Saturday Night Spotlight #11: Stephanie Rothman

Stephanie Rothman (b. 1936) occupies a unique spot in the female film canon of the 1960s and 1970s: beginning with Blood Bath (1966, co-directed by Jack Hill), she embarked on an eight-year stint as a filmmaker and screenwriter, finishing her directorial career with The Working Girls in 1974. Rothman worked with mentor Roger Corman, who was the executive producer for three of the seven films that she directed, giving her the opportunity to make films about such popular (and not stereotypically “feminine”) B-movie topics as serial killers, bikini-clad babes, nurses, vampire horror in the Mojave Desert, polygamy, prisoners and strippers. Although Rothman’s career was short-lived and she didn’t have the control over choice of projects that she wanted, she made her mark in a particular niche of a male-oriented field. (Note: this post also serves as Filmmaker Firsts post #20 since I watched The Velvet Vampire last night.)

It’s a Bikini World (1967) – Perhaps most notable for its inclusion of many popular musical acts of the era, including the Animals (an internationally acclaimed group), the Gentrys, the Castaways and the Toys, Rothman’s first directorial credit attributed solely to her stars Tommy Kirk as an unabashed chauvinist trying to woo feminist Deborah Walley. Rothman uses the scantily-clad actresses and catchy rock tunes as a front for the more important issue of how men treat women. The film was co-written by Rothman and her husband Charles S. Swartz, as was the case with the other three films highlighted in the posts.

The Student Nurses (1970) – Feminism plays a noticeable role in what might have otherwise played out as a cheesy exploitation flick in the hands of a male director. The female characters here have a camaraderie in their friendships that might not have been expected in a film about pretty young nurses and their loves. Given the genre and the time period, there are nude scenes, but more importantly there is character development. Some well-known actors also appear, including Elaine Giftos, Reni Santoni, Richard Rust, Scottie MacGregor and Pepe Serna.

The Velvet Vampire (1971) – It was a common occurrence for arty horror films of the early 70s to involve a seductive female vampire who ensnares an unsuspecting young couple in her deadly web. Rothman’s film compares unfavorably to the elegant Daughters of Darkness (Harry Kümel, 1971), but The Velvet Vampire has some effective moments amidst the low-budget silliness, particularly in some surrealist set pieces filmed in the Mojave Desert. Celeste Yarnall does a good job as the title bloodsucker, amusingly named Diane LeFanu in reference to 19th century author Sheridan Le Fanu, who wrote Carmilla.

Group Marriage (1973) – Polyamory and polygamy are explored in this comedy. Popular actresses Victoria Vetri (who appeared as the doomed neighbor Terry in Rosemary’s Baby in 1968), Aimée Eccles and Claudia Jennings (who was in many cheapie 70s films before dying in a car accident in 1979) are the beauties on display here. The film is a bit of a knockoff of Paul Mazursky’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), but Rothman puts an emphasis on the social ramifications of these complicated romantic relationships. There is also the inclusion of a gay couple who want to get married too, an interesting consideration given the problems faced by the heterosexual pairings presented in the narrative.


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