Toys Are Not For Children Review
Cinema in the 1970s became significantly more sophisticated and nuanced, with the exploration of more provocative subtext and challenging of the already crumbling status quo of the sixties. Groundbreaking films like China Town, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs still remain engrained in the collective conscience of modern day cinephiles as they continue to resonate and confront.
Toys Are Not for Children attempts to attain the same level of stature and import as complex topics and profound ideas are examined. Jamie (Marcia Forbes) is an emotionally stunted, naive young woman who is on a search for her long lost and absentee father, Phillip Goddard (Peter Lightstone) who is known to frequent local prostitutes. Jamie's search leads her down a darkly twisted path into prostitution herself as she crosses paths with prostitute Pearl (Evelyn Kingsley), Pimp Eddie (Luis Arroyo) and destroys her tenuous relationship with her unsuspecting and incredulous husband Charlie (Harlan Cary Poe). Psychologically and Emotionally traumatised as a child by her mother Edna (Fran Warren), Jamie inhabits an infantile and disconnected world surrounded by toys and shards of childhood memories.
The dream-like and fragmented story was penned by Director-Producer Stanley H. Brassloff as he continued with his personal exploration of brutal melodrama and soft-core Sexploitation, as this film completes the unofficial trilogy consisting of Behind Locked Doors and Two Girls for a Madman. Toys Are Not For Children is a true product of its time as a multitude of social taboos are approached and each of them questioned and dismantled.
Feminism, sexual freedom and exploration may be the obvious focus, but the viewer is also confronted with mental health issues, sexual violence and most vividly, incest. Brassloff has very little mercy for his viewers as the film opens with a shockingly confusing scene that tells you exactly what type of film you are in for. But unfortunately the lack of subtlety and nuance is so engrained and pronounced that it is difficult to know if this is a serious attempt at exploitation cinema or just a miserable and failed venture in controversy. Films like The Last House on the Left (1972), Deep Throat (1972) and Salò (1975) were able to shock and confront audiences whilst also being powerful and influential films in their own right.
While this film may have similar lofty ideals to challenge and provoke, it is significantly undercut by torturous acting; Marcia Forbes and Fran Warren in particular are excruciating to watch as the hysterics, shrill shouting and blank stares leaves the audience cold and detached. Harlan Cary Poe as the love struck and perplexed husband, Charlie, is the only bright light in this dismal piece.
Technically, there are even more issues as the edit - like the story itself - is uneven, disjointed and abrupt. An argument could be made that this serves the narrative, but there is little style or skill here that would be adequate evidence of this point of view. The director's attempt at controversy and pathos falls hilariously short as the, obviously unintended, humour detracts from any profound meaning and depth that may have been aimed for. Even the score, which in a good film would add to the texture and substance of the storyline, diminishes the ambitions significantly as the music plays unnecessarily and clumsily underneath the most mundane and insipid of actions.
Connoisseurs of transgressive and exploitation cinema will be disappointed to discover that the only true revelation in Toys Are Not For Children, is the utter and complete lack of shock on offer.