HOUSE OF 1,000 DOLLS American International Pictures, 1968. Originally released in Spain as La casa de las mil muñecas, 1967. Vincent Price, Martha Hyer and George Nader. Written and produced by Harry Alan Towers. Directed by Jeremy Summers.

   You know a movie’s in trouble when the hero of the piece gets third billing. You know it’s really desperate trouble when that billing reads “George Nader,” an interesting man perhaps, but never the most electrifying of actors.

   Actually, House of 1,000 Dolls has a few stylistic flourishes that make it just about worthwhile. It’ll never make anyone’s “10 Best” list, but it’s an okay time-killer if you’re in the mood.

   Vincent Price and Martha Hyer play traveling magicians in the employ of a shadowy figure known only as “The King of Hearts” using their act to lure beautiful women into sexual slavery in a Tangiers Brothel. This not only gives Price a chance to strut about in cape and top hat, looking regally sinister, but also gives writer/producer Towers ample opportunity to show lotsa young ladies running around in their undies, a win-win situation if ever there was one.

   I have to confess that I’ve only come across one real-life “white slavery” operation and it was a pretty tatty affair involving a few rather unattractive and not-very-bright young ladies (not all of them white, for that matter) held in the thrall (and ratty apartment) of a rather unpleasant and not-very-bright old guy. So maybe I don’t have a sound basis for comparison, but it seems to me that House not only sanitizes the concept but positively glamorizes it.

   In this film the women are all beautiful, the brothel lavish and well-staffed, and the operations positively baroque; one slave is actually delivered to the villains in an ornate coffin transported by a hearse, which strikes me as a lot of overhead for an enterprise like this.

   In keeping with the spirit, Price and Hyer do their act in the finest nightclubs, travel in style and employ a seemingly limitless army of black-clad nasty guys who travel in pairs and prove completely unequal to the task of eliminating George Nader.

   Ah yes: George Nader. It seems he’s a forensic examiner for the NYPD and this makes him an expert in all sorts of crime-fighting, following clues, trailing suspects, wise-cracking at the expense of local cops and bashing about a bit when the occasion calls for it. Yes, of course it does.

   Well you don’t go to a movie like this for stark realism, and I’m happy to say that House of 1,000 Dolls doesn’t bother with any. There’s a fairly rudimentary plot about George’s wife getting enlisted in the brothel’s Ladies Auxiliary, some mystery about who The King of Hearts will turn out to be, a few fights, chases, murders and a slave-girl revolt (are there echoes of Spartacus here?) all handled passably, sometimes stylishly… but somehow never memorably. This is a film you will soon forget, but it’s painless and sporadically fun to watch.