Nope, that nugget of wisdom isn’t from Starz’s hit “Spartacus,” but from producer Roger Corman’s 1974 hit “The Arena,” one of three female-centric actioners that comprises Shout! Factory’s double-D, double-disc “Lethal Ladies 2 Collection.” Naturally, it’s the latest entry in the as-addictive-as-crack “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line.
Unimaginatively remade with Playboy Playmates Karen McDougal and Lisa Dergan in 2001 by pre-“Wanted” director Timur Bekmambetov, “The Arena” is much more memorable in this, its original form, which pairs a black slave with a white slave (Pam Grier and Margaret Markov, respectively, reteaming from the previous year’s “Black Mama, White Mama”).
The film quite literally puts female clothing on the swords-and-sandal genre, with women forced to play the gladiatorial games … not to mention wear humiliating garb in the case of Grier, whose breasts are so manipulated like Muppets, I felt sorry for her. Same goes with how she’s saddled with a name like Mamawi, which suggest “not from here,” while the blonde Caucasian gets the moniker of Bodicia, one that suggests “what a body!”
Oh, don’t get me wrong: I still enjoyed the movie. Clearly, it’s a career best for director Steve Carver (“Big Bad Mama,” “Capone“). Can’t say the same for Cirio H. Santiago, the prolific Filipino filmmaker (“Firecracker“) who helmed the other two flicks on this set.
From 1975, “Cover Girl Models” sends three models (Lindsay Bloom, Tara Strohmeier and the isn’t-she-lovely Pat Anderson of “TNT Jackson”) to Hong Kong for a photo assignment, only to find themselves embroiled in a spy plot. However, all that seems to take a back seat to the requisite and all-important clothes-changing sequences, followed by seduction and/or bedding sequences, followed by — when the script can get around to it — slow-motion modeling sequences.
Bearing some similarities to “Cover Girl Models,” but much, much more enjoyable is 1973’s “Fly Me,” which alone makes “Lethal Ladies 2″ worth your meager monetary investment. Quoth Austin Powers, “Bring on the sexy stews!” If you’ll settle for two-thirds of them to be sexy, hop aboard!
Proving Corman knew what he was doing, there’s nudity just after the one-minute mark. On a plane also bound for Hong Kong, the stewardesses — this is decades before we had to call them “flight attendants” — pass out polka-dot pillows that appear to be from Kmart’s short-lived Baskin-Robbins Collection of home furnishings. Meanwhile, a couple in the lavatory suffers coitus interruptus by turbulence, and two men argue about socialized medicine.
More important, however, is our trio of stews, each of whom finds their layover in Asia far from enjoyable, for different reasons:
• Lenore Kasdorf is inadvertently mixed up in an international crime syndicate. Rip her blouse (it matches the pillows!) and she will ball-punch you.
• Lyllah Torena manages to get kidnapped and sold into a sex ring.
• And for comic relief, Pat Anderson’s maiden voyage for the airline is made miserable by having her shrew of a mother (Naomi Stevens) showing up, thus frustrating the young woman’s efforts to bed a doctor (Richard Young, whose character’s name is actually Doctor).
The great Dick Miller scores a cameo as the cabbie who gets a distracting eyeful in the opener scene, segueing into a very much of-its-era credits sequence that sways its considerable hips to a swingin’ score. Notably, a pre-“Gremlins” Joe Dante (“Gremlins”) helped Santiago with dialogue, while future Oscar winner Jonathan Demme helped direct the martial-arts sequences. Yes, passengers, these stewardesses come standard with kung-fu moves. —Rod Lott