HONOURABLE MENTION – June Mack
Unbelievably I can’t find any record of June Mack’s measurements anywhere but it’s safe to say that her enhanced boobs were some of the most unforgettable in all of Russ Meyer’s films. Known for playing Junkyard Sal in Beneath The Valley of the Ultravixens, Mack was murdered shortly after filming finished taking a bullet for a friend.
HONOURABLE MENTION – Alaina Capri
With a 42E bustline, Capri just misses the top ten by making number eleven. She famously had a misunderstanding with the director and refused to work with him again after he showed much more of her flesh on the big screen then he alluded he would.
#10 – JUNE WILKINSON – 43E
Naturally busty Wilkinson was shot numerous times by Meyer in the 1950s with many of his photographs gracing the front covers of pin up magazines. Meyer called Wilkinson and asked her to be in his first feature The Immoral Mr. Teas and she accepted, appearing uncredited in a brief cameo in which only her breasts appear.
#9 – TEMPEST STORM – 44E
Tempest Storm’s naturally conical breasts instantly captivated a young Meyer who took numerous pictorials of the star in the 50s. This eventually led to Meyer shooting her in his first foray into filmmaking, French Peep Show.
#8 – CYNTHIA MYERS – 39F
One of the best known Playboy playmates of the 1960s, it comes as no surprise that Russ had his eye on Cynthia long before he cast her as Casey in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. During her modelling career she featured on the now infamous front cover of Playboy’s December 1968 issue where she was dressed as a Christmas tree.
#7 – LORNA MAITLAND – 42F
Lorna Maitland wasn’t the original choice for the lead role in Meyer’s gothic picture Lorna. In fact, Meyer fired the actress originally cast for having too small a bust after he saw photographs of Lorna on the first day of shooting. Maitland was promptly hired.
#6 – USCHI DIGARD – 44F
Naturally busty Digard found her large boobs attracted a lot of attention and subsequently starred in numerous exploitation films before moving into porn.
#5 – CANDY SAMPLES – 46F
A prolific pornography star of the 70s and 80s, Samples had cameos in both Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens.
#4 – KITTEN NATIVIDAD – 34G
Meyer’s paramour for a long time, Natividad first had implant surgery when she was 21 to aid her Go-Go dancing career. Sadly for Kitten, she had a double mastectomy in 1999 after developing breast cancer. It transpired that the silicone used in her implants was of industrial grade and she has since has corrective surgery.
#3 – ANNE MARIE – 67 inch bustline
Whilst her exact measurements elude me, there’s no denying that Ann Marie’s eye-popping 67 inch bust is a sight for sore eyes, made all the more impressive by her minuscule waist.
#2 – DARLENE GREY – 36H
Arguably the most voluptuous girl to have ever appeared in one of Meyer’s films (and yes, they are natural), British Darlene Grey also has the distinction of being rejected by Playboy for being, er… Too big.
#1 – PANDORA PEAKS – 42J
The older Meyer got, the bigger in size his breast fetish got culminating in his last film and leading lady, Pandora Peaks.
Eve and The Handyman isn’t the most exceptional film in Russ Meyer’s catalogue but it stars one of his all time greatest finds; his second wife Eve Meyer. Eve had the looks and the attitude to hold her own and it’s an undeniable shame that Handyman is the only film that Mr Meyer made with his wife in an acting role. But let us rejoice that this fun little romp was made at all, the tale of a hard-working handyman being followed by a mysterious woman on a mission.
In 1959, Russ Meyer had already broken new ground in film with his first feature The Immoral Mr. Teas, the film which invented and kickstarted the sexploitation genre. Teas proved popular and was a big success, showing the world that whatever experience Meyer had gained behind the camera during his photography career was experience that transcended well onto moving image. Not just a successful pin-up photographer, Meyer knew he could become a successful filmmaker (indeed one of the most successful independent American filmmakers of all time), only there was one problem. He’d upset his wife Eve by neglecting her during the production of Teas. As a duo, they were a formidable force in the cheesecake photography business, Mr. Meyer the talented photographer and Mrs. Meyer the beautiful Playboy centrefold. Meyer’s answer? Eve and The Handyman, with his wife in the lead role.
Eve, as beautiful as she always was, plays a woman spying on a hapless handyman as he tries to get on with his days work. Kitted out in a trench coat and beret, Eve follows the handyman, taking notes and trying to get his attention (stripping to hitch a lift being a good attention seeking attempt). Similarly to Teas, comedic encounters ensue (lets not forget that although Russ Meyer may have had his own unique brand of humour, he certainly knew how to milk it and use it to his advantage, with this film sowing the seeds that would eventually grow into the humour of 1962’s Wild Gals of the Naked West) until we reach the revealing, if not slightly underwhelming, closing climax. Just like other filmmakers at the time, Meyer was copying the format he had previously created with Teas, and for the first time introduces his idea of women as being sexually active as opposed to the passive model that had been widely portrayed. In this instance, roles are reversed and Eve becomes the voyeur with the handyman in the objectified role.
The film is all about Eve and she owns the screen time she is given. Yes, there are other voluptuous women (briefly) in the feature but they don’t have the sassy attitude that Eve possessed. An incredibly bright woman, Eve knew how to wrap people around her finger, using all her charms to her full advantage and every time she appears on-screen she lights up the shot. By this point in time a professional photographer, Eve’s composure in her different roles is something few other of Russ Meyer’s leading ladies managed to possess. Simply put, Russ knew how to photograph Eve and Eve knew how to move for the camera. As a moving image pictorial, this is one of the best examples of Eve’s work. It is such a shame that after the film was completed and distributed she decided to stay behind the camera for the rest of her working relationship with Russ. Not that that was a bad thing, a natural business woman, Eve became an important producer on a number of Russ’s features and financially pulled some of them from the brink of being no more. Aside from a war picture, Operation Dames, filmed the year before (Eve and The Handyman was shot in 1960 and released in 1961), Eve Meyer only made two films in a leading role, a number that should be a little higher.
And let’s not forget the Handyman himself, Anthony James Ryan. Ryan was another combat photographer that Meyer had met during the War and the two became very good friends in the years after, a loyal friendship that lasted right up until Meyer’s death. Russ was very fond of the Handyman character, one might argue a step up from the somewhat female-phobic Mr. Teas (the two characters are essentially the ying and yang of each other), and one that Meyer liked to resurrect now and then, even cropping up (sadly) in his last feature Pandora Peaks. The handyman was ironically a role that Ryan would end up playing throughout the directors life, looking after him throughout the years, producing and funding some of his projects and even finishing Pandora Peaks when Meyer became too ill to complete it himself.
Premiering at the Paris Theater in Los Angeles on May 5th 1961, Eve and The Handyman was another success for Russ Meyer. Playing on the handyman role, the first ten thousand customers were promised a free plunger and members of the plumbers’ union got in for free. What was an incredibly small production for Meyer reunited him with his previous producer Pete DeCenzie, who had left Russ and Eve to go it alone. With DeCenzie back on board, that year Meyer went on to shoot and release Erotica (out of circulation since release and now presumed lost) whilst Eve began to take a behind the scenes role. Sadly in 1977, Eve was involved in one of the worst disasters in aviation history, the Tenerife Airport disaster in which two airplanes crashed, and died. Eve and The Handyman is, and remains, a testament to their relationship and working partnership.
Russ Meyer’s filmography would have been much better off had he left his filmmaking career at 1979 release Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. However, 2001 saw the release of Pandora Peaks, which featured the titular adult model herself. Whilst it has the hallmarks of a Meyer film, it feels distinctly underwhelming and not quite one of the sexploitation legend’s film’s at all.
Given that most of the openings to Meyer’s films are quite fun, this opens with a rather drab, title card sequence using a stereotypical porno font that is nothing short of boring. And, sadly, boring is a word I’d use to describe the rest of the film. There really is nothing to it. The entire film consists of sequences of Meyer’s famous montage shots, this time re-tracing parts of his history and intertwining it with parts of his female stars. So we have brief run downs of the town where the director was brought up, his school, where he did his industrial films, memories of his time in the War and even passages of him reading from his epic autobiography A Clean Breast. As much as I love the guy, Meyer certainly isn’t much of a narrator. Being the only male voice present in this film, sadly Meyer doesn’t fill his memories with half as much excitement and wonder as the many men who have played narrator parts in his previous films. However, it is nice to hear him run through his career and see him in retirement life enjoying his trout fishing (his second love next to breasts).
Strip this away from the film and all you have left is footage of the eponymous Peaks and another german model called Tunde. Not a lot happens. It’s essentially Tunde bouncing around her bedroom and Peaks taking of her clothes in various locations (one being the ranch featured in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! which almost seems a little sacrilegious). Like Meyer, both stars talk about their lives in a track reel played over the top. Except that you don’t really learn an awful lot about them except that they both love their breasts and Peaks absolutely loves the attention. It almost wants to be an updated Mondo Topless, except that Mondo was actually interesting. In that, the models talked about their lives, their hopes and dreams and gave their opinions on a lot of things. The results, when put together with the images, were sometimes hilarious and at other times completely absurd. Here, it all just seems self-indulgent and mundane.
Given that, at this point in his life, Meyer was quite financially well off and well aware that his brand of films wouldn’t pull the audiences into cinemas that they used to, it’s hardly unsurprising that Pandora Peaks had no theatrical release. What does surprise me is that he even bothered to make it at all. Whilst the production values are still very tight and very much of the top quality that the director prized himself on doing in every one of his pictures, the film seems to lack the passion and soul that the rest of his movies have. The whole thing does come across more as a vanity project, as if in his late seventies, Meyer wanted to show everyone he still had it and could still get it. A real shame as it sits like an embarrassing blip on what was an already stellar career. Some people just don’t know when to stop.
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.
Russ Meyer is a lot like marmite. You either accept him at face value appreciating his filmography for what it is or you loathe him and fail to see any cinematic worth in his work. Dubbed ‘King of the Nudies’ by the Press, Meyer had a prolific career in independent cinema. Using his previous experience as a Pin Up photographer, he stablished himself as one of the best and most successful sexploitation film makers. Creating films on a small budget and exploring sex in any way possible (nudity, suggestive language, scenes of sexual activity), Meyer was a key film maker in helping to bring sex and sexuality to the big screen.
His film career started in 1959 with The Immoral Mr. Teas, a nudist comedy made to rival the other nudie cutie films that were playing in the independent/exploitation circuit. Though not the first film to show female nudity, it was the first feature film to use women purely as sex objects. On a budget of $24,000 the film grossed over $1 million. Meyer knew he’d found a niche in cinema that he excelled in and would in turn be a profitable investment. He made two more films before the nudie cutie genre had run its course and after, went on to produce sexploitation films with a rougher edge.
The roughie period in Meyer’s work is a big contrast to his previous output. Filmed in black and white, the films handle darker material and play out as rape-revenge narratives. Effectively morality tales in which the bad guys eventually get their comeuppance, Meyer scored himself another first with Motorpsycho. Released in 1965, Motorpsycho’s narrative was the first to explore the idea of Vietnam veterans coming back to America suffering from mental illness and stress disorders. It was his last film in this period that would eventually have an influence on the public and feature film makers alike.
Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! opened to little response back in 1965 but has since gained a considerable cult following. Meyer’s premise was simple. His last film had featured three guys terrorising women; why not make a film about three women terrorising guys? Meyer cast three striking women in the films leads, notably Tura Satana in the Amazonian role of Varla. They were women out to get what they want, when they want, using everyone and anyone they can. Only ever looking out for number one, the film raised the bar in empowering roles for women on screen. With the subtle hints on lesbianism, the film unapologetically embraces strong, active feminine sexuality showing that women could certainly rival men in all aspects of life.
Meyer’s following films would continue to depict sexually charged women and focus on the failure of the men in their lives to satisfy their needs. Infidelity, bed swapping, outrageous flirtation, lesbianism and even the odd hint of a father lusting after his daughter. Meyer continued to exploit any angle he could in order to show more nudity and sexual behaviour. Exhibiting each new film city by city, state by state, Meyer would regularly have problems with the law. Aware of the amount of nudity and sexual freedom in European/art house cinema coming to western shores, the director put out his most shocking film at that point.
Vixen! was released in 1968 and was an immediate hit with both the public and the law. Whilst people queued around street blocks numerous times to catch the film, Meyer faced prosecution in many states under obscenity charges. Most of its charges were overturned but to this day Vixen! is still banned in Ohio. The film was also another cinematic first for the film maker, becoming the first American made X-rated movie. This film follows the oversexed Vixen as she seduces everyone she meet, infamously ever her brother. Whilst full of taboos, the end of the film shows Vixen bringing down an unruly communist. Only Russ Meyer could make a sex film with a commentary on American apprehension against communism!
Two years later, the director released his first studio film with the backing of 20th Century Fox. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls debuted in 1970 with another X certificate. Originally intended as a sequel to Valley of the Dolls, the film eventually became an intelligent satire on the 1960s as a decade. Parodying cultural references and cinematic techniques, clichés and genres, the film was billed as something ‘never seen before!’ Featuring a cast of buxom women, the film starts as a musical melodrama before turning into a violent exploitation flick. Beyond is well known for its ending which channels the end of the hippy decade with the Tate/LaBianca murders at the hands of the Manson Family.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was Meyer’s last cinematic high. His next studio picture, The Seven Minutes, was poorly received critically and commercially. He never made another film with studio backing again. Returning to independent film making, he released Blacksnake in 1972. His first foray into the blaxploitation genre, the film was not a success. Set on a plantation, the narrative follows a slave owner who manipulates both the black and white men on her estate. The film has some violent scenes and the lead actress, Anouska Hempel, is not suited in the role. Without the satire or humour present in Meyer’s previous work, Blacksnake is a jarring and uncomfortable watch.
Returning to what he knew best, Meyer made two sexploitation films in the mid 1970s, Supervixens and Up! By now the public were used to seeing more extreme sexual imagery in cinema. Last Tango in Paris and Deep Throat were released in 1972, raising the bar of screened sex in film and challenging pornography and obscenity laws. Meyer, despite being a sex film maker, was repulsed at anything hardcore and refused to incorporate this aspect into his own work. Whereas once he was ‘King of the Nudies’, the sex film industry’s evolution left Meyer out in the cold. It would be the downfall of his career.
In the late seventies, Meyer was approached by Malcolm McLaren to make a film about and starring the Sex Pistols. Work was started on the picture, called Who Killed Bambi?, but was abandoned when it was apparent there was no funding. He made and released one more sexploitation film in 1979, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. A parody of his previous work and still containing nudity and simulated sex, it was still a lot less than the images found in harder films.
Russ Meyer made one last film a few years before his death entitled Pandora Peaks, though it is sometimes considered out of canon with his other work. He enjoyed numerous screenings of his work in various festivals and universities across the globe, including a big retrospective at the British Film Institute in 1983. In his later life his major project became his autobiography, A Clean Breast, which was released in 2000 in three hardcover volumes totalling over 1200 pages. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease the same year and died four years later, aged 82, from pneumonia.