Overlooked & Underseen: The Shame of Patty Smith (1962)
This week, I wanted to highlight a film I first saw about 12 years ago. My husband had been introducing me to the wonderful world of Something Weird Video (RIP Mike Vraney) and all the exploitation goodness they had to offer, so we were expecting the typical over-the-top, low-budget gems we were used to seeing from them. We didn’t expect to see was a powerful black and white picture as current and controversial today as it was back in 1962.
Patty Smith (Dani Lynn) has been in Los Angeles for a few months. She a “good girl” from Kansas, the kind of daughter every parent would like to have. She works as a typist in a real estate office with her co-worker/roommate Mary (Merry Andrews). One evening, Patty and her boyfriend have a run-in with a group of thugs. They manage to get away but the couple are later tracked down at the beach. Patty’s world comes crashing down around her when she is raped by all three of her attackers.
In the aftermath, her boyfriend, who witnessed the brutal attack, dumps her. It makes it about himself telling her things like “just forget what happened” and “it was pretty rough on me having to watch that”. Her roommate knows something terrible has happened and tries to get Patty to go to the police but she refuses. Eventually, Patty finds out she is pregnant. She doesn’t know what to do or where to go. The only thing she does know is that she does not want to have the baby. So begins Patty’s quest to have an abortion.
Remember, this is 1962 and Roe vs. Wade is years away. Patty encounters many men along the way in seeking her abortion. All giving her their reasons why she should or shouldn’t get to make the choice of whether to have a baby. Her doctor sympathizes with her and wishes he could legally terminate her pregnancy but can’t risk going to jail to help her. When she does find a doctor willing to perform the procedure, the price is too high, she just cannot afford it. Patty eventually gets so desperate, she is willing to seek out a “back alley” abortion.
The film is also remarkable in that it is so clearly championing the legalization of abortion. Once the story got going, I initially thought “Oh, it’s going to be one of those Christian scare films” but I was totally wrong. Yes, religion does get brought up throughout the film but clearly, the writer/director felt that women should be able to have a right to terminate a pregnancy if she wishes. The movie was made with the help of the Los Angeles County Health Department. Who knew there were officers assigned to something called Abortion Squads?!
There is some good work going on in this film. The acting is good, especially from Merry Andrews as Mary and J. Edward McKinley as Dr. Miller. There are some dodgy accents flying around, especially from the “Irish” priest. The direction and camera work were good. They were going for a noir-type look and they just about got there. The message is clear, abortion should be safe and legal but to get to that message, the movie does give “everyone” a chance to give their view on abortion. What could’ve been a completely sleazy piece of trash is actually pretty straightforward and doesn’t sensationalize the topic at hand. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sleazy bit of trash like the next person, but I’m glad I didn’t get it with this one.
The Shame of Patty Smith highlights the story of countless women around the world who have had to resort to desperate measures in order to have an abortion. In Patty’s case, it was illegal in the United States to have an abortion back in 1962. With today’s political climate here in the US, the kinds of events that occur in Patty’s quest just might become a reality in this country once more.
The film (also known as Patty or The Case of Patty Smith among other titles) is available from Something Weird Video as a double-feature with You’ve Ruined Me Eddie. It’s also available on YouTube.