The early ’70s were rotten with low-budget dramas about middle-aged men hooking up with hippie chicks, because the prospect of exploiting counterculture “free love” attitudes for quick no-strings nookie seemed like an evergreen premise for lurid stories. Among the least distinguished entries in this mini-genre is Ginger in the Morning, the only noteworthy aspect of which is an early performance by Sissy Spacek. (Ginger in the Morning was released between the actress’ early breakout in 1973’s Badlands and her star-making role in 1975’s Carrie.) Spacek is, by far, the best thing about this shoddy flick, demonstrating dignity and poise while playing a free-spirited Southern girl—and thereby neutralizing the potentially exploitive nature of the storyline. Whereas many similar films end up feeling slightly pornographic, with their wink-wink scenes of mature men seducing innocent hotties, this picture flips the premise simply by virtue of Spacek’s gravitas. Her character seems formidable right from the beginning, even if her flower-power belief system leads her to see more potential for good in people than she should. The nominal star of the picture is prolific B-movie/TV actor Monte Markham, a preening he-man who tends to arch his eyebrows for dramatic effect on nearly every line of dialogue. He plays Joe, a recently divorced man traveling through the Southwest after a business trip. Joe picks up hitchhiker Ginger (Spacek) and treats her like a gentleman throughout a day of driving—until he senses she’s game for a tumble. Taking her home to his pad in Santa Fe, Joe prepares to score until his best friend, Charlie (Mark Miller), shows up unexpectedly. Ginger overhears Joe telling Charlie that all Joe wants from Ginger is sex, so she gets affronted. Also thrown into the mix is Charlie’s estranged wife, Sugar (Susan Oliver). As a result, much of the movie comprises intercut melodrama as the two couples work through their issues. The scenes with Spacek are generally watchable because she acts with such sincerity, but everything else in the movie is a drag. The production values are cheap, the lighting is ugly, and the acting by Markham, Miller, and Oliver is, at best, ordinary. As for the story, it never rises above superficial and trite.
Ginger in the Morning: FUNKY