Prime in the Dustbin: ‘Linda Lovelace for President’ (1975)

I cannot decide whether Linda Lovelace for President is a curious piece of 1970s underground filmmaking or a punishment of some kind for unaddressed past wrongs. It certainly feels like a scourging. But the movie also fits snugly into the strange 70s trend of making comedy films out of vaudeville and Borscht Belt jokes strung together with the thinnest, most gossamer of connective plot and sparsely decorated with a sprinkling of assorted D-list guest stars.

Linda Lovelace was the notorious star of Deep Throat, the first American pornographic film to be declared obscene by the Supreme Court. To quote Eric Bischoff, “Controversy creates cash.” Deep Throat ended up being a box office smash, raking in $45 million dollars. After the obscenity trial and a full episode of Donahue about the film, it became the thing to see for strait-laced vanilla couples from the suburbs not brave enough to throw a key party, but curious enough to stand in line for a movie about a woman whose clitoris was in her throat. Deep Throat brought pornography into the mainstream, allowing even the most timid person to vicariously experience the sexual revolution, without having to attend outdoor music festivals or douse themselves in patchouli.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much for Lovelace to do after that. Hollywood didn’t want her and the adult industry had used her up. Linda Lovelace for President was a last-ditch effort to turn the Valley’s fallen angel into a bona-fide movie star. It did not work.

The plot of the film sounds like a joke your drunk uncle would tell your horrified nephews and nieces at a poorly planned holiday party. A priest, a black activist, a Nazi, a flamboyant homosexual, and a Caucasian dressed up like Charlie Chan start a grass-roots campaign to elect Linda Lovelace as president of the United States. She’s an independent candidate, running as the leader of The Upright Party, because erections. The film follows her as she travels the country on her campaign bus, meeting allegedly wacky people in each little hamlet and burg she visits and having sex with at least one of them. Hillbillies, pimps, tent revival preachers, even a backwoods Tarzan with a pet monkey all come into play, with supposedly hilarious results.

That’s it. That’s the movie. Good night, everybody! Try the veal, tip your server, drive safely.

This is not a hardcore porn flick. That might have been entertaining. Lovelace appears fully nude throughout the opening credits, though, so if seeing a naked woman (tee-hee!) is your reason for watching this movie, mission accomplished within the first three minutes. The rest of the picture consists of broad, overplayed racial and societal stereotypes with nary a hint of subtlety on display.

Here’s an example of what this movie thinks is a joke. On the campaign bus, the gay Bruce Whippoorwill (Danny Goldman) is working on a needlepoint project. Someone asks him how the sewing is going. He shows his work to the camera. It is a full set of male genitalia with a thin strip of white thread emerging from the tip of the penis. “It’s coming!” he says.

That’s really funny to a specific audience who would be, ironically, not old enough to watch the film.

The truly inexplicable thing about Linda Lovelace for President are the cameo appearances. How hard up was Scatman Crothers for cash that he would appear in this thing? It seems he would have been rolling in that sweet Hong Kong Phooey voiceover money in 1975. Micky Dolenz of The Monkees is here, driving a toy car down the sloping hills of a woman’s bare ass. Chuck McCann appears under a pseudonym (he is credited as Fetchuttini Alfredo) as a hired killer with worse luck than Wile E. Coyote. JFK impersonator Vaughn Meader shows up, not impersonating JFK! Art Metrano from That 70s Show! Joe E. Ross, the lamebrained Officer Toody in Car 54, Where Are You? plays a high-powered Washington fixer. Even Stafford Repp, the venerable Chief O’Hara from the Batman ’66 television series, gets sucked into this maelstrom of mediocrity, playing a character cleverly named Dirty Old Man. It’s like they took a slew of beloved character actors and put them all in a stinking, abusive zoo for us to gawk at and mock. Hey, it’s That Guy! Throw some stale peanuts at That Guy!

Through the enlightened eyes of modern society, this movie is appalling and offensive in every sense. However, viewers are warned at the beginning of the film that the film is designed to offend all audiences. This may be the only way in which Linda Lovelace for President succeeds. But it also portends to be a comedy, and it most assuredly is not that. It wants to place itself in the same category as classics like Kentucky Fried Movie or The Groove Tube. But the people behind those films understood how comedy works, what makes things funny, and the importance of timing. Linda Lovelace for President is crass and humorless. There is sex and nudity, but it winds up being dull with none of the bawdiness a raunchy comedy requires to succeed. It is as dry as the simulated sex scenes that permeate the film and, worst of all, it’s not fun.

Yeah, Linda Lovelace is in it, and even years after her death, her name still has some drawing power. But you’re better off watching Deep Throat, which is also a terrible movie, but at least the people in it seem to be enjoying themselves.

You can watch Linda Lovelace for President on Prime Video, but don’t.

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