Here! TV,
TLA Releasing,

Richard Day
based on his play

Matt Letscher,
Carrie Preston,
Adam Greer,
Veronica Cartwright,
Victor Raider-Wexler,
Jack Plotnick,
Michael Emerson

Unrated, 96 minutes

Beefcake And Blacklists
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, July 2009

Straight-Jacket (2004), written and directed by Richard Day, is an uneven and very goofy, but well-meaning, comedy about the Hollywood closet and Red-baiting during the 1950's. Matt Letscher stars as Guy Stone, the leading matinee idol for SRO Films. Guy is handsome and popular, and beloved by millions. Women swoon over him and he's Hollywood's most eligible bachelor. He's also as queer as a three dollar bill.

Guy has everything. He has a big mansion in Beverly Hills and an ego to match. ("What's the point of being famous if you can't use it to get laid?") His agent is a very protective, and butch, woman named Jerry Albrecht (Veronica Cartwright) who is constantly denying that she is a lesbian ("Yes," says Guy, "and Agnes Moorehead is just a tomboy"). She has her hands full with damage control as Guy has probably slept with every stagehand, delivery boy and wannabe actor in town. Jerry has just re-negotiated his contract and Guy has won the lead in Ben Hur. But then he gets caught in a police raid at an underground gay bar.
Jerry, along with studio head, Saul Ornstein (Victor Raider-Wexler) come up with a hasty solution. Spin can be a wonderful thing; to placate the press, another actor is thrown to the wolves and Guy has to get married right now. A wedding is hastily arranged with Ornstein's ditzy secretary, Sally (Carrie Preston). Sally is kept in the dark about the deception but, because she has always had a major crush on the handsome star, she is clueless and immediately agrees. Guy is unable to stand being around her and, after she re-decorates his home, he agrees to make a movie about a coal mine strike in order to get out of the house until Ben Hur is ready to start filming.

The studio finds itself in hot water with the Feds because the movie is pro-union. A rewrite is demanded and at that moment Rick Foster (Adam Greer), the author of the book that the film is based on, visits the set. He is a hottie and Guy begins to salivate the moment he lays eyes on him. (Jerry grabs Guy and says, "Here, go play with the extras," when she sees Guy staring at the hunky writer.) Guy suggests to Rick that he do the re-write and invites him to his mansion to go over the script, after first makong sure that Sally isn't there.

It turns out that Rick is gay too but he is a serious leftist writer who tells Guy that he is "everything that I make fun of." He plays hard to get but Guy is persistant. When Rick says that he doesn't mess around on the first date, Guy asks him "Are you sure you're gay?" Guy is not ready to give up his life of Hollywood glitz but the serious writer is beginning to have an effect on him. Guy's loyal but snooty (and gay) butler is impressed by the new beau and drolly tells Rick, "As a rule, Mr. Stone's little friends don't speak of books unless they want to color." Guy may be in love for the first time in his life but he has a sham wife to contend with and Rick is not amused by the charade.

Does the boy get the boy? Of course he does. Do they get caught with their pants down? What do you think? This is when the film shifts gears as an offer comes to sweep the whole ugly mess under the rug - provided that Guy "names names." If he does this, he will save his own neck and still get to play Ben Hur.

Straight-Jacket was inspired by actor Rock Hudson's brief arranged marriage during the 1950s. A secondary plot involves the communist (and homosexual) witch hunts from that dark decade. Filmed in widescreen Cinemascope, Straight-Jacket looks great and captures the style of films from the period complete with its gloriously tacky decor and bubbly music. The art directors must have had a blast; the faux movie posters trumpet several filmic in-jokes and I especially loved one for a B movie that invoked the poster to Ed Woods' Plan Nine From Outer Space. It's a fluffy comedy with a serious intent but...
...the film is strangely flat. Writer/director Richard Day has based the film on his play and my guess is that it was probably a hoot on stage. It is a campy romp, reminiscent of a Charles Busch play like Vampire Lesbians of Sodom or Psycho Beach Party. Unfortunately campy plays like this don't always translate well to cinema. It is too much of a cartoon and, instead of being wildly funny, much of it comes off as a bad sitcom instead. There are laughs but in between them are long stretches that fail to ignite. While it has its moments, it needed to be drastically re-written for the screen and its over-the-top acting toned down.
Matt Letscher is major league cute, clean cut with a Cary Grant cleft in his chin and he certainly looks the part of a 1950s movie star. Guy's arrogance is, at first, amusing but then grates on your nerves after awhile. Guy is a jerk but do we have to see jump up and down like a little kid singing "I get to play Ben Hur, I get to play Ben Hur?" The dialogue is sometimes too stilted and lacks the touch of, say, Paul Rudnick in his prime. Michael Emerson as Victor the butler, and Veronica Cartwright as the agent, give the best performances and their more subtle deliveries help to make their characters less caricaturish.
The witch hunt hysteria plotline is exaggerated, like everything else, but not by much (the investigator dreams of shutting down a movie studio). Things get a little more serious in the last act but these scenes are at odds with most of the buffoonery that came before. Martin Ritt's The Front (1976), starring Woody Allen and Zero Mostel, was a film about the McCarthy era that gets it right and proved that it is possible to explore the subject while balancing both the comedic and the serious (it helped that the director, writer and most of the cast were actually blacklisted during the 50s). As a popcorn or date movie there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half. There are a few laughs, a decent - if half-realised - storyline and lots of beefcake. Straight-Jacket is an amusing diversion and nothing more, nothing less.