Ladies Who Punch: Molly & Gina (1994)

In the penultimate instalment of his mammoth Paul Leder series, Dave discovers that the helmer’s ’90s twist on film noir tropes is a real delight.

We’ve established that Paul Leder’s genre work/exploitation films were more fundraising efforts for the likes of Goin’ to Chicago (1990). “I want to change the world,” the writer/producer/director told Bill Landis in 1986. “But exploitation films don’t change the world” [1] – though that didn’t prevent Leder from firing the occasional wink of begrudging admiration towards them. And there’s perhaps no more obvious nod than in the final reel of MOLLY & GINA (1994).

“I saw this movie once called I Dismember Mama (1972),” says one of the title characters. “It ended in a mannequin factory, and it was very creepy!”

The fact that she said this in a similar location brings a fascinating synchronicity to Leder’s twilight years behind the camera. Like it or not, I Dismember Mama gave the helmer a degree of notoriety. Three years later, A*P*E* (1975) fortified it. The latter was written in tandem with Leder’s son, Reuben, who returns here to provide the inspiration for a playful ninety minutes.

“Molly & Gina I wrote under an alternate title – ‘Goat’s Landing’,” recalls Reuben. “It was optioned by a studio and helped get me some mainstream work. Fifteen years later, Dad’s looking for something to make, so he takes it, retitles it, and adapts it into something rather different from what I had written – but that was OK! [laughs]”

Molly (Frances Fisher) has been the secretary to a private eye for the last twenty years, as well as his extramarital love interest too. Gina (Natasha Gregson Wagner) is a wannabe actress and a new age nymphet, who’s partial to a green hair colour. When both their lovers are taken down in a hail of bullets, they’re plunged high heels first into a savage underworld of murderous gunrunners, violent passions, and fatal betrayals.

“Thelma & Louise (1991), what have you wrought?!” quipped The Chicago Tribune [2] when Molly & Gina wrapped in December 1992. Even eighteen months on, distributor A-Pix were keen to geg in on the comparisons, promoting their VHS of Leder’s flick as “Thelma & Louise meets Lethal Weapon (1987)”. Needless to say, both assertions are well wide of the mark, but, being the early ‘90s and having two actresses toplining a movie, one plus one frequently equated to three.  

Interestingly, Leder’s film puts a spin on your traditional noir, albeit with the progressive twist of a gender switch. Molly comes across as your archetypal gumshoe: unflappable, savvy, dressed in monochrome, and gifting us a pragmatic voiceover. Meanwhile, the ‘male fatale’ of the piece is Larry Stanton (a welcome Peter Fonda): a former flame with a penchant for college girls who seems inextricably connected to the two murders. It’s a complex case for Molly to detangle, but Gina is sublime as her newfound and unconventional helper. Both are striking in their portrayals of fearless and feisty women.

Rob Kyle’s infrequent sax solos amp up the noir-isms – and for the Lederphiles, we have a host of fleetingly familiar faces like Frank Whiteman, J.D. Lewis, and Greg Mullavey. By now, though, Fisher was part of the Paul Leder players as well, having triumphed alongside Wings Hauser in Frame Up (1991) and Frame-Up II: The Cover-Up (1992). Molly & Gina is Fisher’s best role of her three Leder stints. Shot when she’d just fallen pregnant with her daughter, Francesca, to partner Clint Eastwood, Fisher leads with a calm assurance that shows she deserved top billing more often throughout her career. Special mention also to an early role for a then-twenty year-old Elizabeth Berkley, and an important cameo from the late, great Stella Stevens.

Leaving his requisite political swipe to virtually the final frame of the picture, Leder signs off with arguably one of his most explosive lines of dialogue. “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” says Molly, quoting British writer Samuel Johnson.

“Wrap yourself in the American flag, you can get away with anything.”

Paul Leder: Writer. Producer. Director. Activist.

[1] Paul Leder Interviewed by Bill Landis, Sleazoid Express, 1986.
[2] O’Malley & Collin, The Chicago Tribune, 8th December 1992.

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