Corman even aped that by granting “Streetwalkin’” with “She dropped out of high school this morning. Tonight she’s a Times Square hooker.” It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but you get the picture: One successful whoresploitation film begets another, whether it deserves one or not.
Here’s the difference: “Angel” was played by girl-next-door beauties Donna Wilkes and Betsy Russell, whereas the hooker in “Streetwalkin’” was played by Melissa Leo, who wouldn’t rake in near the john dough. She looks nothing like the mildly hot blonde on the original, sleazy poster (whose art is on the opposite side of the DVD’s reversible cover, so flip it over unless you want your copy to look a classy, made-for-Lifetime effort).
Leo, however, is now a freshly minted Academy Award winner, thanks to her role in “The Fighter,” which must be why this has been released as an entry in Shout! Factory’s “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line. It was Leo’s first starring role, and she showed her chops even then, at about 25 years old. She also showed her birthday suit, for those who may be interested in that.
In true Corman-company style, the movie wastes no time getting going. Cookie (Leo) steps off the bus and into whorin’ in under five minutes. She and her little brother (Randall Batinkoff, “Kick-Ass”) have runaway to escape an abusive stepfather. (Aside: With a name like Cookie, aren’t you doomed to ditch home and let total strangers defile you for cash? At least you don’t have to expend any mental energy on coming up with a hooker pseudonym.) At the station, Cookie meets a pimp named Duke (Dale Midkiff, “Pet Sematary”), and one opening-credit sequence later, she’s on the job.
And about that sequence: It sports one of the garish synth-rock themes of any film that decade. In part, it goes, “Streetwalkin’ / It’s the best that I can do / Streetwalkin’ / I wanna work on you / Well, hello, baby / You want some company / I got what you been missing / I got what you need / I specialize in lovin’ / So get it while it’s hot / I keep you comin’ back for more / l give you all I got.”
Also, I’m glad they went with the apostrophe in the title, because spelling it out with the whole suffix would have been so tacky.
The film posits that hookers can stand outside topless and not be harassed. Duke does the most of the harassment, to his own stable. When he smacks one so hard, she has to be hospitalized, Cookie plays Swap-a-Pimp, much to his extreme anger. No matter how many hos he slaps around, Midkiff is one of the least-threatening pimps in cinema history; I’m thinking he should’ve switched roles with Greg Germann (TV’s “Ally McBeal”), who is far more creepy and threatening.
Essaying roles of the other hookers are former Catwoman Julie Newmar, wearing the same red lingerie throughout the thing; and Khandi Alexander, who went on to greener pastures with long-running roles on TV’s “NewsRadio” and “CSI: Miami.”
It’s not the best hooker movie you’ll ever see, but “Streetwalkin’” is certainly a watchable one, especially the more unhinged Midkiff’s character gets to be. “Pretty Woman,” this ain’t, and thank God for that! —Rod Lott