Flesh Merchant (1956)

Blasts the Lid Off an Infamous Hollywood Vice Racket!

Poster image for 1956's Flesh Merchant

Young Nancy (Joy Reynolds) arrives in Hollywood hoping to follow in her older sister Paula’s (Lisa Rack) footsteps and become a glamorous model. Nancy almost immediately lands a gig posing in the nude, and once her assets are exposed, she’s recruited into the seedy world of prostitution at a swanky nightclub.

This is a low-budget, roadshow type of picture, so the cast isn’t exactly comprised of big stars. They still manage to turn in decent enough, though occasionally melodramatic, performances of the type that were more permissible in the earlier days of cinema. It’s quite well cast, too, as Joy Reynolds exudes naivety as Nancy, and Guy Manford and Marko Perri as the titular merchants of flesh seem like genuine scumbags. It’s pretty tame by today’s standards and is mostly cheesecake stuff, but is still admirably sleazy for its time and amazing how they skirted the censors.


Modeling in 1956's Flesh Merchant

THE FLESH MERCHANT (sometimes played under the title THE WILD AND WICKED) is vintage exploitation, so it’s not nearly as wicked, wild, or fleshy as it would be had it been made a decade or two later. Much of the exploitation elements are implied rather than shown, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps with their imagination, which allowed the filmmakers to dance around the censors. The women are occasionally seen in various states of undress, including but not limited to (gasp) swimsuits, but when they really strip down, it’s a strictly knee-down and neck-up affair. The only exception to this is a brief scene in which one of the ladies nabs a bath towel from another, giving us a quick flash of bare bottom.

It should be noted here that Secret Key Motion Pictures released this film on DVD in 2008 as part of their Skin in the Fifties set, however, in a misguided attempt to spice up the action, they inserted unrelated nude scenes from vintage stag loops into the movie. From a strictly historical perspective, I suggest seeking out the original edit, as it is the way that it was meant to be seen (though the filmmakers likely would’ve added their own gratuitous T&A if they could have gotten away with it, so the choice is yours).

Sisters from 1956's Flesh Merchant

Unfortunately for us, not much is known about the cast of THE FLESH MERCHANT—in some instances, it’s not even known which actors played which parts! Of those we do know (which are listed above), none of them exactly lit the acting world on fire. But if the Joy Reynolds in this film is the same Joy Reynolds pictured at Pulp International (and I believe it is), then she had a second career as a cheesecake model—and quite a saucy one at that. Yowzas all around.

Slightly more is known about members of the crew, however. First up, it was executive produced by Dan Sonney, whose father Louis was a former law enforcement officer who caught the showbiz bug and founded Sonney Amusements in 1921. Director W. Merle Connell was no stranger to the seamier side of life. He was responsible for a number of burlesque and striptease films (most of which are not even listed on the IMDb), and also brought us the artificial insemination exploitation TEST TUBE BABIES (1948), the time-lost island drama UNTAMED WOMEN (1952), and the nearly-nudie cutie NOT TONIGHT HENRY (1960). The script was written by Jay M. Kude and Peter Perry, Jr., the majority of whose credits also exist in the exploitation genres. Kude’s only other credit was as screenwriter for GIRL WITH AN ITCH (1958)—to which Perry also contributed. Perry’s filmography also includes (in various roles) REVENGE OF THE VIRGINS (1959), HONEYMOON OF TERROR (1961), MONDO MOD (1967), THE SECRET SEX LIVES OF ROMEO AND JULIET (1969) and more. He occasionally worked under some pretty colorful pseudonyms, including Seymour Tuchus and, my favorite, A.P. Stootsbury.

Tuchus and Stootsbury sound like they’d be a lot of fun at parties…

Salacious backside as seen in 1956's Flesh Merchant

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