A great deal of this film was in fact intended to be part of another feature titled Swamp Rose but the funding dried up. Not a man to let anything go to waste producer, Larry Buchanan, “King of the Drive-In Flicks”, stripped it of its luscious color and built a z-grade plot around it. This is easily detected as the film quality switches drastically from scene to scene, sometimes from shot to shot.
All of the characters are in effect played by two different people. The outdoor distance shots in which the characters are obscured to prevent detection, a similar device to what Ed Wood did in Plan Nine from Outer Space. The voice over is fairly obvious as well. Even when it’s the same dialogue it never syncs up properly and when it’s not the scene comes across like a Godzilla dub.
The plot revolves around pervy old Uncle Shub who decides to dump his long term live-in girlfriend and upgrade to a younger model, namely his stripper niece, Baby Doll. The niece, being a tramp (surprise, surprise), rekindles an old fling with her sister’s husband, the local Sheriff, and a moonshiner, who supplies Uncle Shug with his liquor. Well, the tossed-off girlfriend discovers that she is Shug’s common law wife as they were living as a man and wife for half a decade, which in the eyes of the law of that unnamed state is considered a valid marriage. Complications arise as both women try to out maneuver each other over the old man’s fortune, leading to a sexy, violent end.
Baby Doll was played by real-life stripper Lacey Kelly, whom producer Larry Buccahnon (one of the most prolific grade Z film distributors for the straight-to-drive-in circuit) picked out of a run down joint in some mid-western dump and offered to make her a star. I must admit, she does have an alluring quality. You can’t help but notice her, something that would have made her a great favorite swinging on the stripper pole. It’s mostly in her eyes. They take you in and hypnotize you like a deer in headlights. Her “career” didn’t amount to much, most of it spurred from her willingness to take off her clothes. She played the snarling white trash tramp well enough (if she actually was acting), but this movie was the tail end of her film stint. Before she had starring in a number of nudie-cuties (films with naked people, but no actual penetration shown) such as Naked Sweethearts, Nude on the Moon, and Bunny Yeager’s Nude Camera.
Common Law Wife does sport a kick ass deep jazz soundtrack that is rife with menace and sleazy action. It adds significantly to the atmosphere giving meaning to non-events such as two people walking down a driveway and it distracts from the badly put together footage.
The actual film is not as sleazy as its premise. Most of the sex and violence is implied and keeps strangely moral grounds. What makes the film great is the nasty attitudes in the main characters. Much of it doesn’t seem faked. This is no story of redemption. This is nasty low-bottom people being vicious to each other as they fight over an old man’s money to his delight.
Common law marriages are still a thing in several states: Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and the District of Columbia. Plus other countries such as the UK, Australia, Ireland, parts of Canada, and Israel. This collection of countries isn’t surprising as it is derived from English Common Law. While still on the books and technically allowed, it isn’t used much and nearly everyone has forgotten about it. But it still could be, so men in those areas beware!
The entire film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.