Common Law Wife & Jennie: Wife/Child Blu-ray (Film Masters)

4 Stars "Hicksploitation" trash and treasure given a fresh coat of lead paint
Common Law Wife & Jennie: Wife/Child Masters Review

Common Law Wife & Jennie: Wife/Child is “Hicksploitation” trash and treasure given a fresh coat of lead paint

Common Law Wife (1961)
Released: 20 Jul 1961
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 81 min
Director: Eric Sayers, Larry Buchanan
Genre: Drama
Cast: Annabelle Weenick, George Edgley, Max W. Anderson
Writer(s): Grace Nolan
Plot: Shug, a rich old man, throws out his longtime live-in mistress and moves in his young, sexy niece, who's just returned home after making a living as a stripper in New Orleans. The mistress doesn't intend to go without a fight, how...
IMDB rating: 4.4
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Other
Distributed By: Other
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD, English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 15 Min + 1 Hr. 22 min
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Eco-Lite Vortex
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: ABC
Release Date: 06/25/2024
MSRP: $29.95

The Production: 3/5

Common Law Wife Screenshot

Common Law Wife comes off as the sort of film satirized by the likes of John Waters and Russ Meyer without the talent. Sloppily constructed of an entirely different unfinished film by Larry Buchanan (best known for Mars Needs Women and The Eye Creatures), “director” Eric Sayers leans heavily in the world of the grotesque. Shug Rainey (George Edgley) is an ancient-looking old fart who has become tired of his mistress Linda (Anne McAdams), so he’s having his 17 year old niece come over to give him some fresh attention. There’s also the subplot of bootleggers (not video, but moonshine) from the unfinished Buchanan footage. We also get some gun action and some poisoned moonshine before a surprisingly violent end.

It’s hard to come up with a clear plot. We’re expected not to notice that two different actresses play . The shift from 16mm clearly shot in color originally to the 35mm footage is often jarring, especially as there’s barely any real connective tissue between the scenes. I’m reminded of many films on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I can’t say it’s a terrible film as it’s thankfully only 72 minutes long, but you’ll want to be in the mood for something trashy.

Jennie Wife-Child screenshot

Jennie: Wife/Child is a much better film by comparison. Directed and written by James Landis (best known for The Sadist), this still has a level of sleaze, but there’s at least some effort to tell a clear story and with some actual artistic flair. Told in a semi-comical way with silent era intertitles popping up occasionally and with songs sprinkled throughout, this is a story about Jennie (Beverly Lunsford) – a child bride to farmer Albert Peckinpaw (Jack Lester). She’s got the hots for the farmhand Mario (Jim Reader). After Albert suffers a heart attack and requires bed rest, Jennie and Mario plot to run off with his money. Or so they think.

This teeters between trying to be a light Tennessee Williams knockoff to being somewhat of a parody of the “hick” subgenre, but I found it quite entertaining. The overdone melodrama makes it intentionally or unintentionally funny depending on the mood of the viewer (I found it often hilarious). Worth noting that like Common Law Wife, this was mostly filmed years earlier and given a re-edit with more risque footage (like the skinny dipping) and the intertitles. There’s also some really nice lighting and camera work by a young Vilmos Zsigmond (credited as “William”). The soundtrack even has original songs, including one that’s a bit catchy over some skinny dipping. This also has a surprising ending that I found amusing and was way sweeter than I had expected.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

Both Common Law Wife and Jennie: Wife/Child are in black and white, presented in the original theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio. They were scanned in 4K from original 35mm release prints and underwent an extensive digital cleanup process over six months (per Film Masters).

Common Law Wife has the most inconsistent source material due to the mix of 35mm and 16mm blow-up. Film Masters has thankfully chose to not go too far in cleanup. There’s some intermittent dirt and scratches, as well as film grain. The 16mm footage looks better than I expected, but with odd contrast due to being originally in color. I did notice a few sections, such as the first 30-some seconds and another stretch halfway through, which were sourced from a standard definition source. The quality is noticeably softer, but surprisingly not distracting.

Common Law Wife Screenshot 1 Common Law Wife Screenshot 2 Common Law Wife Screenshot 3 Common Law Wife Screenshot 4 Common Law Wife Screenshot 5 Common Law Wife Screenshot 6

Jennie: Wife/Child is all-35mm and Vilmos Zsigmond’s camera work make it a much more visually appealing film. I didn’t notice any major shifts in quality, just some sporadic dirt and scratches. Given that these are not exactly “important” works of cinema and they’re coming from a fairly new label, I’m impressed by how good the films look, even given limitations of the source material. It’s amusing that such a small label is able to put out quality remasters of films like this while many larger companies struggle to bring this quality onto more popular work

Film Masters has generously encoded both films (AVC – both with avg. bitrate of 35mbps), with Common Law Wife taking up a BD-25 and Jennie: Wife/Child sharing a BD-50 with the That’s Hicksploitation! documentary.

Jennie Wife Child Screenshot 1 Jennie Wife Child Screenshot 2 Jennie Wife Child Screenshot 3 Jennie Wife Child Screenshot 4 Jennie Wife Child Screenshot 5 Jennie Wife Child Screenshot 6

Audio: 4.5/5

Both films are presented with the original monaural sound in both DTS-HD MA 2.0 (16-bit/48Hz) and Dolby Digital 2.0 (192 kbps), sourced from the optical soundtracks of the same 35mm prints used for transfer. Not sure why the lossy track was included, but the lossless option sounds quite impressive for both, given the low budget nature of the films. Common Law Wife often has atrocious post-production dubbing and I doubt the lack of proper sync is anything new to the film. Jennie: Wife/Child fares much better, especially since it’s peppered with a lot of songs and music. I couldn’t detect any overdone noise reduction or filtering. While not exactly demo material, I feel that the sound for these films has been replicated authentically without digital tampering.

Film Masters has included English SDH subtitles for not only the films themselves, but also the commentaries and Ballyhoo documentary as well!

Special Features: 4.5/5

Common Law Wife includes two commentary tracks:

The first is a new track by film programmer, writer, and host of the “I Saw What You Did” movie podcast, Millie de Chirico, and Turner Classic Movies film programmer, Ben Cheaves. It’s a fun track without too much dead air. They seem to enjoy the movie on a level and point out some of the oddities (such as the poor attempts to hide two different actresses playing Baby Doll).

The second seems to be from a past Something Weird DVD, with original director Larry Buchanan interviewed by Nathaniel Thompson (of Mondo Digital). I found this to be a bit more interesting. Buchanan doesn’t seem to hold a grudge about another director taking over his footage and it seems like he hadn’t seen this in a long time. Worth listening to just for his reactions to the ending, which is quite charming.

The original theatrical trailer (taken from an SD upscale) is also included.

Jennie: Wife/Child features one commentary, also with Millie de Chirico. She goes more into the background of the cast and crew, also pointing out some locations. Just like Common Law Wife, she points out changes made to the film from the initial filming. I’m hoping to hear more tracks by De Chirico in the future.

The film shares the disc with a new Ballyhoo Motion Pictures documentary by Daniel Griffith: That’s Hicksploitation! Made up primarily of a great interview with film historian C. Cortney Joyner, clips from a vast array of low budget and even major studio work help put into context this strange subgenre. I liked how Joyner links up the Z-grade films of the 30s and 40s (like Child Bride) to the popular successes of 60s films like Bonnie and Clyde. At 51 minutes long and in 1080p, it’s like a great lecture in video form. Optional English subtitles are included.

There’s also a newly edited trailer for Jennie: Wife/Child (1080p).

Finishing out the package is a 24-page booklet featuring an illuminating essay on “hicksploitation” films by Something Weird’s Lisa Petrucci that’s a good read on these two films, as well as the genre in general.

Overall: 4/5

While not classics, I’m mostly impressed with the excellent treatment Film Masters has given to these two films. Very good remasters, several commentaries, a documentary, trailers, and a booklet. If you’re a fan of Kino Lorber’s recent Forbidden Fruit or even much of the fare offered by Vinegar Syndrome, this is a must-have release. I look forward to more of what Film Masters has to offer!

 

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Monitor:
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