What do you get if you mix a father obsessing over his daughter, a buxom French burlesque dancer, a rich kid on the run, a wise-cracking curvaceous brunette and an angry Ginger Cop on the run? The answer could only be Russ Meyer’s 1967 release ‘Common Law Cabin’ aka ‘How much loving does a normal couple need?’. One of his sexploitation films made before his certificate-challenging 1968 picture Vixen, the film isn’t as sex and nudity heavy as some of Meyer’s other films but still bears all the hallmarks of your typical Meyer sex film fare.
Common Law Cabin opens with views of the idyllic Colorado River and an over the top monologue that tells the audience all about the changing faces of nature itself. However, this is a Meyer film and like previous films of his with the same device (The Immoral Mr. Teas, Vixen, Mondo Topless) this monologue is full of double entendre, describing the scenes that are about to unfold. The setting is ‘one river, taking and leaving like a woman’ with ‘torrential flows, rivers of cruel intent as well as pleasure and life providing water ways’. If you’re not familiar with Meyer’s output, this tells you before the film has really begun that there will be women with attitudes, lots of conflict and, of course, sex.
The film concerns the Hoople family who live on a ranch out in the American country. They own a run down tourist trap and must rely on the nearest town’s alcoholic, Cracker, to entice tourists to spend time and money there. The ‘only game reserve within a thousand miles’, there’s clearly some familial trouble and its only going to get worse once Cracker brings the visitors. Setting the tone, we are firstly introduced to the daughter, Coral Hooper. All pigtails and ignorance, she likes to swim nude and her father doesn’t like it. After a nice title sequence (One of my favourite scenes in the whole film in which you can see the original title How much loving… underneath the superimposed title Common Law Cabin. This sometimes happened in exploitation films when pictures got renamed. Tarantino spoofed this idea in his film Death Proof in which you briefly see the ‘original’ title Thunderbolt before the new title is shown.) we meet Mr. Dewey Hoople who likes to vocalise just how much he doesn’t like his daughter walking around with little on. He spy’s on her throughout the film, leering through binoculars whilst the rest of the cast comment on his ‘little habit’, not least of all his new girlfriend Babette. Played by French burlesque star Babette Bardot, cue lines drooled in a thick French accent, such as ‘They at least know the difference between a wife and a daughter’ and ‘Its your wife that’s dead and your daughter that’s alive’. His excuse? His dead wife and his daughter look like twins. Enough said.
Babette Bardot and Jack Moran as the Hoople’s. Something tells me he’s missing the point here somewhat…
Skip to the nearest town and we meet the unfortunate folk persuaded to take a day trip to Hoople Haven. One guest is the mysterious Barney Rickert, the soon to become angry Ginger, and married couple Dr and Mrs Ross, who seem to have their own problems they’re bringing to the table. Sheila Ross is a gorgeous savvy flirt, out to find pleasure with any man she can flirt with. Dr Ross is the husband whose not giving her any and has grown detached from her. Arriving at the run down tourist attraction on Crackers boat (the guy’s a drunk but he can drive a boat really well), the Ross’s go off to meet the Hoople’s whilst Rickert pays Cracker to leave and come back in two days time instead of collecting them later that evening… It seems the only thing to do at the ranch is drink and enjoy the ‘entertainment’ which consists of this dance, courtesy of Coral…
You’d pay to see that, right?
Staring too much as his daughter’s wiggling behind, Mr Hoople smashes a glass in his hand. After bandaging his wound and Dr Ross having another argument with his wife (‘Must you pant, it’s an animal trait.’ ‘Its the bitch in me dear, or don’t you remember? Its been such a long time.’), we bear witness to another ‘dance’ which see’s Babette running up a mountain, screaming in what sounds like horror and brandishing fire torches. Unfortunately, I can’t find a video of it on Youtube. At this point in the film, all the action starts and the plot begins to get a little convoluted.
So, in a nutshell… Sheila and Rickert have sex. Rickert tries to assault Babette. Lawrence Talbot III, an heir to a $40 million fortune, goes missing (Where did that come from?! The radio. Meyer makes sure we hear the broadcast, playing whilst Mr Hoople and Babette are making out.). Rickert tries to rape Coral but gets interrupted by Lawrence arriving on his boat. Dr Ross and Sheila have an argument and he hits her. Lawrence and Coral decide they like each other and make out. Finally, during a play fight Sheila kills her husband by kicking him in the chest (he had a ‘bad heart’).
Death by play fight.
After all of this, Rickert starts to show his true colours and turns into the angry Ginger. Knowing that Sheila knew how to kill her husband, he recruits her to work for him, asking her to by her some time. Turns out that Rickert is an ex-detective on the run, wanted by police for stealing a fortune in jewellery! So while Sheila does what she does best, seducing Mr Hoople, Rickert knocks out Babette and shoots a returning Cracker dead. After threatening to kill Babette, he takes Lawrence and Coral hostage, shoots the gasoline tank of Crackers boat and escapes on Lawrence’s boat leaving everyone else behind. Then he shoots Sheila. After wrestling with Lawrence and Coral on the boat, and in the water, Rickert is finally killed by the unmanned boat hitting him; ‘That boat clobbered Rickert’s skull like a melon’. The Hoople’s and Lawrence live happily ever after.
One of Meyer’s underrated films, Common Law Cabin is worth a watch just for the ridiculous plot alone. Compared to some of his other films, it’s not that heavy on sex and nudity. Although the characters do have sex, all the women parade around in bikini’s covering everything up and the only real nudity you see are some underwater shots of Babette while she’s swimming. Even then you only get to see her bum but its a lovely one at that. The turning point for Meyer would be the following year when he released Vixen which was far more explicit in its depiction of sex and nudity.
Typically for a Meyer film, it even has what he called ‘redeeming social value’ which allowed him to get away with all the exploitative points in the picture. Sheila’s bad behaviour, killing her husband and infidelity are ‘justified’ by her murder at the end, which also ‘justifies’ all that time spent in a bikini and having sex with men she shouldn’t be. Babette gets knocked out, assaulted and ‘punished’ so she learns her lesson for bad-mouthing Mr Hoople, and because she’s always in a bikini baring her flesh. Another characteristic of Meyer’s films is punishing the man who can’t please a woman. In this case, Dr Ross being killed by his own wife…
Actress Alaina Capri
The main draw for me is the actress Alaina Capri, cast in the role of Sheila Ross. Alongside Erica Gavin (Vixen) and Tura Satana (Fast Pussycat! Kill! Kill!), Capri is one of the few actresses in Meyer’s filmography who can truly act and give a natural performance. She sizzles on screen, delivering lines with a bite and sting that some women can only dream of having. In the film, she’s full of sex appeal and it’s easy to see why Meyer cast her. Naturally beautiful, Capri is incredibly buxom and has a seductive charm. When she smiles, she has the most amazing cheekbones and rounded cheeks and, in both of the two Meyer films she starred in, her hips always sway gently when she walks. Capri is one of my favourite Meyer leading ladies and its such a shame he didn’t use her more often. After the release of the second film they did together, Good Morning and… Goodbye!, she got upset with Meyer after he lied to her about the amount of her flesh he showed on the screen. She never acted again and left Hollywood to become a teacher. Capri was terrified that someone would find out about her past but, despite their falling out, Meyer never told anyone where she was and respected her anonymity.
People often ask me why I like Russ Meyer and give me very strange looks when I tell them. The same scene always runs through my mind, of Capri as Sheila remarking after seeing Babette’s fire dance; ‘Its different honey, I’ll say that’.