CINDERELLA (1977), or: Wearing a Glass Slipper and a Smile

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Poor Cinderella, cursed to a life of poverty, ridicule and servitude by her evil stepmother and ugly stepsisters. She’s so poor, she can’t even afford clothes that fit her, as she’s always spilling out of her rags. Then again, that seems to be an affliction shared by everyone in this telling of CINDERELLA so maybe it’s a kingdom-wide epidemic.

CINDERELLA was produced by Charles Band and believe it or not, it was one of two softcore comedy musicals based on the Brothers Grimm tale to be released in 1977. In this version, Cinderella (Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith) is put upon by her horny ugly stepsisters and her hammy mother. They mill around being horrible while Cinderella is forced to work. Incidentally, this is the moment when I discovered that seeing a topless woman working a spinning wheel does something to me. It’s the pumping.

The king and queen are concerned about the prince, worrying that he doesn’t know enough about the opposite sex. Actually, the prince has slept with everything with a pulse. The problem is that just shy of his 21st birthday, he’s already so done with sex that he can’t even get excited anymore. They invite all the eligible ladies in the kingdom to a royal ball.

Everyone gets an invite, even the ugly stepsisters and even Cinderella. But the mean old stepmother tosses Cindy’s invitation in the fire, forcing her to pine away at home at have surreal nightmares about sexual assault and popcorn shooting out of a place that seems biologically impossible (Though not completely unamusing, this sequence is considerably darker than anything else in the film, and constitutes an abrupt though brief shift in tone).

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Cheryl Smith and Sy Richardson steal the show.

But wait, Cinderella gets a visit from her Fairy Godmother (Sy Richardson). Not only is her godmother a flamboyant bisexual black man (“A fairy can go both ways.”), he’s actually little more than a thief. But as he’s robbing the house, even he is surprised to discover that he does possess some magic. He uses his magic wand to give Cinderella the makeover, the pumpkin coach and most importantly, at least to this story, a snapping pussy.

And yes, the royal ball does turn into an actual ball. After all the dancing and hors d’oeuvres are done, the prince blindfolds himself and samples several lucky ladies at random. Cinderella’s new gift is just the thing to get the prince’s juices going and Cindy seems pretty excited too. So later, when he roams the kingdom in search of his love, it’s not just the glass slipper that has to fit. Which makes sense. I mean, lots of women have the same shoe size. Finding something a little more intimate is going to be hard to duplicate.

This version of CINDERELLA is full of surprises. First off is how explicit it really is. I realize we’re dealing with an X-rated flick, but hear me out. I eat exploitation films for breakfast and I’m very familiar with films that don’t deliver on the promise of prurient content suggested in the trailer. Most films don’t, because those trailers are so traditionally bombastic they couldn’t possibly.

Well, throw those notions away because this film is wall to wall flesh. During the first half especially, virtually every scene contains some sort of nudity and honestly, it only lets up a tiny bit in the second. The nudity is the full package and includes several instances of lesbian incest. While that kind of thing may be a trend today, if a look at recent adult releases is any indicator, it’s still called “taboo” for a reason. Yet CINDERELLA contains several scenes of sisters – different sets of sisters each time, mind you – getting closer than sisters are supposed to get. A bit shocking but you have to hand it to CINDERELLA for going above and beyond in delivering on its promises.

Quite a lot of sisterly relations in this flick. From no fewer than three different sets of sisters, in fact.
Quite a lot of sisterly relations in this flick. From no fewer than three different sets of sisters, in fact.

But beyond the skin factor is something even more surprising – this is actually a pretty funny movie. Yes, there are plenty of bad puns and worse slapstick. But there are also lots of clever jokes. Richardson steals his scenes along with everything on the set. Much of the cast exhibits a fine bit of comic timing and director Michael Pataki (MANSION OF THE DOOMED) is surprisingly deft at handling the material. When a vassal of the king discovers that his horse has abandoned him, he pleads, “I promise I won’t sing anymore!”

That’s right, just like Disney and Rogers and Hammerstein versions before, this CINDERELLA gets the musical treatment. The songs are poorly lip-synced but aside from that, they aren’t half bad. Musical styles range from traditional musical numbers, lonely ballads and since this is the mid-1970s, disco. The highpoint is a funky duet between Smith and Richardson that seems to be called “Grab It.” I have to guess on the song titles, since they are not listed in the credits.

The greatest thing in the film is Smith’s portrayal of the title character. The casting in this case was spot-on. For the role, they needed someone who was sexy yet also sweet and innocent. This was Smith all over. She had a prosperous career in the 1970s and 80s before her tragic decline. Smith was excellent in films like the too-obscure classic LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL as well as exploitation fare like CAGED HEAT, LASERBLAST and THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS. CINDERELLA is another incredible performance by a woman who shined so bright before the darkness overtook her.

Too bad not everyone fares as well. The worst of the bunch is undoubtedly Jennifer Doyle as the evil stepmother. Apparently, Doyle watched a lot of Carol Burnett so she spends most of the time making funny faces at random in an attempt to ape the famous comedian’s facial tics. The effect is of course not funny, but annoying. She overacts constantly, in a seeming attempt to sweep everyone else off the screen. But she isn’t even consistent in her awfulness, changing the approach to her overacting without warning. This was Doyle’s only film, thank God.

The jokes don’t always work, a couple of the performances falter and by the time the prince tries to find his Cinderella, the film has started to wear out its welcome. But it’s remarkable how much works here. 1977’s CINDERELLA is a film that is far better than anyone would have a reason to expect. It’s a relic from the booty shaking, body baring 70s that made me smile, laugh and more than once reach for a glass of water.  Recommended.

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RATING SYSTEM AND CRITERIA

  • What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals? 
  • In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?

The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.

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