That Tender Touch focuses on lesbian lovers Marsha (Bee Tompkins) and Terry (Sue Bernard, ~~Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) who share a contented life together before Terry runs off to suburbia with Ken. But poor Marsha can’t quite let go. When she shows up destitute on Ken and Terry’s doorstep they agree to let her stay with them – with melodramatic results!
That Tender Touch 6.75
eyelights: its tale of doomed romance. its sexy bits.
eyesores: the subpar performances. its weak editing.
“I want you, Marsha. But it’s wrong!”
‘That Tender Touch’ is a 1969 motion picture about a doomed romance between Marsha and Terry, two roommates. In flashback, it recounts how they fell in love and how they were separated, leading to their reunion in the present.
It’s considered a lesbian exploitation (or “dykesploitation”) film, and it’s one of those pictures that’s been buried and forgotten by history. Consequently, the ensuing DVD release was scratchy and of extremely poor quality.
Personally, I enjoyed it. While it’s crudely cobbled together on a fairly low budget, and the plot is nothing extraordinary, I enjoyed the way they explored lesbianism at a time when such relationships were frowned upon.
For starters, writer-director Russel Vincent didn’t seem to judge the lovers; he showed their bond grow over time, and made it feel fresh and healthy. It was initially about nurturing and support, and feelings of love blossomed.
However, he also didn’t make the relationship equal: Terry eventually meets a man she’s comfortable with and she gradually transfers her feelings to him. Marsha, on the other hand, can’t transition back now that she’s fallen for Terry.
I’ve read some comments about this picture being homophobic, and I don’t quite see this: I could easily see the same story take place with Marsha being a man or even Ken, Terry’s beau, being a woman. People are complex creatures.
Personally, at no point did I see any hatred or fear of lesbianism. Granted, there were the disapproving glances of seniors as the girls frolicked, but the point is that these old fogies are shown as out of touch, as socially conservative.
And, yes, Terry struggles with her bisexual nature, and feels it’s wrong, but that happens to a lot of people; it’s nothing new and it’s certainly not indicative of homophobia – just of a person’s struggles under social constraint.
And, yes, it does not end well. Not well at all. But, you know, ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ doesn’t end well either. And yet the latter isn’t considered heterophobic, so I don’t believe that Marsha’s self-sacrifice is indicative of homophobia.
If anything, I’d say that it would be homophobic if Marsha had been turned into a stalker or threat. Here, she doesn’t do anything crazier than someone who’s in love and unable to let go would do. She just happens to be a lesbian.
So someone would have to explain to me how this is homophobic. I obviously don’t get it.
What I liked was how Marsha’s attraction to Terry felt natural, no worse than Terry’s attraction to Ken. It wasn’t just about sex: it was about her bond with Terry; Terry simply couldn’t be replaced by another woman, let alone a man.
Although it’s considered an exploitation film, a truly exploitative film would have given Marsha more sexual encounters. In ‘That Tender Touch’, she is given that opportunity with Terry’s neighbour and even her sister. But she doesn’t bite.
It’s Terry that she wants.
To me, it’s a doomed love story, not a dykesploitation film. It just happens to be between lesbians, is all.
That’s not to say that it’s a perfect film: given that it’s a fringe production, it doesn’t exactly bristle with stellar performances, and the lovemaking (both homo and hetero) is weakly directed and unconvincing. It feels a bit cheap.
The editing certainly doesn’t help: while there’s some inspired montages, voice-over work and scoring, there are also moments when scenes abruptly come out of nowhere, as though they were already in progress. It’s a bit discrepant.
It’s hard to know why that is, in light of the decent work in other parts of the picture. Was it edited by more than one person? Did they run out of budget? Is some of the footage simply missing? There’s obviously no historical data on this.
Yes, ‘That Tender Touch’ is amateurish. Yes, it’s flawed. But it’s as candid as a motion picture could get at the time; Hollywood would only have hinted at lesbianism instead of being this direct. So, of course, it was a fringe production.
Personally, I’m impressed by how bold it is: ‘That Tender Touch’ tackles a pretty risqué subject for its time and doesn’t step back. The only thing it could have done different to satisfy some people is to give Marsha and Terry a happy ending.
But, hey, even Juliet and Romeo didn’t get one.
Date of viewing: March 5, 2016