Little Miss Innocence (1973) (Film and DVD Review)
Directed by Chris Warfield
Starring John Alderman, Sandy Dempsey and Terri Johnson
Release Date: November 1973
Director Chris Warfield certainly had a diverse career. Before he was writing or directing some of the better hardcore films of late 1970’s he began his career as an actor. His debut came in the 1953 Joan Crawford vehicle TORCH SONG which led to a long line of TV appearances in everything from sitcoms like The Lucy Show to family fare such as Lassie. As the 70’s dawned he turned to writing sexploitation (THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO, for example) and in 1973 he moved behind the camera to direct his first film, LITTLE MISS INNOCENCE.
Swarthy bachelor Rick (John Alderman, GIRLS ON FIRE) spots a couple of nubile hitchhikers and offers them a ride in his Cadillac convertible. They seem like nice enough young women and, trying his luck at the ultimate straight male fantasy, invites them up to his “neato” bachelor pad. They take him up on his offer and it seems Rick’s fantasies are going to come true as both the worldly Carol (Sandy Dempsey, THE DIRTY MIND OF YOUNG SALLY) and the virginal Judy (Terri Johnson, FLESH GORDON) throw their naked bodies at him. It’s all fun and games until the women refuse to leave. When Rick tries to compel their departure, Judy reveals that she is only 17. Blackmail isn’t what the girls have on their minds, however. Their plan is a far more shocking one. As Carol’s behavior grows more and more sinister, Rick finds himself at the mercy of a thrill-seeking, sexual Leopold and Loeb.
LITTLE MISS INNOCENCE is an odd little film. The scenario is decidedly sleazy, but this isn’t your standard piece of 70’s filth. With Hollywood veteran Warfield at the reigns and behind the typewriter, LITTLE MISS INNOCENCE is a far more interesting character study than it may appear to be on paper. While we learn to distrust Judy and Carol early on, the script repeatedly throws red herrings in our path leaving us off guard when their true motivations are revealed. Through swift pacing we are left with little time to process the subtle clues that could tune us into the true motives of these two interlopers into Rick’s life. Warfield’s script (co-written with E.E. Patchen) is snappy and full of dark humor that helps build suspense rather than dispel it. The unpredictable behavior of Judy and Carol is expertly tailored to keep both Rick and the audience guessing.
The cast of three is excellent, which is crucial to this type of film. One false note in any of their performances would throw the entire symphony out of whack.
John Alderman is certainly the most familiar face here as his resume is “prolific” personified. He appeared in countless supporting roles in episodic television, all the while straddling a film career that swung wildly between the infamous Dennis Hopper disaster THE LAST MOVIE and sexploitation farces like THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF ZORRO. All the while, he supplemented his income by appearing in a non-sex capacity in dozens of classic hardcore films, including AMANDA BY NIGHT and THE ECSTASY GIRLS. While Alderman had a strong voice and striking physicality, in LITTLE MISS INNOCENCE he does much of his acting with his eyes: he takes it all in with both intrigue and disbelief at the strange situation surrounding his character.
Terri Johnson (billed here as Judy Medford) plays the innocent Judy with an endearing naivety that comes across as very real. Johnson was a softcore fixture during the waning days of the genre. She made dozens of appearances in T&A roles, largely uncredited, and LITTLE MISS INNOCENCE comes as her career was drawing to a close. Johnson left films behind in 1974 just as softcore succumbed almost completely to more explicit fare.
The most stunning performance comes from porn veteran Sandy Dempsey. Dempsey seemed to be on every movie screen where bare breasts could be found throughout the 1970’s. While appearing in countless films, she was rarely called upon to actually act. In LITTLE MISS INNOCENCE we see just what a talent she was. As the film enters its final act, Dempsey’s Carol becomes increasingly unhinged. Dempsey’s performance grows darker and darker, culminating in the character’s complete and violent mental breakdown. It is an unflinching performance that comes out of the blue and is intensely memorable.
In less judgmental times, Dempsey may well have been able to maintain a career in legitimate films. She absolutely had the talent. Had she remained in adult films she would certainly be remembered alongside Georgina Spelvin and Veronica Hart as one of adult film’s better actresses. Alas, she would not be given that opportunity. On May 24, 1975, Sandy Dempsey was killed in a boating accident in the Gulf of Mexico. She was only 26 years old, a vivacious smile and great talent lost to the world of film forever.
The sordid cinema of LITTLE MISS INNOCENCE faded from the public memory after its initial theatrical run. Outside of gray market releases, it remained largely unavailable for four decades. In 2015, cult film superheroes Vinegar Syndrome resurrected the film and presented it in a newly scanned and restored print on a double bill with Warfield’s later TEENAGE SEDUCTRESS. The film is presented the way it was originally released, in an R-Rated version as it appeared in drive ins. The release also features the original trailer for the film which brings up a few interesting points.
The R-Rated version, while technically uncut because that is how it was released, shows signs that it was intended to be a much more explicit film and the trailer underscores this fact. In the feature proper the sex scenes are short and abruptly edited, complete with characteristic soundtrack pops and awkward transitions. In the trailer, however, they are much more explicit. In the theatrical cut, Alderman is usually very strategically covered, but he appears completely nude in the trailer and the sexual encounters he has with his co-stars leave little to the imagination in these fleeting glimpses of deleted scenes.
The cuts were, understandably, to help the film reach a wider audience. On the other hand, the cuts are unfortunate because the sexual scenes – at least judging by what remains in the trailer – serve to underline the animalistic, frenzied, disorienting theme of the film. The scenes were also highly erotic and that is not a bad thing. Unfortunately, even in the 21st century, explicit eroticism is seen as cheapening a film. A film like LITTLE MISS INNOCENCE is a story about tarnished sexuality…and this is undercut somewhat by shying away from actually showing the damaged sexuality of the characters in an upfront way.
Still, there is much to enjoy in the film. The camera work by schlock king Ray Dennis Steckler (director of THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO GAVE UP LIVING AND BECAME MIXED UP ZOMBIES!!?) is competent and unobtrusive, showcasing some marvelous scenes shot around Los Angeles in 1973. These scenes, with a nice hippy-dippy theme song to accompany them, are a terrific time capsule of a Los Angeles that has since lost much of its magic. They are also a nice break from the rest of the film which is strongly dialogue-driven and deliberately claustrophobic. The cast has great chemistry in these outdoor scenes.
While the film faded from view, it must have remained close to Chris Warfield’s heart because he was involved in writing and producing a hardcore remake in 1987. In that film Eric Edwards takes on the John Alderman role. The remake, shot-on-video, is a near direct translation of the original right down to several of the music cues.
LITTLE MISS INNOCENCE is dark, cynical, often witty, always surprising film making. The ending is as memorable as it is unexpected. LITTLE MISS INNOCENCE is a decent evening’s viewing to explore the beginning of one director’s journey as he leads his cast in a most unconventional story of innocence defiled. Whose innocence that is I will leave you to discover on your own. Recommended.