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Patty (AKA The Shame of Patty Smith) (1962) - Overview, Synopsis, Critique

abortion mary takes allan

Principal social theme: abortion

Handel Productions. No MPAA rating. Featuring: Dani Lynn, Merry Anders, Bruno VeSota, J. Edward McKinley, Carlton Crane, David McMahon, Jack Haddock, Bob Rudelson, Speer Martin, Sean Brian, Joe Conley, Leif Lindstrom, Sid Kane, Sherwood Keith, Phil Clarke, Adrienne Hayes, Sally Hughes, Ralph Neff, Barney Biro. Written by Leo A. Handel. Cinematography by Howard Schwartz. Edited by Stanford Tischler. Music by Ingram Walters. Produced by Leo A. Handel and Ib Melchior. Directed by Leo A. Handel. B&W. 92 minutes.

Overview

While on the surface a cheaply made exploitation film, Patty nevertheless presented a cogent case in the early 1960s for the legalization of abortion. The plot follows the ordeal of a single individual, Patty Smith, a young rape victim who finds herself pregnant and alone, and who eventually decides to get an abortion. Patty was circulated under various titles for some years, including The Shame of Patty Smith, The Case of Patty Smith, Backroom Abortion , and the most exploitive moniker, Gang Rape .

Synopsis

Patty opens in southern California as Allan Hunt (Carlton Crane) and Patty Smith (Dani Lynn) leave on a date and get involved in a minor fender bender with three tough young thugs. The driver refuses to give Allan his name or license and threatens him when he tries to read their plate number. Reluctantly, Allan drives off with Patty, but the thugs decide to follow them. When they stop at a secluded spot overlooking the ocean, they beat Allan and rape Patty. At this point, a rather pompous narrator appears speaking from behind a desk, announcing that this film will deal with illegal abortion, estimating that six hundred thousand to two million operations occur each year. He adds that approximately eight thousand of these women will die due to infection or complications because of the medical incompetence of those performing the procedure. He asks the viewer to consider the ordeal of a young woman like Patty Smith “as she travels from station to station of her Calvary.” After bringing Patty back to her apartment, Allan asks her if she wants to report the crime to the police, but she declines. A number of weeks later, Patty suspects that she is pregnant. Her roommate, Mary (Merry Anders), takes her to her own physician, Dr. Miller. After he confirms her suspicions, she asks him for his help in terminating her pregnancy. He gently but firmly declines, saying it is against the law. Patty explains that she cannot go home to her parents in the Midwest as they would not understand. He suggests she contact a social agency that could help her and set up an adoption for the child after its birth. Patty asks around and locates another doctor who would be willing to help her, Dr. Friddon, but he asks for an advance payment of six hundred dollars, beyond her means since she was just laid off from her job as a typist. A Catholic, Patty visits her local church. The priest, Father O’Brien, notices she is troubled and tries to counsel her. She says she needs an operation, and the priest offers to intercede for her to obtain a loan. When he learns it is for an abortion, he withdraws his offer, saying that abortion is murder whether she was raped or not.

Patty then contacts Allan, who has been avoiding her since the rape. He learns that she can get an abortion for $200. He gives her all he can afford, $60. Mary helps raise additional funds, and Patty pawns her only piece of jewelry of any value. She is told to contact Henry Colbert (Bruno VeSota) who runs a bar in the seedy side of town, Colbert functions as a middleman who screens clients for an abortion ring. After talking with Patty, Colbert arranges for the operation. He tells her to bring $200 in five-dollar bills and to wait in front of a local shoestore several nights later. Mary takes her to the spot, but when a man turns up, he says he is only authorized to take Patty. When she enters his car, he asks for the money, takes several bills, and tells her to give the rest to the nurse. He drives her to a massage parlor and tells her to report to the second floor. A chain-smoking nurse takes the rest of her money, saying the doctor will be ready for her shortly. The man she calls a doctor is actually her husband, an unemployed pharmacist. After the operation, the nurse gives her some pills. The driver takes her to a cabstand, advising her to go to the emergency room of the hospital if she has any problems. Mary puts her weary roommate to bed when she arrives home, and Patty takes the pills she was given by the nurse. When she starts to run a high fever, Mary calls Dr. Miller. Patty is taken to the hospital in an ambulance, telling the doctor about the location of the massage parlor as best as she can remember. Lt. Powell, a homicide detective who specializes in abortion cases, arrives at the hospital, as Patty falls into a coma. Dr. Neilson, handling her case, talks with Mary and Dr. Miller about how abortion is handled in Sweden, where the procedure is legal and safe. The next day, Miller accompanies Powell, helping him track down the abortionist with Patty’s clues. They soon identify the club and rescue another girl just before the abortionist is set to operate. Patty revives briefly and has a vision of the various people she had encountered leading to her abortion. Mary consoles her before she dies. The narrator repeats his assertion that eight thousand women die from illegal abortions each year.

Critique

Exploitation films actually date back to the silent era, the first feature being Traffic in Souls (1913). These films grew in popularity during the 1930s. Many were built around social issues such as prostitution or drug addiction, but were presented in such a hyped and stilted fashion that completely distorted the topic. In fact, the social issues aspect of many of these films was window dressing to cover a quick flash of nudity or other risqué scenes. Some well-known examples were Reefer Madness (1936), Cocaine Fiends (1936), Child Bride (1937), Escort Girl (1941), The Devil’s Sleep (1949), and Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda (1953). Most of these titles are known purely for their camp value. Patty is a cut above the usual exploitation fare. The theme is serious, and blatant distortions are kept to a minimum. The position of the script, clearly, is proabortion, yet arguments favoring adoption or stressing moral concerns of the issue are given a straightforward presentation. The doctors, priest, and policeman present their point of view in a clear fashion. Sometimes a piece of information, such as the fact that the number of legal abortions in Japan equals their birth rate, is simply laid out without any additional comment. The audience itself is left to decide whether that statistic is meaningful or not. Patty is also valuable for capturing a moment in history, 1962, when abortion was largely illegal and for presenting a balanced view of the situation at that time. The film can generate discussions comparing the status of the issue in the early twenty-first century.

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