When Uncle Joe (Huntz Hall) begins losing business to a big corporate owned filling station across the street from his own and has a heart attack, his favorite niece June (Kristen Baker) decides to get involved. June, a recent high school graduate, enlists her friends (Sandy Johnson, Leslie King and Linda Lawrence) to re-open Joe’s gas station as “Joe’s Super Duper” where the girls sport skimpy crop tops and short-shorts. As the girls rake in new business they recruit their boyfriends and a local gang of greasers as mechanics and tow truck drivers. Soon Joe’s is doing big business and the competing Mr. Friendly (Dave Shelley) is forced to intervene.
Gas Pump Girls (1979) is another film in a long line of teen comedies that trade in the spectacle of bare breasts. Canon Films, though not best known for such films, churned out a number of movies like Gas Pump Girls throughout the late seventies and into the mid-eighties. Co-written and directed by Joel Bender, Gas Pump Girls manages to be an above average outing in this particular sub-genre largely due to the anti-corporate and pro-local business themes of the otherwise mundane script. June’s business model is, at its foundation, a socialist model and her general agenda is to drive out big business from her small California town.
Of course, the social and political themes of Gas Pump Girls are almost exclusively subtextual. The primary objective of the film is to get the leading ladies out of their clothes as often as possible. Like all of the best films of this ilk Gas Pump Girls finds rather ingenious and narratively motivated ways to accomplish this. The byproduct of this seedy endeavour is that Gas Pump Girls manages to locate and satirize the patriarchal dominance in American capitalism. Big industry and markets are ruled and motivated by men whom June and her gal pals manage to control and manipulate purely by exposing their breasts. This may be a reductive treatment of the culture of the American economy, but it does address some rather unfortunate truths.
Surrounding these interesting excursions into political and social commentary, subtextual or otherwise, are plenty of cornball scenes of wacky, improbable hijinks that make absolutely no sense. Films like Gas Pump Girls really rely heavily on the suspension of disbelief, operating on the assumption that in exchange for seeing breasts and audience will accept anything from unlikely car decals to major architectural renovations that seemingly occur overnight. This spirit of fun extends to the gimmicky casting of Mike Mazurki and Joe E. Ross who subtley subvert their archetypal personas by playing dirty old men enforcers.
While Gas Pump Girls is among the best of the teen sex comedies of the late seventies its pervasive misogyny and gratuitous nudity is likely to be off putting to those new to the genre. Even June’s lackluster musical number isn’t likely to redeem Gas Pump Girls for some viewers. But it is important that films such as these are not forgotten or ignored as an integral part of our collective cultural history, Gas Pump Girls may not be high art but it is art nevertheless.