BR: Inserts (1975)

August 29, 2017 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Standard

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  June 14, 2016

Genre:  Drama / Black Comedy

Synopsis: The fate of a fallen silent film director making porn loops in his mansion is affected when his business partner and a tart make an appearance.

Special Features: Isolated Mono Music & Effects Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and




According to Hollywood lore, former Sesame Street writer John Byrum used Inserts as a show-script, and perhaps due to the sales of his produced screenplays Have a Nice Weekend and Mahogany (both 1975), he snagged an opportunity to direct Inserts in Britain with a small but stellar cast.

Ostensibly a filmed play, Byrum’s risqué plot involves a former cinema boy wonder (Richard Dreyfuss) losing his confidence, and settling for cranking out porn loops in the shell of his mansion that’s doomed to be flattened by an expressway already underway. The entire film unravels in real time as Boy Wonder is visited by his chief investor, Big Mac (Bob Hoskins), and the petite tart known only as Cathy Cake (Jessica Harper).

The couple not only interrupt filming of BW’s ‘multi-picture’ porn deal with performers Rex, the Wonder Dog (Stephen Davies), and Harlene (Veronica Cartwright), but supply the heroine that quickly kills Harlene before BW’s short is completed. While Big Mac and Rex cart away Harlene’s cadaver to a private dumpling ground, BW tries to finish the movie with Miss Cake, filming inserts of the racy bits, but what occurs during filming is a set of personality challenges that ultimately doom BW’s chance at a comeback (so to speak).

Everything occurs in BW’s expansive, tiled living room, and the heavy banter has characters posturing as archetypes when neither really has a hope in hell of achieving any kind of stability or longevity. Big Mac’s the sole smart one among the lot, planning on making a killing with drive-in fast food restaurants after the expressway’s completed, whereas Rex foolishly believes the German director he’s met (a F.W. Murnau-type German ex-pat) will give him the perfect part and chance at career legitimacy. Harlene dies before she can rise about her status as a former silent screen thespian turned porn star, and Miss Cake is, well, just there… but naively believes she can commit to delivering great drama in spite of lacking any experience.

Byrum’s film was trimmed for its U.S release not to tame its graphic nudity and aggressive sexual situations, but pacing, and although the uncut version was eventually released on Pay TV and DVD not long ago (giving it a rough NC-17 rating), it’s easy to see why and likely where trims happened, as Inserts is massively verbose, and Byrum’s elliptical dialogue tends to get grating. (You could easily create a drinking game based on the times BW addresses Cathy exclusively as “Miss Cake.”)

But Inserts has mordant, brutish humour, tragic archetypes seemingly drawn from a Billy Wilder satire (namely Sunset Boulevard), a mass of in-jokes likely relevant to fans of Old Hollywood, and plenty of frank 1970s nudity. Harper is somewhat topless, but Cartwright’s scenes are more graphic; what BW films with his wind-up camera actually relates back to the final ‘edited’ rape loop that also starts Inserts. (Byrum sometimes plays with colour and B&W, drifting between what’s being shot and what the camera sees early into the drama.)

The two actresses are also playing heroines whose opposing careers come to an intersection at BW’s mansion: former silver screen starlet Harlene is a now drug addict whose Betty Boop makeup and chirpy voice cover the exhaustion from trying to get through each day, whereas Miss Cake is initially hungry to do all to make it in the picture business, but quickly gets second thoughts when she’s being directed by BW in his eerily quiet, dank home.

BW is crude – he repeatedly refers to Miss Cake’s breasts as ‘the meat’ – and smokes and drinks incessantly, and his lack of faith in sound films and himself guarantees that unlike Billy Wilder’s Norma Desmond, Byrum’s anti-hero doesn’t want a comeback, and deliberately destroys any dashes of serendipity.

Luck comes in the form of a young up and coming big-eared screen stud named Clark Gable (never seen) whom BW ignores, hangs up whenever he calls, and draws curtains when he’s trolling outside because BW’s happiest when adding another cut to his already bleeding psyche.

The doomed mansion is perhaps a cute reference to Bela Lugosi’s own elegant abode, which, as recounted among the cast & crew interviews of Severin’s Blackstenstein (1973) Blu-ray, was appropriated by the state for a new freeway.

The sets, art direction, props, and costumes are stunningly detailed and evocative of the early 1930s, and Byrum works in some choice period slang which the actors seemed to have had fun with, trading invective and harsh tones with cracks about performance, assets, sexual skills, and those meat shots.

It’s a shame Byrum wasn’t available for an interview to detail the film’s placement in his roughly 30-year career, but he does appear in Kristian St. Clair’s 2017 documentary Stringman on Jack Nitzsche, who scored Byrum’s subsequent films Heart Beat (1980) and The Razor’s Edge (1984). Byrum directed 3 feature films and some television, and his last produced feature script is Duets (2000), but he also wrote & produced for several shows, and created the very short-lived Winnetka Road (1994) which lasted a mere 6 episodes.

Inserts isn’t fully successful, but it ranks as a rare experiment in pushing the boundaries of sexuality and satire much farther than other filmmakers working within the studio system. It’s an indie film bankrolled by a studio, shot on a smartly managed tight budget by a director who extracted fine satirical performances from his cast, but the real standout is Cartwright who quite literally bears all and adds resonance to what could’ve been a Betty Boop caricature instead of portraying one of many starlets chewed up by Hollywood and left to support herself using her needle-pricked body.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray includes an isolated music & effects mix, but the score is really just Dreyfuss performing “Moonglow” at the piano a few times. The trailer is atrocious, and feels like the editors of Woody Allen trailers were assigned by UA brass to extract ‘funny bits’ in the hope Inserts could be sold as a bawdy raucous comedy. Byrum’s little filmed play ends by simply pulling away, leaving us to assume the mould and rot will continue until BW’s house is flattened and he’s rendered destitute, but Julie Kirgo’s essay contextualizes the film as one of many comedic hyphenates set during the late 20s / early 30s.

Peter Bogdanovich would aim for screwball in the contemporary set What’s Up Doc? (1972), Mike Nichols’ The Fortune (1975) had imbecilic schnooks living in newly stuccoed L.A. suburbs, and George Roy Hill went for scam artists extraordinaire in The Sting (1973).



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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