I guess you could say that today’s movie almost killed Cher’s acting career.  In 1967, she and her partner, Sonny Bono, appeared in the film “Good Times.”  I reviewed it here on the blog a few months ago and really enjoyed it, but the film was bomb when it was released.  Two years later, Cher appeared in her second film.  This time Sonny served as writer and producer but didn’t appear on screen.  The film was so badly received that it was 13 years before Cher appeared in her next film.  Was the film really that bad?  Let’s find out as we look at 1969’s “Chastity.”

As you may have guessed, Cher plays a young woman named Chastity.  She just seems to drift from place to place…hitchhiking down the highway in her purple top and no bra.  She gets picked up by a truck driver one rainy night and the two share a hotel room, though she quickly informs the guy that he ain’t gettin’ any.  After the opening credits roll over scenes of her hitchiking, we see her demonstrate some of the ways she gets money.  For example, she goes to gas stations and pretends to work there…filling up cars for customers (this was before self-service pumps Jr.) and then pocketing the money.

Chastity is fond of talking to herself and providing narration for what’s going through her head as she wanders about. One night, Chastity happens upon a young man working as a valet named Eddie (Stephen Whittaker).  She meets him at a coffee shop and after dining on steak and eggs she asks him if she can sleep with him.  What she means is can she sleep at his place.  When they get to his pad we get one of the strangest scenes in this strange movie.  After she says that his place is nice, “it works,” she goes around switching things on and claiming that everything in the house “works.”  “This light works, this light works, the sock drawer works…”  Very bizarre.

The next morning, having been motivated by the fact that Eddie believes in God, she goes into a church where she tries to strike up a conversation with a woman praying the rosary followed by a strange attempt at confession.  Overwhelmed with the situation, she runs out of the church, steals a car, and heads for Mexico.

In Mexico, after first scoring some tacos, she spots a guy selling pot.  In the course of purchasing some of the goods, she also asks the guy if he’s a pimp.  She then convinces him to take her back to the cat house.  While there, she hooks up with an awkward young American man who thinks she’s one of the prostitutes.  She manages to get him to hand over a bunch of money to her, but she wiggles her way out of the room before any dirty business can happen.  But all of this gets her in trouble with the madame of this establishment.  She takes Chastity on a nasty tour of the various evils that go on behind the doors.

Now, it turns out that the young blonde madame is a lesbian, and she takes quite a liking to Chastity.  Now, the raciest thing we see on screen is that the two go to an amusement park and feed goats and stuff…but other stuff is implied.  But then one day Chastity breaks down at dinner and decides to leave.  She ends up heading back to Eddie…but don’t worry campers, there’s still more crazy in store.

“Chastity” is a very strange movie.  The director is listed as Alessio de Paola, and this is the only screen credit of any sort he seems to have.  This has led many to theorize that the director was actually Sonny Bono…but that has never been confirmed.  As for Bono’s script, well it just sort of rambles.  There doesn’t seem to be a point to it.  The scene where Chastity poses as a gas station attendant just goes on and on.   She fumbles with the gas pump, she fills up the car, she checks under the hood, she fumbles with the oil cans, she adds oil…it’s just weird!  Another strange aspect of the script is the many times where Chastity talks to herself…both audibly and in her head.  “Well Chastity, looks like you blah blah blah.”

Though most of the scenes ramble, one scene does stand out in an interesting way.  Sonny and Cher’s first child was conceived during the making of this film, they named her Chastity.  Of course, today Chastity is known as Chaz Bono.  This was always in my mind as I watched this film and it put a unique spin on the scene where Chastity discusses her name with Eddie.  She explains that Chastity is not the name she was born with, she picked herself.  “I just thought it was unfair,” she says, “why should people be stuck with a name they didn’t even get to choose?”  What a strangely prophetic scene.

As for Cher’s performance, it’s actually stronger than you may think, given the material she has to work with.  There are plenty of weak moments in her performance, but there’s also several scenes where you can’t deny the strong screen presence she would perfect several years later.  One could make a case that her character is a late 60’s version of the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl.  I suppose your tolerance for that sort of character could dictate how much you enjoy Cher’s performance in this film.

It’s not a great film, it’s not even a good film, but “Chastity” is an entertaining film.  It may have killed Cher’s film career for 13 years, but when she won that Oscar, I’ll bet she didn’t care much anymore.

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