Robin’s Underrated Crap: The Lonely Lady (1983)

For one day only, “Robin’s Underrated Gems” is going to do something quite a bit different and temporarily change its name to “Robin’s Underrated Crap”. Let’s face it, bad movies can be underrated too. The subject of today’s column is a movie which is almost indescribably bad, but I think it needs to be covered here because it doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves for being one of the worst films of all time. There are plenty of awful movies out there, but very few of them truly transcend the concept of awfulness like The Lonely Lady does. This film has often been called “the Showgirls of the eighties”, but you never see it listed alongside the other infamously bad movies which have garnered a major cult following, such as Showgirls, The Room and Troll 2. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that The Lonely Lady has yet to attain a release on DVD. The film was released on VHS and laserdisc, but has been out-of-print for a very long time and is incredibly hard to find today. For that reason, most “bad movie” lovers from this generation have been deprived of the opportunity to view this camp classic. To be sure, The Lonely Lady did attain a ton of notoriety upon its initial release in 1983 as it received a whopping eleven Razzie nominations and won six of them, including “Worst Picture” and “Worst Actress” for its star, Pia Zadora. If you’ve never heard of Pia Zadora, she is widely considered to be one of the worst actresses in the history of Hollywood. At the age of ten, she made her film debut as a Martian child in another infamously bad film, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, but when Santa Claus Conquers the Martians doesn’t even feature the worst performance on your resume, that’s really saying something!

The worst is yet to come…

The Lonely Lady was the second of two back-to-back “Worst Actress” Razzies for Pia Zadora, who had won the previous year for her performance in another critically panned film named Butterfly. In spite of this, Zadora’s work in Butterfly managed to garner her a Golden Globe Award for “New Star of the Year” and there was wide speculation that her multimillionaire husband, Meshulam Riklis, spread his money and influence around to help buy her the award. However, there was really nothing that could be done to salvage Pia’s acting career after The Lonely Lady though she did transition to a far more successful singing career. As hilariously bad as Elizabeth Berkeley’s performance in Showgirls may be, I still maintain that she’s got nothing on Pia Zadora’s work in The Lonely Lady.

The Lonely Lady is an incredibly trashy melodrama based on a novel by Harold Robbins and chronicles a young woman being used and abused in her quest to become a successful screenwriter in Hollywood. Believe it or not, Pia Zadora actually promoted it as “a cross between Rocky and Emmanuelle“! They say that nobody ever sets out to make a bad movie, but I don’t know how anyone involved in the making of The Lonely Lady could not have realized just how awful the whole thing was going to turn out. Pia Zadora plays a Valley girl named Jerilee Randall and at the beginning of the film, she is graduating from high school and has won an award for creative writing. Pia was almost 30 years old at the time this was filmed and the movie’s idea of trying to convincingly pass her off as a high school girl is to put pigtails in her hair. Anyway, at a graduation party, Jerilee meets a guy named Joe, who’s played by a future Hollywood star making his feature film debut. How would you like it if this was the first dialogue exchange you ever had in a Hollywood film?

Joe: *pointing to Jerilee’s award* What is that?

Jerilee: I won it.

Joe: Looks like a penis.

Anyway, it isn’t long before Jerilee is assaulted by this future Hollywood star. Do you recognize him?

Yep, that’s Ray Liotta, and he’s about to do an incredibly nasty thing with a garden hose! I would have done a “Before They Were Stars” feature on Mr. Liotta a long time ago, but it goes without saying that a clip of this scene would never be allowed to be posted on Youtube. So, yeah, “garden hose rapist” is probably one of the most embarrassing debut roles an aspiring actor could receive, but unlike anyone else involved in this film, his career did recover. And if you ask Liotta about this scene today, he won’t want to talk about it. Anyway, Jerilee is completely traumatized by this event, but luckily for her, the assault just happened to take place on the property of a famous screenwriter named Walter Thornton (Lloyd Bochner). Because of Jerilee’s desire to become a screenwriter herself, the two of them form a strong friendship that eventually blossoms into a romance and marriage. Even though Jerilee’s mother protests a little bit, everyone else in this movie seems remarkably cool with the idea of a man in his fifties seducing and marrying a girl who’s fresh out of high school. However, I guess it may not seem that shocking when you consider that Pia Zadora was only 21 when she married her 53-year old husband, Meshulam Riklis. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, we did a Shouts From the Back Row podcast on our most cringe-worthy movie moments, and I should have listed this film’s sex scene between Jerilee and Walter as an honourable mention. It’s not the massive age difference that makes me cringe, but the fact that Lloyd Bochner is one of the hairiest human beings I’ve ever seen in my life! I mean, seriously, even George “The Animal” Steele would probably be grossed out by this scene.

The Lonely Lady soon shows just how out-of-touch with reality it truly is after Walter is hired to write the screenplay for a major film. Jerilee becomes Walter’s assistant and accompanies him to the set on the day they’re shooting the film’s climactic scene where the lead character has an emotional breakdown over the death of her child. The lead actress is unhappy with the monologue Walter has written for the scene and he struggles to come up with something better. It’s at this moment that Jerilee steps up to the plate and utilizes her incredible talent to write a much better monologue for the character. They shoot the scene with this monologue, Walter takes full credit for it, and everyone hails him as a creative genius. I shall now transcribe, word-for-word, the astoundingly brilliant monologue that Jerilee dreams up:

“Why?! WHY?!”

No, I am not joking! This movie actually pretends that any writer who dreams up the words “Why?! WHY?!” would be seen as the second coming of Shakespeare! Well, I think I could use the words “Why?! WHY?!” in SO many of different contexts here, such as “Why is the viewer supposed to root for Jerilee if THIS is the extent of her writing talent?!” or “Why did the screenwriters of The Lonely Lady get paid for coming up with this lazy bullshit?!”. Anyway, Walter’s decision to take credit for Jerilee’s “brilliant” dialogue is the beginning of the end for their marriage. The breaking point comes when Walter becomes insanely jealous about another man hitting on Jerilee. They get into an argument in the backyard and Walter snaps by lifting up the garden hose and shouting: “IS THIS MORE YOUR KICK?!”. I really hope that garden hoses everywhere launched a defamation lawsuit against the makers of The Lonely Lady for their negative portrayal in this film. After they get divorced, Jerilee decides to go off on her own to become a screenwriter, and finds herself getting used and abused by men everywhere. She starts an affair with a married movie star, who decides to break off all contact with her after she gets pregnant. This amusing clip is from the edited-for-TV version of The Lonely Lady. Apparently, the word “abortion” was still a taboo word on television in the 1980s, so they (badly) dub over the word “miscarriage”!

After the abortion/miscarriage, Jerilee continues to try and get her screenplay sold, but her luck with men only gets worse. She becomes romantically involved with a nightclub owner named Vinnie Dacosta (Joseph Cali), who gives her job as a hostess and promises to get her script produced. He also introduces her to drugs, and when Jerilee starts to realize that Vinnie is a sleazebag and is probably not going to further her career, we get the moment that I’m sure the producers hoped would be used as Pia Zadora’s Oscar clip:

Vinnie: If you write for anyone, you write for me!

Jerilee: If I write for anyone, Vinnie, I WRITE FOR MEEEEEE!!!

You see, I really think this line should be as legendary as “YOU’RE TEARING ME APART, LISA!!” from The Room, but since it’s not, that’s why I’m compelled to write this column. Things reach their low point when Vinnie pimps Jerilee out to perform a lesbian scene for an Italian film producer. When she returns to find Vinnie cheating on her and discovers that her precious script has been in his desk drawer the entire time, Jerilee finally snaps! If you thought Tommy Wiseau’s suicide in The Room or Elizabeth Berkeley angrily squirting ketchup on her french fries in Showgirls was a classic movie meltdown, you ain’t seen nothing yet! In the annals of motion pictures, no one has ever delivered a more hilarious depiction of a character’s descent into madness than Pia Zadora!

Jerilee is temporarily committed to a mental institution after this breakdown and when her mother arrives to pick her up, we get this classic exchange:

Doctor: Her condition was drug-induced at the time. Tranquilizers, cocaine, amphetamines, alcohol. Would you know about her, uh, problems?

Mother: *sigh* She’s always been difficult.

With such a loving and supportive mother, it’s no wonder Jerilee eventually makes a full recovery and writes a new screenplay that’s based on *gasp* her own experiences in the movie! Her script is on the verge of being made into a film, but she is aghast to discover that it’s going to star the same actor who knocked her up. Thankfully, Jerilee has the most tactful agent in history, who convinces her to take the deal by saying: “You’ve already had one abortion. Don’t make it two!”. Jerilee finally achieves great success as her film becomes a big hit and she’s nominated for an award at the… uh, awards presentation ceremony. It appears the filmmakers didn’t want to pay for the rights to use the Academy Awards trademark, but were just too damn lazy to come up with their own name, so, yeah, “awards presentation ceremony” is all they got. Alas, Pia Zadora would not get her chance to shine at the real Academy Awards until Naked Gun 33 1/3.

Their laziness of the writers is compounded even further when Jerliee’s fellow nominees in the “Best Original Screenplay” category are announced and one of them just happens to be another female screenwriter who’s also named “Jerilee”! I know it’s a very minor little detail, yet it says so much about the people who made this film! You know, since Jerilee’s screenplay is based on her own experiences, you’d have to assume it resembles the script for The Lonely Lady, so the film might have redeemed itself if it had the nerve the climax with Jerliee accepting an award at the Razzies. Unfortunately, the filmmakers weren’t that clever. However, I do have to give them a little credit for being way ahead of their time in one aspect. After Jerilee wins the “Best Original Screenplay” award, she shocks everyone by beating Melissa Leo to the punch by 28 years and dropping an F-bomb on national TV, declaring: “I don’t suppose I’m the only one who’s had to fuck her way to the top!”. I wonder if Pia Zadora ever appreciated the irony of that statement, considering that her acting career was jumpstarted after she married a powerful multimillionaire who was over 30 years older than her. Jerilee then makes a stand by refusing to accept the award and walking out of the ceremony to Larry Graham’s hilariously cheesy Lonely Lady title song. Believe it or not, this got a Razzie nomination for “Worst Original Song”, but lost because the film had another song called “The Way You Do It” which was even WORSE! Unfortunately, this song is permanently stuck in my head right now and I can’t get it out!

This is probably the longest “Robin’s Underrated Gems” column I’ve ever written, but what can I say? It’s just so much more fun to analyze a bad movie than a good one. I’ve pretty much given away the entire plot of The Lonely Lady, but I kinda doubt that anyone’s going to complain about spoilers. This movie is mind-bogglingly awful, but if you can handle the most offensive elements of the story, such as the garden hose rape, The Lonely Lady is a laugh riot. While certain bad movies like The Room have their hilarious moments, they also have a lot of slow spots and dull patches which can test your patience and make the film a chore to sit through. If nothing else, I can honestly say The Lonely Lady is rarely ever boring and does manage to cram an awful lot into 92 minutes. If it had not been released in the era where home video was still in its infancy, it might have developed a bigger cult following. However, once the age of the Internet hit and bad movies like this could build up a very devoted and loyal fanbase, The Lonely Lady was no longer easily accessible and I’m sure everyone who was responsible for making it prefers that it remain buried forever. It’s not an easy movie to track down, but “bad movie” buffs will probably find it well worth their time. And if you think I’ve totally wasted my time by writing an entire column about this piece of trash, just remember… if I write for anybody, I WRITE FOR MEEEEEE!!!

This entry was posted in Movies, Robin's Underrated Gems. Bookmark the permalink.