“Amputee fetish” cult classic, earnest to goodness love story… or both? PRELUDE TO HAPPINESS is the story of Susan Imes (real amputee Rose Petra), a young, pretty blonde in love, breezily skipping down the primrose path until “the accident”. When she wakes up in the hospital unaware of being hit by a car, a doctor informs her where she is and why, “There’s no delicate way to put it… (insert schmaltzy musical foreshadowing here) Your leg has been amputated”. After a few days, poor Sue is handling things as well as can be expected, until her fiance finally shows up to visit and announce he’s canceling the wedding and leaving her to protect his image. Bummer. Make sure to have plenty of tissue handy to keep from blubbering uncontrollably during these oh so tender moments.
I have to admit being caught completely off guard by this movie. I was expecting something rather exploitive and instead found an earnest love story starring a one-legged woman. Okay, earnest love story ala “General Hospital”, but… Obviously, Susan’s devastated by her boyfriend’s abandonment and starts to pout a lot and reject the rehabilitation process. This gets the attention of young, handsome and saintly Dr. Steve Hartman (Gary Davis), who attempts to help her get settled back onto her feet (er, um… foot) by getting her a job at the hospital.
As it turns out, she’s a registered nurse and we get a great scene in which she bugs out her eyes uncontrollably (and freezes in her duties) at the arrival of an accident victim with badly mangled legs. This draws a vicious backhand from an elder surgeon, but afterwards she is coddled by the good Dr. Steve, who then rescues her from a couple of would-be rapists in an alley.
When she invites him to attend a pool party for which she could find no date, we catch the good doctor ogling her bikini parts and getting visibly jealous when she dances with a greasy-looking hippy. She then plays a love song on her guitar, they make goo goo eyes at each other and soon they are falling in love, complicating his impending engagement to prissy high maintenance bitch, Tiffany (sassy Carol Sowa), who rounds out the triangle… “I imagine you were out with your one-legged bitch again!”.
Perhaps it was the dizzying array of wobbly boom mikes dipping into the frame or maybe it was just the frequent bad acting and latent cheapness of it all, but I had a creeping feeling throughout that Johnny Wad was lurking nearby with his hands down his pants. This may have had something to do with my buddy (who gave this copy to me) categorizing it as “amputee porn”. I mean, seriously, who in their right mind could pass on that? Alas, no porn here, but many surprisingly racy and gratuitous shots of pouty, voluptuous Susan hobbling around in her panties and bra and also in a bikini (and what a lovely stump it is!).
Regardless of how shoddy the production is or how well it succeeds, there is a lot of sincerity in PRELUDE, especially in woeful, sweet Rose Petra (in her only film role). And though it begins to feel more and more like a bad soap opera, it is one of a kind and truly, strangely engaging throughout. Sure, it may have it’s share of “you see… amputees can be sexy, too” moments, but I resoundingly reject the “amputee fetish” status the film has garnered. Acrotomophiliacs the world over may scream to high Heaven upon reading this, but I think they’ve essentially hijacked this one for their own rather nefarious purposes. Alright, a bit harsh…I mean, I guess I get it. Okay, let’s just not go there.