn't come as a surprise to learn they got a divorce several years later.

(Posted May 5, 2018)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Didn't You Hear, Good Times, The Noah

homeindexgenree-mail