Tag Archives: Nudie Cutie

MEYER MONTH – ‘The Immoral Mr. Teas’ (1959) review by Jonathan Henderson

13 Sep

Lets be honest, I spend a lot of hours surfing the web for anything Russ Meyer related, sifting through the good, the bad, and the wierd. During some model investigating (which I hope to share soon) I stumbled across this great review of Meyer’s first feature The Immoral Mr. Teas which I had to share. Written by Jonathan Henderson, the original link can be viewed here, but I’ve also copied it below.

The Immoral Mr. Teas might not be the first film title that comes to mind when the name Russ Meyer is mentioned, but it may have been the most important in his career and, indeed, the most important for the genres in which he’d spend most of his career working in. Released in 1959 with a budget of just $24,000, Mr. Teas eventually grossed $1.5 million, which helped to finance Meyer’s subsequent films outside of the help of the major studios. But it was also a watershed (on a relative level) in the world of film as it was the first film to unapologetically feature nudity in a film that wasn’t completely underground and pornographic, or under the guise of a “naturist/nudist” film. It essentially opened up the floodgates for what would become sexploitation, but Mr. Teas itself seems harmless by today’s standards.

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Its relative tameness perhaps has to do with the fact that it’s less sexploitation and more “nudie cutie”, which exchanged actual sex for simple nude eye candy. Mr. Teas is likely typical of such a film; it stars Bill Teas as Mr. Teas, a door-to-door dental supply salesman who’s frustrated by the drudgery of his daily life. During his day, Mr. Teas encounters three hot women: a Coffeeshop Waitress (Ann Peters), a Dental Assistant (Marilyn Wesley), a Secretary (Michelle Roberts), a girl on a beach (Dawn Danielle), and a Burlesque Dancer (Don Cochran). As his day wears on, Mr. Teas begins fantasizing about the women, seeing them in various situations unclothed. Fearing that something might be “wrong” with him, he goes to a Psychiatrist (Mikki France) who is quite hot herself.

If this doesn’t sound like much of a plot… well, who am I kidding? It’s not. But—and perhaps it sounds odd to say this—there is a peculiar charm to the film. Meyer doesn’t even attempt to present a dramatic narrative; instead, the film is shot with a narrating voiceover (Edward Lasko) and a revolving jukebox of jazzy music numbers (a mid-tempo march, a sexy sax refrain, and a few up-tempo pieces) that accompany the images as if it was a silent film. In truth, the film plays out like what would happen if Jacques Tati shot a nudie cutie; the film even has Tati’s sense of social satire. But while Tati was purely visual in his parodying of modern grossness and confusion, Meyer uses the voiceover which mimics the “informational” voiceovers in the exploitation films at the time that tried to preach a moral by presenting the “dark side” of what certain actions lead to.

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But there’s also a certain innocent joy in the film’s appreciation of the female form. Perhaps the most successful scene in the film doesn’t even feature nudity, but has Mr. Teas attempting to go fishing at the local beach when he spots the “Beach Beauty” who seems insistent on taking off her top. But this is probably where the homophonic “Teas” (as “tease”) comes into play as Meyer’s camera never actually catches the woman naked. Perhaps the most extraordinary bit in the sequence has the “Beach Beauty” playing in the ocean as the tide rolls in; there is a definite but intangible beauty to the scene. It almost brought to mind those first few moments when I became unconsciously aware of the female form. It’s hard to call such a scene “exploitation” because there’s no sense of the woman being exploited. Rather, this is Meyer taking in the beauty of nature no differently than if someone were to film a sunset.

While not every scene has that level of (dare I say) aesthetic grace, Meyer keeps it light, comical, and satirical enough that it would be hard for even the most rigorous Puritan—Ok, maybe a moderate Puritan—to ever feel ashamed. It’s perhaps telling, though, that Meyer never actually shows his gallery of busty beauties naked in reality, but rather only in the imagination of Mr. Teas. The film also takes its time (relative to its already short 63 minutes) before it even gets to the nudity. This allows the majority of the first 2/3 to play out as a comedic satire of both modern society, and the types of exploitation films that preceded Mr. Teas. The absurd voiceover certainly has its genuinely hilarious moments as it plays counterpoint to the witless Mr. Teas.

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For all its pleasantries, the film is far from perfect; even at a slim 63 minutes it feels a bit repetitive and “light”. The constant musical accompaniment eventually goes from humorous to annoying (though, thankfully, it’s never egregiously so), and Bill Teas himself seems a particularly unappealing “hero” for the film. I don’t know, there’s something about him that just doesn’t make him a sympathetic everyman. Meyer may do everything he can to frame the film like a Tati, but Bill Teas utterly lacks Tati’s carefully measured, but seemingly effortless, physical gifts for comedy and his innate charm. If anything, he makes the film appear much sleazier than it is. Meyer does just about everything he can, but he’s yet to develop his cinematic talents that will serve him much better in his later films.

Even with the complaints, this is still an interesting film from a historical standpoint, and a rather enjoyable film in-and-of itself. It’s certainly not superb from any angle, but it’s undeniable that the film has more substance and quality than the vast majority of its ilk.

MEYER MONTH – ‘Erotica’ (1961)

15 Mar

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.

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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.

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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.

MEYER MONTH – ‘This Is My Body’ (1959)

9 Mar

I’d read about it and seen some stills that Russ Meyer had shot on set but never thought that I might actually see This Is My Body, a ten minute short shot in 1959 by the director. Out of circulation since its original 1960 theatrical release, the short featuring model Diane Webber was never re-released and one part of Meyer’s early career that many people (including the man himself) thought would never again see the light of day. That was until late last year when the Russ Meyer Trust announced the release of a DVD set that featured his early films that had never been released before.

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As part of the Vintage Bodies set, This Is My Body stands out as a beautiful example of Meyer’s early career as a pin-up photographer transcending perfectly from static shots to moving image work. The only time the director ever used sepia film stock, the short benefits largely from its subject Webber. Webber and Meyer had worked together before over the later half of the 1950s, with the latter’s photographs of the former being among some of the best in his career. Meyer shot Webber’s spread when she was Playboy Playmate of the Month in February 1956, looking very curvaceous thanks to her secret early pregnancy. Never one to shy away from being honest, Meyer later moaned that her body was never the same after childbirth and pulled This Is My Body from circulation completely using the postpartum excuse.

Not seen for over fifty years by the pubic, the short definitely isn’t a ‘must-see’ for Meyer fans. It provides no further illumination on his career and as a short with no plot will doubtless be very boring for some viewers (it is essentially Diane Webber sunbathing). But for completists and fans of his nudie-cutie or photography work, the ten minute delight really is a lucky joy to watch considering the Estate’s previous reluctance to shed any light on his early career. Whilst the DVD set it is included in notes that it is digitally restored, it’s unknown whether it is a restoration of an old  existing transfer that Meyer made himself in the past or a direct transfer from an original print (one doesn’t know how many or what original prints the Estate still has left in usable condition, rumours have circulated in the past that things aren’t best looked after). For ten minutes it packs a lot of traits that would eventually recur throughout the rest of the directors filmography; lush natural settings (think gorgeous wood/stream settings  like those in Vixen! and Up!) and an interior monologue of banal, superficial one-liners that can’t help but remind this viewer of Mondo Topless. But being one of Meyer’s biggest fans what more could I ask for? Just being able to watch it is exciting enough. Certainly not for  everyone but a lovely example of  how early on in his cinematic endeavours Meyer mastered his craft.

Russ Meyer’s Vintage Bodies – Early Films Finally Get Released

14 Nov

Christmas really has come early for Russ Meyer fans this year with news that the Russ Meyer Trust have finally released his early films on one DVD set. Not seen since original theatrical circulation and long believed by Meyer himself to be films of his that would never be available to fans,  Russ Meyer’s Vintage Bodies set see’s four of his early films collected together for the first time. The set includes 1960 short This Is My Body (attributed to 1959 by Jimmy McDonough in his superb biography Big Bosoms And Square Jaws), 1961 release Erotica and 1963 release and co-feature Heavenly Bodies and Skyscrapers and Brassieres.

This is a massive step for those in charge of the Russ Meyer estate, long considered by friends and fans to not really care about the directors work or the wealth of materials they inherited since his death. These four films provide the last batch of his catalogue that had never been released before and which fans presumed they would never be able to see. According to the Russ Meyer website, the Trust had the films digitally restored especially. A must-have for fans of the Nudie Cutie genre, sexploitation film genre and of Meyer himself, this box set will finally let audiences catch a glimpse of how the auteur developed his well distinguished cinematic style. Sadly, Meyer’s first real foray into filmmaking, The French Peep Show, isn’t included although one hopes that Meyer had a print somewhere that will eventually surface.

Reviews and features on the films included in the set will be included in this blog as part of next years ‘Meyer Month’.

Russ Meyer’s ‘Lorna’ (1964)

22 Sep

1964, the year of Lorna and the start of director Russ Meyer’s Gothic period and obsession with social redeeming value (aka the morals that make smut acceptable). This black and white beauty, Meyer’s first film shot in 35mm and with live dialogue, marked the end of a successful run of nudie cutie features (The Immoral Mr. Teas, Eve and The Handyman, Erotica) and the beginning of his first ‘proper’ foray into theatrical filmmaking. Opening with a shot that tracks a long winding road, we are suddenly met with a maniacal preacher. Spewing the directors first morality tale, the gentleman asks us ‘Do you know where this road leads?… Do you do unto others as they do to you? Do you judge as others judge?… Pass on… There is no return’. And right he is. There is no return from Lorna.

With the tagline ‘Ever wonder why wives WANDER?’ it’s not too difficult to see where Meyer was going with the narrative. Oft referred to as the female Tom Jones, the story focuses on Lorna (Lorna Maitland), a sexually unsatisfied housewife who is married to nice guy Jim (James Rucker), a miner studying to be a CPA. Jim loves Lorna very much but when it comes to bedroom antics he leaves her completely exasperated. Lorna has to be persuaded to have sex with Jim, and not only reluctantly gives in, but has a face like a slapped arse during and after. Cue a cute monologue where Lorna stares out of the window and expresses her disappointment; ‘I’m a woman, not just a tool’. She dreams of another life, one full of excitement and a lot of topless go-go dancing (real footage of Maitland that would also crop up in films Europe In The Raw! and Mondo Topless, not surprising given that she was a Vegas dancer before the film). Instead, Lorna goes for a nude swim one day and gets raped. But instead of being a victim, the attack finally brings her rampant sexuality to the fore.

And what a town to commit adultery in. The picture was shot in Locke, a depressed town in a run down area of Sacramento, with boarded up shops and grimey bars. This is a town that harbors the worst in people and stifles those that genuinely have some good about them. A real boiling point for morals to play out, it was the perfect environment for Meyer’s melodrama and makes the religious element of sinners being punished seem all the more fitting (apparently an added piece of cinematic insurance so it played well within the Bible Belt). Upon viewing it’s hard to ignore the influence of Italian neo-realism, something that Meyer both acknowledged and dismissed quickly along with other academic theories related to his work. In Meyer’s eyes, it was a melodramatic piece shot in black and white because he couldn’t afford colour film stock. That said, like environments in other Meyer feature films, the location is beautifully shot and incredibly lush; run down shops and small houses juxtaposed with lush lakes and shrubbery.

Cast wise, the feature has some memorable creations made all the more comically large by the actors playing them. James Griffith played the formidable preacher; the bearded and somewhat morally rabid provider of the films prologue and epilogue. Griffith also wrote the screenplay, in four days no less, going on to provide Meyer with the story for Motorpsycho the following year before having a long career in as a supporting actor in film and television. The role of the poor, naive husband Jim is played like a total wet blanket by Rucker. His sin is that he could never satisfy Lorna and by the end of the film you end up feeling both sorry for him and his wife; sympathizing towards his wife because bad sex is bad towards him because he genuinely loves her. The real stand out amongst the crowd in Hal Hopper in the role of Luther, Jim’s sadistic co-worker. So slimy and horrible (watch him rape and beat a woman in the opening fifteen minutes of the film in a scene that sets the moral tone for the rest of the picture) that he steals the role of the villain away from the real rapist himself. With rather menacing eyes and a sickly smile, Hopper doesn’t have to do much to get under your skin and it isn’t remotely surprising that Meyer cast him in Mudhoney in a similar role (what is surprising is that he sung the film’s title theme).

The crown jewel of the entire film though is Lorna herself, played by Barbara Popejoy. Meyer christened her with the name Lorna Maitland when he finally cast her in the film, giving her the name that she would eventually be most known for. It’s not hard to see why the sexploitation director liked Maitland so much. With a 42D bust size and breasts that were swelling even more (to 50 inches) with the hormones of a pregnant woman (Maitland was three months pregnant at the time the film was shot), the star also had the wholesome looks that made her attractive to all sorts of clientele that the film would be watched by. It’s hard to believe that Maitland wasn’t the first choice for the role. Meyer had cast another actress, Maria Andre, whom he had used in Heavenly Bodies at the insistence of Griffith. Maitland had made very little in terms of an impression went she went to the casting call for the picture and it was only thanks to her manager who handed Meyer’s producer wife Eve a few Polaroids of her that she ended up with the gig. Eve eventually found them, the day before they were meant to start shooting, and showed them to Russ who knew instantly that Maitland was the one.

That said, it would seem that Maitland and Meyer never quite saw eye to eye, with both parties apparently hating each other and Maitland being quite vocal about it. Lorna would go on to star in Meyer’s feature Mudhoney which was shot and released the following year, somewhat of an expansion on the themes that were explored in Lorna itself. Not that Meyer seemed to care. He complained and told a large number of people that Maitland’s figure had gone post-pregnancy and that her now 42 inch chest was intolerable due to its sagginess. It seems no love was lost between either of them, just as some states in America found it hard to love Lorna as a picture. It was deemed obscene and prosecuted in Florida, Maryland and Pennsylvania, despite making a tonne of money on the Drive-In circuit. Meyer even had his appeal to have the seized print returned to him denied by the Florida Supreme Court who decided that it should be burnt instead. Watching it now is hardly shocking in comparison to subsequently released features but it still packs a punch, a rare mix of remotely genuine emotion, sex and the dark side of morality. One of Meyer’s classics.

MEYER MONTH – The Unforgettable Princess Livingston

12 Mar

Mentioning the name Princess Livingston might not ring any bells amongst you. If I said she was an actress in some of Russ Meyer’s films, you’d probably scratch your head and try to remember which memorable busty beaut of a woman she was and which films she starred in. Most of you would still be guessing if I gave you the clue that she was a red-head. Now, if I were to tell you that she was actually the toothless old woman, most memorable for dancing at Z-Man’s party in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, most of you will know instantly who mean. Once seen, Princess Livingston is not easily forgotten, so I set out to try to find out as much as I could on her for Meyer Month.

As it would seem, there isn’t a lot of information floating around out there about her which is a bit of a shame. She was born in New York in 1900 and according to actor John Furlong, in Jimmy McDonough’s biography of Meyer Big Bosoms and Square Jawswas running a motel in Hollywood. No one seems to know if she had any acting experience but it obviously didn’t bother Meyer who appears to have cast her for her noted look and strong sense of humour. There are no reports on how these two met (one can only imagine…) but Livingston’s first cameo in Meyer’s filmography came in the 1962 release Wild Gals of the Naked West. Credited rather aptly as the ‘Scary Woman in Saloon’, Livingston cackles and winks her way through the brief scenes she is intercut into. Every town has them (where I live, we had ‘Jesus Man’), and Meyer made sure as hell his fictional Western contained a weird older character that everyone knew of and never forgot.

Princess reappeared in 1963 when Meyer directed his short Heavenly Bodies! and then again two years later with a more prominent role in the 1965 release Mudhoney. I say prominent, she still cackles through most of her ten minute screen time but at least in this instance her character gets a proper name, Maggie Marie, and a role relative to the plot, the proprietress of a neighbourhood brothel. Without a doubt, Livingston adds some dark humour to the depression set morality tale, working her look like she’s the female equivalent of Marty Feldman. Furlong, who starred alongside her in this feature, recalled an incident one day on set where ‘She was sitting on the porch and her skirt was kind of up. Sitting there with no underpants on! Russ took one look at her undercarriage and muttered, ‘It’s hairier than a blacksmith’s apron!”. I will be delighted with myself if I’m pulling stunts like that when I’m that old.

After one appearance on television and in the 1970 film Pufnstuf, Meyer would give her one last cameo in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. This is where most of you will remember her from, dancing madly at Z-Man’s party with an Indian hippy and decked out with red-almost orange hair and an orange shirt. She doesn’t say a lot but has a few fantastic lines, exclaiming ‘I think it’s better after the change!’, something about that line and her makes you think that she wasn’t she acting that one… Next up is ‘It wasn’t very long but it was four inches thick!‘ and some very intent listening whilst porn star Ashley St. Ives rants on about her latest picture. This is the type of Grandma I want to be when I grow up. Finally the immortal ‘I’d like to strap you on sometime’ is uttered and that is Princess Livingston. 1972 saw an uncredited part in Unholy Rollers and she passed away in LA four years later. 

It’s such a pity that nothing more is known about her, even if it’s just how she met Meyer or even got into acting. Needless to say, in the world of Meyer she will never be forgotten. I only hope she’s represented if they do film a biopic on the director, I’d love to see who would be cast as her. Obviously it would only be in the background but it would have to be memorable enough. Time to start brainstorming Hollywood…

MEYER MONTH – Russ Meyer’s ‘Wild Gals of the Naked West’ (1962)

6 Mar

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.