Peter Lawford and Steven Keats Crash Land in the Twilight of Jiggle TV
DIRECTED BY JOSEPH PEVNEY/1979
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: AUGUST 30, 2022/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
Welcome to 1979’s Mysterious Island of Beautiful Women, where the biggest mystery of the titular island is what the heck the big mysteries are supposed to be. From the outset, director Joseph Pevney (a venerable television helmer remembered most for his numerous episodes of the classic Star Trek) and company are quite careful not to leave any pesky details hanging, nor to plant any potential new points of intrigue. The film opens with a prolonged dialogue-free sequence of a small planeload of nuns and young orphans barely escaping a hot war zone in 1954.
Cut to present day 1979, when a different small planeload of aging men (led by a perpetually amped-up Steven Keats and the very salt & peppered Salt & Pepper Rat Packer, Peter Lawford) is forced to land on an unnamed and unknown tropical island that looks a lot like Hawaii. We soon see that the island is occupied by a handful of young women who live together and seem to worship an airplane propeller they call “Sister”.
Sister is of course one of the nuns that Lizabeth (Jaime Lyn Bauer, who went on to appear in 523 episodes of Days of Our Lives), the controlling leader of the Beautiful Women, claims to consult off frame. Although it’s treated like a shocking reveal late in the film, it should be no surprise that said nun is actually long dead. So, that solves the mystery from the film’s initial first five minutes of whatever happened to the youngsters on that 1954 plane. And, it’s that simple. The first half of the title “Mysterious Island of Beautiful Women” is squared away. That leaves the second half…
Hailing from the late 1970s era of the twilight of “jingle TV” (which was exactly what it sounds like… see: Charlie’s Angels; Wonder Woman; Battle of the Network Stars, or classic SNL’s spot-on parody, “Battle of the Network T&A”), this salaciously titled made-for-CBS-television excursion doesn’t skimp on the skimpy-clothed women. That said, the inhabitants of Mysterious Island of Beautiful Women (who also include celebrity sportscaster Jayne Kennedy as “Chocolate” [she is Black. Yeesh] and fair-complected Kathryn Davis as “Snow”; Rosalind Chao as “Flower”, and Deborah Shelton as “Bambi”) are very naive and childish. They are entirely focused on dealing with these new male interlopers and praying to that airplane propeller rather than being alluring. Also, they’ve spent years dealing with a marauding band of male natives called “headchoppers”. We glean that the way the headchoppers “give them babies” is not stork-like, though that unpleasant detail isn’t as all dwelled upon. Rather, the whole movie opts to maintain a tremendously innocent vibe.
Although the film presents as an exploitation outing for the boob tube, Mysterious Island of Beautiful Women (aka Island of Sister Theresa) wants to have it both ways: alluring hook, innocuous payoff. The cast’s demographics may seem slanted (the actresses are all just starting out; the men… not so much), which is only because they are. None of the valiant crew of men lay a finger on any of the Beautiful Women, sans one questionable kiss. (To which the female recipient replies, “More kiss! More kiss!!”).
The film’s most compelling aspect is the narrative flip-flop perception of Lizabeth from domineering cult master to hero of the past, responsible for the girls’ survival following their crash on the island. Commentator Lance Vaughn (of the film site Kindertrauma) makes a great comparison to the video game The Last of Us Part II, which he describes as “emotionally exhausting”- something Mysterious Island of Beautiful Women never is. Vaughn is accompanied by film historian/author Amanda Reyes, who leads the newly recorded commentary track through not only the known specifics of this very different made-for-TV movie, but also the whole vitality and state of such projects. It’s a tremendous history lesson on an oft ignored but nonetheless very impressionable section of movies. This terrific commentary is the only extra feature on the slipcovered disc besides some trailers.
KL Studio Classics’ brand new 2K master used for this Blu-ray release is cobbled together from separate incomplete 35mm and 16mm prints. Image quality ranges from impressively pristine to faded and kinda beat up. But, its complete- and that’s something. The title “Mysterious Island of Beautiful Women” ultimately doesn’t do this movie any favors. Is totally lacks any implied exploitative payoff, nor does it attempt any kind of pro-feminist social commentary. One towering crew member played by big guy Clint Walker makes the unenlightened observation, “Those women are mean! If they’re bad, just imagine how bad their men must be!” You’re it pal. You’re not bad, but you are it.