Tags: Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Black Snake, Cherry Harry & Raquel, Common Law Cabin, Europe In The Raw!, Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, Finders Keepers Lovers Weepers, Mondo Topless, Mudhoney, Russ Meyer, Supervixens, The Immoral Mr Teas, Up!, Vixen
Thanks to the Russ Meyer Trust another one of the infamous sexploitation directors early films has finally seen the light of day after being out of circulation since its original theatrical release. The 1961 picture Erotica sits alongside a few of Meyer’s other early films in the Vintage Bodies Set which came out towards the end of last year. Shot after Meyer’s second feature Eve and the Handyman, Erotica consists of six small nudie cutie segments, another of Meyer’s films that plays out as a cinematic pin-up photography pictorial.
Meyer and his producer Pete DeCenzie fell out making Eve and the Handyman when he bailed out on the picture just before production had started. However, DeCenzie returned for Erotica, and later again on its follow-up Wild Gals of the Naked West, which was shot on a four grand budget. Also returning on the production was editor Charles G. Schelling who had helped Russ shoot French Peep Show (and would later go on to become sound recordist on the movies made during Meyer’s gothic period) and then-wife Eve with the role of financial co-ordination (something she ended up doing a lot of during her husbands career). Long-time friend and general all-rounder Anthony James Ryan also briefly cameos in the last vignette as the Handyman, his lead role in the directors previous picture, alongside another gentleman dressed in Mr. Teas’ lurid orange jumpsuit (never one to miss out on self promotion, Meyer had two one-sheets for both The Immoral Mr. Teas and Eve and the Handyman on prominent display at one point). This was a, as the films narration points out, ‘film made by adults for adults… It is truly Erotica!’.
In reality it is what it is, which for me is sadly one of the weaker entries in Meyer’s filmography and is, at times, really rather boring. Whilst it has two Meyer film staples, pretty topless women and bizarre indifferent narration, you can’t help but feel that other similar pictures like Europe In The Raw and Eve and the Handyman did it better and got away with a little more charm. The are some cute moments; the opening in particular is quite sweet, showing a very basic but behind the scenes look none the less at the process a film goes through with symbolic images to represent each part (someone cigarette smoking is the actor, a huge money bag the producer, disembodied hands cutting film being the editor, director chair for the director etc). Segment two ‘Beauties, Bubbles and H20’, an ode to the traditions and history of bathing (aka a trio of topless beauties washing themselves with very bubbly soap) also has some nice cinematography and photographic set ups, one can imagine that if the director had actually shot stills for this segment alone, they would have probably been quite stunning. The shots of one girl having a bubble bath in a kiddies blow up pool are particular favourites. This second vignette also featured popular model Althea Currier who already had an ucredited role in The Immoral Mr. Teas and would go on to appear in Heavenly Bodies and Lorna.
The rest of the picture feels very much the same with so much narration it makes you lose interest in anything the film has to offer (there’s even a soundtrack reel gag in one of the segments where off-screen voices argue that the narrator is reading the wrong ‘informative’ script, how very meta). Segment one, ‘Naked Innocence’, is essentially a re-tread of Meyer’s 1959 short This Is My Body starring Diane Webber, only This Is My Body is a lot better. Middle pieces ‘Nudists on the High Seas’ and ‘The Nymphs’ suffer from far too much narration and not enough going on visually to really make an impact whilst the last chapter, ‘The Bikini Busters’, is a bloated, unrealised comedic take on the history of the bikini; ‘and so it went, down through the years with more and more clothes being added, until the women got so much to looking like the men that the men stopped looking’.
The only other highlight in the feature is the short segment ‘The Bare and The Bear’ in which Meyer shoots an impressively endowed woman rolling around on a Malibu beach wearing only a bear skin to accompany narration that informs how durable and soft bear fur really is. This lucky lady was Sherri Knight, a model with a fifty-five inch bust that Meyer had shot for skin magazines before in the past. According to Jimmy McDonough’s biography, producer DeCenzie saw pictures of Knight and insisted that Meyer include her in the film. They shot for one day, wrapped and Meyer never saw her again. Not that it matters. Once you see her wearing the fur stole, you’ll never forget her.
Behind every successful man, there is a woman. Director Russ Meyer had three wives in his lifetime but it was his second wife, Eve Meyer (nee Turner), who really stands out from the crowd. Russ and Eve were a hardworking team, one that knew how to work with and bring out the best in each other. Even after they divorced, Eve remained a formidable force in his life. She was his original pin-up queen, the star of one of his films, the producer of countless others and a savvy business woman who knew how to deal with the sexploitation film market as much as her husband did. Eve Meyer, one of a kind.
Evelyn Eugene Turner was born into the world on December 13th 1928 in Atlanta, Georgia. After working a while for Western Union she was eventually transferred to San Francisco where she became a legal secretary for Pepsi. Turner always knew she could handle men and match them as an equal, being a great poker player and having a keen interest in fishing. She also has a vivacious sexual appetite, once even throwing Russ Meyer out of her house after a date when he (of all people!) suggested that they wait until their wedding night! A woman ahead of her time, her friend once said of her, ‘Eve was the first person that I ever saw wear pants and heels’.
As soon as Meyer set his eyes on Turner he knew she was the one for him. With a bust described as ‘conically maddening’ (a good thing for our breast loving director), Russ admitted that he knew he’d marry her the minute they’d met and he’d even go on to name his filmmaking company Eve Productions. She was the secretary of a lawyer, he was a divorce client of the said lawyer. He was given her number and the rest is history. After a tempestuous engagement, the two were married on August 2nd 1952 in San Francisco.
Eve was an incredibly beautiful woman and it wouldn’t take long for her to become a pin-up superstar in front of Russ’s camera. Her looks photographed well and her personality shone through in all her pictures; a woman that was able to be a girl-next-door one minute and a sultry vamp the next, Monroe crossed with Turner and then some. She already had some modelling experience behind her when she first met Russ, but it would take him months of persuasion to try to get her to pose for him. It’s not surprising that she eventually became one of the most popular pin-up models of the 1950s, constantly appearing in magazines like Adam, Fling, Modern Man and Frolic. Mr. Meyer even told stories that actress Ava Gardner had the hots for Eve (Mrs. Meyer accompanied her husband on one of his early jobs as a studio stills photographer and Gardner was his first assignment). In 1955, Eve appeared in Playboy as Miss June, in a fantastic spread photographed by her husband. The pictorial is electric and the gatefold in particular is more arousing then any porno picture I’ve seen that’s been shot in the last twenty years or so. The spread featured Eve by the fireplace, wearing a sheer gown that shows just about the right amount, with a look on her face that screams ‘Well, are you gonna come get it or not?’. I have always maintained that she was and is one of the most beautiful creatures to have ever graced this Earth, this spread being proof (a nice selection of some more gorgeous photographs from across her career can be found here).
Not content with being just a model, Eve also did some film work, predominantly working again for Russ in front of the camera. In 1954 or 1955 (dates vary according to sources) Eve starred in Russ’s first involvement within the exploitation movie business, an expose on abortion entitled The Desperate Women. Circling around innocent women and a shady backstreet abortionist (a clichéd character that Meyer revived for his studio picture Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in 1970), the posters showed an angst ridden Eve under the tagline ‘Shall I Take The ‘Easy’ Way Out?’. An uncredited role followed in 1955 as a model in Artists And Models and four years later Eve landed a lead role in war drama Operation Dames aka Girls In Action (1959). Difficult to find on home video format, the only video I’ve seen (posted below) shows that she is just as good in this as she was in her later picture with her husband, her natural good looks standing out and her enviable figure making more than an impression.
It would be Russ Meyer’s 1960 release Eve and The Handyman which saw Eve finally become her husband’s moving-image muse. Eve had been upset that Russ had ignored her whilst filming The Immoral Mr. Teas. Used to working as a team, Eve wasn’t the star in his first feature and was upset that some of the interiors were filmed inside the couples actual home. Russ made up for it by writing his second feature for his wife and, wow, does she shine in it. Using the scenes like Playboy photo shoot set-ups, Eve looks beautiful as she marches around in a trench coat and underwear following the Handyman, played by long-term Meyer friend Anthony James Ryan. By this point already used to Russ’s way of directing and shooting, Eve is one of the few women most comfortable in front of the directors camera throughout his entire filmography. The two could really work well together and it shows. He knows all the right angles to film her at and she knows just what the camera, and audience, are after. It’s just a shame that Handyman would be her last acting role. God knows where she would have gone had Meyer used her as an actress over and over.
It wasn’t just in front of the camera that Eve felt comfortable but behind it too. When Russ Meyer ran into trouble with Bill Teas over the distribution of sexploitation classic The Immoral Mr. Teas (the distribution of which Eve oversaw), it was his wife who came to the rescue, buying Teas out of his 2% share in the film. She also accompanied him to Europe in 1963 to help him shoot the footage that would comprise Europe In The Raw and eventually show up in a recycled form in Mondo Topless. She put up half of the bankroll for the production of Mudhoney. It’s no secret that she hated Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and had to be talked into co-financing it, only for it to bomb on release and drain Eve Productions dry. Eve even bailed out Russ during the production of Vixen! after he ran out of money, a bail out which saw very hefty returns in profit. Basically put, no Eve, no sexploitation/cult film classics from the 1960s. In total she produced fourteen of her husbands films, both his independent and studio releases. What do you expect from the girl who learnt to develop photographs so she could develop her husbands own pictures of her!
Once things started heating up for Russ in the mid-sixties, things in his marriage began to cool down. Eve reportedly didn’t like the direction his career was going in and was terrified of him getting involved with other women. Eve also began to drink, and by drink I mean really drink, which Russ detested. The two eventually divorced in 1968. An amicable separation (apparently even using the same attorney), the two still remained friends up until Eve’s tragic death in 1977. She was the distributer of all Russ’s films and produced a significant number of them after their divorce, including the studio pictures made under 20th Century Fox. Ever the savvy businesswoman, in 1970 she sold the entire catalogue of Meyer’s films to Optronics Laboratories for home video viewing. In 1971 she produced her only non-Meyer feature, The Jesus Trip, a drug/religion drama that involved motorbikes concealing heroin and a nun that doesn’t know whether she wants love or the Church. In 1975 there was a rumour that Eve was planning to write a book about her years collaborating with Russ that was to be titled This Doll Was Not X-Rated. Sadly the book never materialised but one wonders that it might have been full of juicy stories about the pair.
Eve Meyer died on March 27th 1977 in one of the deadliest aviation accidents in history. Arriving in the Canary Islands from Los Angeles for a holiday, Meyer’s plane was hit by another Boeing aircraft. Due to dense fog along the runway, neither plane nor Air Traffic Control could see that two planes were about to collide. In total, 583 people died with one plane being wiped out in its entirety. Despite their divorce, Russ was reportedly beside himself.
There is no doubting that Russ and Eve were meant for each other and loved one another very much. Not that their marriage was an easy one, with a fair few infidelities on Mr. Meyer’s part and a few alleged lesbian dalliances on Mrs. Meyer’s side. She also wanted children, whilst he was adamant that a family would only get in the way of his career. During the shoot for Lorna, Eve checked herself into a hospital for an unknown infection. Her words to Russ when he finally visited her were apparently ‘I can never have a baby, now. I hope you’re satisfied’. God knows how Eve would have felt if she found out that Russ actually had an illegitimate son with one of his starring ladies. No doubt their explosive marriage would have been far shorter. Differences aside, the two were a force to be reckoned with. Each knew the best in each other, what the audience wanted and how to deal with the business side of things. It’s hardly surprising that Russ Meyer’s most successful years were those with Eve at his side, whether it be as his muse, producer, wife or business partner. Whilst the world of sexploitation owes a lot to Russ, it seems that he couldn’t have done it without Eve.
Eve Meyer, one of a kind.
Russ Meyer and sexploitation fans owe a lot to Arrow Films, the film distribution company known for putting out comprehensive DVD releases of cult and foreign films. Arrow have just re-released their Russ Meyer box set, well worth getting for two reasons. Firstly, these are the most detailed releases of Meyer’s back catalogue, complete with commentaries by the director and extras featuring his famous leading ladies. Secondly, the new re-release features Meyer’s 1963 picture Europe In The Raw, a film pretty much out of circulation since its initial theatrical run.
Filmed and released in 1963, Europe In The Raw was the first in Meyer’s ‘documentary’ trilogy (followed by Mondo Topless and Pandora Peaks, the latter more of a mockumentary…), shot as a reaction against what Meyer saw as anti US sentiment in the film Mondo Cane and the booming ‘mondo’ craze. His response was to go to Europe and shoot a sex shockumentary that showed up the continent as a sexually depraved, lust filled land. Shooting the footage himself and using both actual shots and faked scenes, Meyer had to limit himself to using cheap equipment and short film reels to pass off as a tourist and not a filmmaker to foreign officials. It shows. Whilst there are some fantastically framed compositions, the film isn’t as polished as his later efforts. All the hallmarks of his filmography are there but it feels significantly less accomplished in comparison to other features, especially Mondo Topless which successfully nailed the points that Meyer was trying to hammer when released three years later.
Travelling with wife and producer Eve Meyer, Russ managed to get some lovely shots of European burlesque dancers filmed on the cheap equipment, a lot of which later ended up being recycled into Mondo Topless. Certainly more teasing than tantalising, watching Europe In The Raw now is a slightly boring affair but it’s wonderful to see extended footage of dancers such as Veronique Gabriel, Gigi La Touche and Denise Duvall whose scenes appear in Mondo albeit slightly shorter and cut. Intercut amongst these performances are a few staged scenes which feel very out of place and stick out like a sort thumb; the faked nudist camp in Holland being the prime suspect. In an attempt to salvage the production, Russ hid a small camera in a bag with a cut out window and filmed reels of various red light districts across Europe. Needless to say, both he and Eve ran into a couple of bouts of trouble after a few prostitutes smelled a rat… After being chased out of one hookers apartment and failing to capture any noteworthy film, Meyer re-created walking up the flight of stairs to her room back in the comfort of the US with a well-stacked American model.
Completed with scenic images of Europe and footage shot by Meyer during the War, Europe In The Raw was withheld from public circulation as Meyer believed it wasn’t one of his best pieces of work. Honestly, I don’t blame him. It’s not his best but it certainly isn’t terrible and is in fact very interesting to watch to see the formations of his filmmaking techniques develop. The pompous narration is there, although not filled with as much innuendo as would later become staple. What is great is that Meyer’s career as a pin-up photographer is evident from the way the women are captured and framed. The dance routines of the burlesque performers play out like moving image Playboy pictorials, similar to the set-ups in Meyer’s first feature The Immoral Mr. Teas, with the editing fetishising their accessories and heightening the tease. It might not be Meyer’s best but for completest fans it’s a must.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here, the premise to Wild Gals of the Naked West is very simple. An old drunk recounts some of the things that the men and women got up to in his old Western town and the audience gets to see them. There is no plot, just scene after scene of various little ‘stories’ (if you can even call them that) playing out over the inflated sixty-one minute picture. There are two guys engaged in a fist fight which goes on forever as each guy appears to be immune to a punch (either that or neither can throw a good one), a couple who keep trying to have a drink of champagne only for their glasses to keep getting shot at, a bunch of saloon girls who keep lassoing and kidnapping men and two men infatuated with tipping a toilet over every time someone new goes in it. This being a Meyer film, there are also a load of topless and scantily clad ladies to stare at. Possibly the only redeeming feature of the entire film. Eventually a clean-cut stranger strolls into town and cleans the place up.
Wild Gals is, without a doubt, one of Meyer’s weaker films. More of a nudie-cutie than an outright sexploitation flick, it tries to be funny but instead fails miserably for a majority of its running time. Meyer knew that westerns were popular at the time but his wit and use of satire which often showed up in his later films is totally absent here. The employment of slapstick and silent comedy is fine but the director takes far too long to get to the punchline of a joke, if the joke even has a punchline at all. The film would probably have worked far better as a half hour short but after the success of his previous two feature-length efforts (The Immoral Mr. Teas in 1959 and Eve and the Handyman in 1961) I’m not surprised that Meyer wanted to make another. That said his next picture, Europe In The Raw, released the following year turned out to be a short. It’s not all that bad, the film does have one or two funny moments, in particular an incompetent Indian who can’t seem to shoot an arrow properly or start fires without eventually having to use a match.
Bad points aside, the picture is shot well and visually is very reminiscent of old 1950s and early 1960s pin-up photo shoots, with Meyer’s previous career and experience in this field clearly coming to play. Each women looks glorious in her own unique way; stockings, corsets and many nipple tassels played against beautiful back drops of the desert or bedroom scenes played out in primary colours. For a film so early in Meyer’s cinematic oeuvre, there are many techniques and cast players which and who would crop up again and again in future projects. Only Meyer himself could get away with depicting the Civil War in a montage that shows a sword against a map of the States, paint washing down a river and not one person in sight. As we all know, his love for montage would never die. The cast includes one of the director’s favourite female models Donna X, aka Trena Lamar who would eventually appear in Mondo Topless in 1966. Other notable cast members include some of Meyer’s fellow combat buddies from World War II especially Anthony-James Ryan (one of Meyer’s closest friends and producer on several of his films) and one-time Meyer producer Pete DeCenzie. Actor Jackie Moran has the unfortunate job of playing the old drunk narrator, wearing a white beard and moustache that ain’t fooling anyone. He would wind up five years later playing the father potentially lusting after his own daughter in Common Law Cabin.
Certainly one for the completest, this is definitely not one of the films to start with if you’ve not seen any of Russ Meyer’s other efforts. Wild Gals of the Naked West has its charm but be warned, there’s very little of it.
Russ Meyer‘s Mondo Topless is proof of two things. One, if you were ever unsure that the director had a breast fetish then this is the film for you, approximately sixty minutes of breasts and not a lot else. Two, that it is actually quite possible to get bored with boobs. Yes indeed.
Meyer’s vision of San Francisco sits perfectly with his ideal woman…
The premise of Mondo Topless is incredibly simple. Cashing in on the ‘mondo’ documentary craze that was common through the 1960s and 70s, Meyer made his own documentary focusing on breasts (what else?) and exotic dancers and models that he had come to know through his career. It wasn’t easy. The year before Meyer had released Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! which tanked commercially and made Meyer and his producer wife Eve little money. Scraping together $12,000 and shooting over five days, they filmed footage for the final feature. In 1963 Meyer had travelled to Europe to shoot footage for a documentary called Europe in the Raw! and recycled some of that into what would become Mondo Topless. Opening with a typical Meyer montage of the city of San Francisco, complete with a commentary full of innuendo, Meyer makes his intentions known from the outset; ‘Situated on precipitous peaks above yawning canyons… Precariously perched and poised on the tip of a peninsula’. After a few shots of strip joints and the reassurance that the topless craze is everywhere in 1960s America, Meyer introduces us to his girls and their assets. And boy do some of them have assets.
The dancer with the hippy-chick vibe, Sin Lenee
First up is Pat Barringer, aka Pat Barrington, a platinum blonde topless dancer who also appeared in a handful of sexploitation pictures throughout the 60s. Second is Darlene Grey, the only girl from Britain in the picture and possibly Meyer’s bustiest find (a whopping 36H bra size). Go Go dancers Sin Lenee and Darla Paris show their frenetic moves in the forest, whilst Diane Young tries to bury herself in the sand with her energetic routine. Donna X, aka Trena Lamar who also appeared in earlier Meyer flick Wild Gals of the Naked West (1962), gets slow and sexy in a motel room and Babette Bardot (‘French and Swedish, fifty-fifty where it counts!’), star of Meyer’s 1967 feature Common Law Cabin, drives around San Francisco nude and dances to a passing train. Add a handful of performers from Europe (dances by performers Veronique Gabriel and Gigi La Touche were inserted from aforementioned Europe in the Raw!) and a few others from America and you’ve got your cast, dancing and jiggling their way across your screen.
Pat Barringer taking it low… I’m sure Lady Gaga saw this film in her early days, it’s just too obvious…
That is essentially it for the whole film, a group of women dancing and showing off the routines they would perform for men in strip joints and bars. Except that Meyer takes this one step further and adds an audio commentary by each girl over their performance, giving insights into their individual personalities, minds and attitudes towards their work, bodies and life. What began as a soundtrack of question and answer sessions between Meyer and his subjects was eventually dropped for the comments by the dancers themselves. The result is a bunch of random comments, some tedious, others unintentionally hilarious (‘Colour makes me feel sex’ is a great one-liner), juxtaposed with the images of the topless dancers, making for some rather odd moments. Judging by the bust of a few of the ladies and the manner of the film, you’d expect comments on their breasts, how difficult it is to buy swimsuits or find a bra the right size; ‘I didn’t really need to wear a bra ’til I was half way through junior high school. It all came late but it was there boy! No denying it!’. But much of the comments reflect the time in which the film was made, with defense cases made against their careers, what they think of feminism, their hopes for having future families and their opinions on the sexual revolution. As ‘insightful’ as it is, at the end of the day it all feels a little weird. After all, you don’t normally go and watch strippers or exotic dancers hoping to hear them speak…
Donna X, aka Trena Lamar, and Meyer’s trusty tape recorder…
Impressive soundtrack aside (I joke somewhat), Meyer’s girls are the real sight to behold in Mondo Topless, each memorable in their own unique way. Statuesque Babette Bardot drives around the city nude before exclaiming the difficulties in keeping a womanly appearance with childlike qualities during her strip routines. Take note too of the bruises up her thighs as she reclines to pull her stockings off whilst sucking her thumb. Dirty bitch. Pat Barringer proves that you can dance anywhere when duty calls, shaking her assets at the top of a telephone tower, out in the desert and in Meyer’s own swimming pool. You won’t remember Darlene Grey’s face but you’ll never forget her rather impressive bust. Arguably one of the most voluptuous girls Meyer has ever used throughout his entire career, the director managed to get shots of her rolling around in the mud before she left and was never seen again by the crew. Dancers Sin Lenee, Diane Young and Darla Paris have about as much impact as each other, all very much energetically into what they do but not so different. A result of working at the same club perhaps.
Darlene Grey and her eye-popping 36H bust
It’s very easy to tell the difference between the footage of the girls shot in America and the earlier European footage that’s intercut just on the appearance of the women themselves. Gigi La Touche is arguably the most naturally attractive girl in the whole picture, looking incredibly cute with just a sparkly guitar covering her modesty. Veronique Gabriel looks gorgeous but her routine amounts to nothing. Only with Meyer’s fetishistic camera angles on her costume and figure does she become alluring. Sadly most of the footage from Europe feels this way and contrasted against the later film shot in America it all seems a little tame and slightly passionless. Also shot and placed between clips of the girls dancing is footage of a pin-up having her photograph taken which feels slightly out-of-place, the static of her poses placed alongside the movement of everyone else. The final gem amongst all this is the test footage of Lorna Maitland before she filmed Lorna with Meyer in 1964, looking gorgeous in colour film stock which she never got to experience (Lorna was shot in black and white).
Babette Bardot takes the wheel in San Francisco
Pretty girls aside, it’s very easy to see how audiences now would get tired of this film really quickly, for it is essentially a one trick pony playing the same trick way too many times. In a society that has a huge placement on instant gratification, Mondo Topless represents the dying art of the tease. The film amounts to images of women dancing (and I know a lot of people who wouldn’t even consider it that these days), baring their breasts and not a lot else. No full frontal nudity, no sex. For generations bought up on the more explicit sex that Deep Throat (1972) help usher into cinemas and pornography that has become more accessible over the last ten years, films like Mondo Topless have become redundant. Their purpose to arouse long since reduced to a bygone era where titillation and the idea of ‘less is more’ once held more meaning and power. In a time when many aspects of culture and society are sexualized, Meyer’s film feels a little tame. It’s the beginning’s of foreplay that doesn’t lead anywhere else and, in all honesty, when you’ve seen a couple of pairs of boobs, the rest aren’t that different. Even as a major Meyer fan, I’ll openly admit that it’s a rather boring film, with a run time of sixty minutes feeling hugely inflated.
And yet its typical Meyer, the pure concentration of his fetish distilled onto celluloid. Upon viewing, you can’t deny that Meyer knew how to photograph the female form well and its evident that the camera loves it’s subjects. If you’re a keen exploitation film fan, its worth watching once for its place in sexploitation history but if you’re a big Meyer fan, it’s an absolute must.