LGBT Movies: Saturday Night at the Baths (1975)

“I’m unapologetic about what we did in the 70s… We earned it. We faced such strong and harsh discrimination that to be able to completely let go and revel in who we were, I think, was very necessary.” ~ Steve Ostrow, Continental Bathhouse founder.

A musician takes a job at New York’s Continental Bathhouse. He has a girlfriend but his pushy manager invites him to explore his bi-curious side. Will he or won’t he? Club owner Steve Ostrow presumably co-produced Saturday Night at the Baths, to restore the Continentals’ fading luster. Unfortunately the screenplay spends 15 minutes in the bathhouse and 70 minutes on the predictable love triangle. There’s plenty of eye candy but the film never captures what made the Continental important to New York’s gay culture and music industry.

Want to learn more? Then read my spoiler filled recap. Trigger warning: The film includes sexual harassment and a brief discussion of sexual abuse.

Act One: A New Job

Trio
The math of love triangles.

Scene One: Bathhouse Audition
MICHAEL (a Musician): I just moved here from Montana. (Plays piano for ten seconds)
SCOTTI (the Manager): You’re hired. It’s $150 in 1970’s money. Join me for dinner?
MICHAEL: My old lady’s expecting me.
SCOTTI: Your mother?
MICHAEL: My girlfriend. I’m not gay. (Drinks a glass of water.)
SCOTTI: Have you ever had sex with a man.
MICHAEL: (Does a spit take.) Well sure, when I was younger.

Scene Two: Michael and Tracy’s Giant Apartment
TRACY (Michael’s girlfriend, a photographer): $150? Now you can pay half the rent!
MICHAEL: But the men there keep hitting on me.
TRACY: Well that’s what you get for being so pretty. HAHAHA!
(They strip naked and grope each other for 5 minutes. The actors are clearly into it.)

Scene Three: Gallery Opening
MICHAEL: Why are there photos of muscle men?
TRACY: It’s called body building. It’s unusual in 1975.
SCOTTI: Tracy, let me introduce you to some models.
LESBIAN MODELS: You’re hot.
TRACY: Gee thanks. HAHAHA!

Act Two: Will They Or Won’t They?

Football
A sassy gay football team!

Scene Four: Michael and Tracy’s Giant Apartment
MICHAEL: Why’d you bring my predatory boss into our home?
TRACY: I’ve always wanted a sassy gay friend! HAHAHA!
SCOTTI:  Let’s smoke a joint. It should calm you both down.
TRACY: I got hit on by lesbians! HAHAHA! ZZZZZZZ. (She’s asleep… or pretending to be!)
SCOTTI: The first time I met those lesbians they were making love at a party. They were so comfortable with their sexuality they didn’t care who saw them. (Takes Michael’s hand.)
MICHAEL’s ACTOR: Am I supposed to be turned on by that? Seriously, I’m asking because I don’t understand my character arc.
SCOTTI: No rush. The rest of us know where this movie is going. (Leaves.)
TRACY: I have concerns.

Scene Five: The Park
SCOTTI: Hey Michael, come join my gay football team! We grope our opponents to make them uncomfortable.
GAY TEAM: Sexual harassment is hilarious!
(They play sports while singing show tunes.)
SCOTTI: My first time was in this park. He was…
MICHAEL: Your first time was with a guy? No wonder you’re not normal. (Scotti leaves offended.)
TRACY: Michael you’re being rude. And I think I know why. (Tracy leaves offended.)
MICHAEL: Hmph. (Michael leaves offended.)

Scene Six: Scotti’s Apartment
MICHAEL: Hey Scotti? I came here to apologize. I didn’t mean…
(Scotti answers the door naked.)
SCOTTI: Yes you did.
MICHAEL: I grew up on an air force base.

Trigger-Warning

When I was 12 I looked up to one of the fighter pilots. He molested me and my father caught him. I learned not to put hands on other men.

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SCOTTI: That backstory is way too dark for a trashy sex farce.

Act Three: Opening Night

Judy 3
Caleb Stone as Judy Garland.

Scene Seven: Michael and Tracy’s Giant Apartment
TRACY: I bought a new dress for your show!
MICHAEL: Don’t come tonight. I’ll get stage fright.
TRACY: Uh-oh. I know what that means.

Scene Eight: The Bathhouse Show
SCOTTI: And now what you’ve all been waiting for. The reason for this films existence. A ten minute montage of the Continental Baths show.
(Singers! Go-go dancers! Drag queens!)
MICHAEL: Am I actually playing the piano or have I been dubbed?
SCOTTI: Dunno. And now for the after party!
(Naked women frolic in the pool. Naked men make out in the showers. The actors are clearly into it.)
SCOTTI: Well I never did seduce Michael but the show is a hit. I guess that’s a wash. Goodnight everybody!
(Scotti leaves. Michael follows him.)

Scene Nine: Scotti’s Apartment

Spoilers

MICHAEL: You were wrong. The cabaret show’s not all the audience was waiting for.
SCOTTI: Oh thank goodness. I’d given up hope.
(They strip naked and grope each other for 5 minutes. The actors are clearly NOT into it.)
SCOTTI: I’m doing all the work here! Michael’s just laying there looking bored.
MICHAEL’s ACTOR: I just don’t get the character. Is he bisexual and attracted to Scotti? Or is he doing this to process his childhood trauma? Is this a cathartic experience for him?
SCOTTI: There’ll be no catharsis for either of us at this rate. (Yawns.) Can we just watch some more drag queens?

Finale 3
No tongue.

Scene Ten: Tracy’s Photography Studio
TRACY: So you slept with him?
MICHAEL: How did you guess? I hope this doesn’t change things between us.
TRACY: We’ll never know. The movie’s over. HAHAH… oh forget it.

THE END

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It’s Sentimental, the Continental

Continental-Baths-Ad-1
Vintage Advertisement.

“Located in the basement of the Ansonia hotel on New York’s 74th Street and Broadway, the Continental had around 400 private rooms, a sauna, a swimming pool and – eventually – a dancefloor. Over the next eight years, it became a cultural hub for music, clubbing and queer culture, providing gay men with a safe space unlike anything that had been seen before.”  ~ The Guardian, Apr 27, 2018.

The Continental launched many stars but this movie did nothing for the careers of the three leads. Don Scotti’s comfortable with his body but not with dialogue. Ellen Sheppard brings some brains and humor to the thankless Tracy. Robert Aberdeen’s Michael is the subtlest of the three but he’s hopelessly uncomfortable in his scenes with Scotti. That’s fine for the beginning but we’re meant to see his feelings change… and we don’t. The Bad Gay Movies podcast criticized the film for focusing on a straight male lead. But is Michael supposed to be straight? Is it bisexual representation if the film never uses the word bisexual?

Ostrow wanted the Baths to become more than a sex club. He began to alienate the crowd that wanted exactly that. Mismanagement, debt and gentrification took their toll and the Continental closed in 1976. The Disco era would end and the AIDS epidemic would shut down the rest of the bath houses. But for one brief, shining moment the Continental was a gay Camelot.

For more reviews of QUILTBAG media click here.
Next time we’ll examine a love triangle with a bit more heat in 1982’s Making Love.