AVAILABLE ON DVD: NOW, in ARROW VIDEO’s Blu-ray set of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
RUNNING TIME: 115 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
NOTE: THERE DON’T SEEM TO BE MANY COLOUR PICS AROUND OF THIS FILM. THE PICS IN THIS REVIEW IN NO WAY INDICATE THE QUALITY OF THE DVD!
A sting operation occurs where two detectives enter a book store and purchase a copy of a book called The Seven Minutes so the seller can be prosecuted. Behind the operation is prosecutor Elmo Duncan, who wants to become a senator and feels that campaigning against pornography will give him votes, backed up by a group who wish to stamp out all youthful violence incited by salacious material in books and films. The publisher calls hot shot attorney Mike Barrett to defend the book and he sets about uncovering the mystery of its true author, but at the same time, a teenager supposedly commits a rape, and his father owned….a copy of The Seven Minutes….
The subject of censorship is probably one that interests many who read this website, it certainly being a major interest of mine ever since I first became a big horror fan in the mid 80’s and found out that many of the films that I wanted to see were either cut or banned in the UK altogether. Therefore I found The Seven Minutes, even though its story revolves around a sexy book rather than a horror movie, quite interesting. It’s regarded as something of an atypical work from Meyer, though I still didn’t really get the film that I expected. Yes, it’s s very talky drama, with a final third that plays out in a courtroom, but it’s not really as serious and sober a work as I expected, being full of odd touches and unmistakably the work of the auteur who made Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. Meyer certainly has a distinctive directorial style, while it seems that he just can’t resist putting in attractive, often big chested, women all over his film even if their characters are unimportant, and have his characters constantly “at it”. The relative obscurity of The Seven Minutes isn’t entirely surprising – I reckon that it would have got more attention and be taken more seriously if Meyer hadn’t actually been the director – but I rather enjoyed it, and could certainly feel the passion of the film’s cry for free speech and attack on those who try to ban things.
In fact, Meyer wasn’t the original director at all. The man intended to direct the film of Irving Wallace’s novel The Seven Minutes was Richard Fleischer [20 000 Leagues Under The Sea, The Boston Strangler], and I reckon that he would have made a decent job of it, but he left the project for reasons unknown. When Meyer came on board, 20th Century Fox cut the budget from $6 million to less than $2 million, despite Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls having been the studio’s only major hit of 1970. The studio also refused Meyer’s desire to add significant nude scenes to the film, though he managed to get just a little bit in. The budget was still far higher than be was used to and he ended up with over 24 hours of usable film. To use as much footage as he could, Meyer decided to make quick cuts using all sorts of angles, with hardly any shot lasting more than three or four seconds as edited. Unfortunately, The Seven Minutes was a rare flop for Meyer, the notoriety of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls meaning that many folk who would have actually appreciated the movie weren’t interested in it. Meyer subsequently walked away from the three picture deal he had with Fox and returned to independent filmmaking.
Any expectations that The Seven Minutes is going to be a very conventional drama are immediately dashed by the opening of two men in a car trying to keep up with a big breasted woman in a tight red top [there’s lots of big breasted women in tight tops in this movie] who is virtually being pulled along by her dog! Then the titles come up, and as with Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, they are in the form of a scroll, but this time constantly freeze framed to the ticks of a clock. There’s kind of a pastiche film noir feel to the scene of the two cops visiting the book store which is selling The Seven Minutes, asking for it, then arresting the seller. The publisher of the book contacts our hero, defence lawyer Mike Barrett, and of course he’s in bed with a pretty [and big chested] lass who tries to distract him from his phone conversation. This film is full of unnecessary little moments like this one, but Meyer [I bet he had a hand in the screenplay] just has to remind us who’s directing this film every now and again, though having the villains of the piece, men who are trying to clean up society, having [big chested] dolly birds dancing away in the background and even watching pornography does really make these hypocritical fools people you love to hate. It reminds me of Roman Polanski’s claim that many censors are kinky. After all, what do they really do with all those bits of sex and violence that they cut out?
Meyer proves himself a master at filming an event so it has maximum impact during a scene where teenager Jerry Griffin, after having sex with a girl, fails to prevent his friend from raping her. While not graphic, the frenzied crosscutting which makes it look like a radio DJ [American Graffiti’s Wolfman Jack] is in the same room as the three teens makes the moment quite powerful. Jerry ends up covering for his mate, while his father claims it was The Seven Minutes that led him to commit the crime. Soon the book itself is on trial, and in true courtroom drama style the defence doesn’t seem to have much of a chance, with the judge seeming to favour the prosecution side, but Barrett sets about finding out some facts about the book’s author which could help matters. At the same time, his big chested girlfriend ditches him [“You’re second rate Mike, and I only have time for number one”] so he can fall into the arms of a pretty [but not big chested] friend of Jerry’s called Maggie. The romantic [if it can be called that] stuff in this movie isn’t very compelling, but the story is really rather well constructed and there’s even a decent twist or two towards the end.
As with Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, The Seven Minutes wryly looks at the issue of masculinity, but of course more than anything else it’s a heartfelt attack on censorship and a cry for freedom of expression. Of course, in these days of Fifty Shades Of Gray, it’s hard to imagine a book like The Seven Minutes causing such a furore now, but there’s still much that is pertinent, like when, during the trial, one of prosecution’s witnesses says,concerning the book: “I forced myself to read it – from cover to cover”, just like all those strange people who are offended by something they see on TV but can’t actually be bothered to switch to another channel. The villains are caricatures but get the best lines. “One of your witnesses, Elmo, has got to be a thinking man’s queer. Those queens are so afraid of anything straight they’re bound to be on our side”. The Seven Minutes cackles with memorable lines, while Meyer keeps the virtually action-less plot moving with his extremely tight editing, sometimes having one scene virtually spill over into the next, while giving us some interesting little bits of stylisation like a strange ripple effect, as if something like water has been superimposed over the main action, when Barrett is conked on the head. On the other hand, The Seven Minutes also feels a bit disjointed in places, and with some scenes lasting too long while other don’t seem to last long enough.
While the main cast are mostly just okay [though Marianne McAndrew, looking a bit like Kate Nelligan, is a stunner], it’s the supporting characters that are most memorable, with a wide array of great culty performers turning up to give fun turns, from John Carradine as an alcoholic contemporary of the writer of The Seven Minutes, to Yvonne De Carlo as a member of a decency society who seems to have intimate knowledge of the book. Stu Phillip’s score is sometimes a bit over the top. It’s possible that The Seven Minutes may have worked better if Meyer had made it as a much more ‘normal’ picture. I’m not sure if some of the humorous parts of the film, like a brief glimpse of a porn movie being shot where two women are romping with a life-sized gorilla toy, don’t jar a little with the rest, though they certainly make the film more entertaining. In any case, I certainly didn’t find the film boring like many others seem to, and Arrow’s inclusion of it in their Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls was a good decision….though if you’re like me then you’ll guess what the “seven minutes” are way before the end!
* The Sinister Image [Russ Meyer interview]