video review by
Gary Johnson

 








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(© 1998 RM Films International Inc. All rights reserved.)

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Russ Meyer

Not many sexploitation films can be described accurately as historically important. But Russ Meyer's The Immoral Mr. Teas is unquestionably one of those movies. It revolutionized, for better or worse, the adult film industry. Before The Immoral Mr. Teas, exploitation filmmakers delivered nudity either by wrapping their productions in feigned morality (as in the drug scare movies of the '30s) or by adopting a faux documentary format (as in nudist films). The Immoral Mr. Teas helped change that environment. It completely rejected moralizing and it didn't pretend to depict nudity as a lifestyle. The Immoral Mr. Teas was quite simply about ogling naked women. The era of the nudie-cuties was born.

Exploitation filmmakers quickly followed the model set forth by Meyer and beginning filming their own nudie-cuties. Few of these films are worth watching today. Even Meyer himself struggled in the aftermath of Mr. Teas, lensing several forgettable films before his penchant for backwoods dramas, as evidenced in movies such as Lorna (1964) and Mudhoney (1965), came to fruition.

Now, a new laserdisc release from Russ Meyer's own RM Films International allows us to experience two of Russ Meyer's earliest nudie-cuties--Eve and the Handyman and Wild Gals of the Naked West. Plus, the laserdisc contains one of Russ Meyer's best sweat-drenched action-melodramas, Common-Law Cabin.

Eve and the Handyman
When people talk about Russ Meyer's nudie-cuties, they're usually talking about The Immoral Mr. Teas--and for good reason: The Immoral Mr. Teas is easily the best of Meyer's early movies. Its comedic sequences are effective and the nude scenes are plentiful. In comparison, the comedy in Meyer's Eve and the Handyman is lame and sophomoric (like most nudie-cuties) and the nude scenes are brief and surprisingly few in number. The movie follows the actions of a handyman (Anthony-James Ryan) as he cleans restrooms, washes windows, and performs surgery on trees. Along the way he gets into several compromising situations. While he's cleaning a women's restroom, for example, he becomes trapped in a stall as women begin filing into the room. Unfortunately, however, like most scenes in the movie, the scene is constructed lazily. It consists of nothing more than close-ups of the handyman as he tries to remain hidden in a stall, and it ends when a woman pulls open the stall door. Likewise, when the handyman's truck overheats, he grabs a pail and runs to a nearby pond--where a woman is sunbathing in the nude. The handyman shields his eyes as he sinks his pail into the water and then runs back to his truck. Because neither of these scenes build to a satisfying punch line, the comedy becomes as ineffectual as the hero. Eve Meyer (who was married to Russ Meyer when the movie was made) stars as a trenchcoated detective who follows the handyman on his journeys and attempts to uncover his secrets. She serves as our narrator. (The movie contains no dialogue.) She wants to better understand how the handyman can maintain his cool when he's confronted with situations that would make a lesser man all hot and bothered. She marvels over his self-control--that's the joke. And Meyer hits us over the head with it over and over.

Wild Gals of the Naked West
Critics frequently use the word "cartoonish" when they describe Russ Meyer's movies, but nowhere is that word more appropriate than Wild Gals of the Naked West. Meyer filmed this movie as if it were a live-action cartoon. Much of the action takes place in a saloon that consists primarily of stylized settings drawn on the backdrops--just like in the '50s cartoons of Warner Bros. and UPA. But unfortunately much of Wild Gals of the Naked West is virtually unwatchable. Meyer filmed almost every scene in close-ups so tight that the movie feels like an expressionistic avant-garde experiment. Rarely do the actors seem to be interacting. Meyer simply cuts from one close up to the next: 1) a saloon girl smiles and winks, 2) a nasty villain scratches himself, 3) a bar customer grins and laughs, 4) the saloon girl wiggles her pasties, 5) the villain scratches himself some more, etc. etc. etc. Meyer shoves the camera in so close that Das Boot seems light and airy fun compared to this claustrophobic mess. The story, not that it really matters, involves a hero just five feet tall. He rides into town on the back of a burro. When the town bully, Snake Wolf (Meyer veteran Franklin Bolger), growls and belches in his general direction, our hero exchanges his dandy-ish duds for an outlandish red gunslinger outfit and confronts Snake in the saloon. Stylistically, Wild Gals of the Naked West resembles the dream sequences from The Immoral Mr. Teas. Those scenes utilized cartoonish backdrops, and exaggerated all actions for comic effect. Apparently, Meyer decided to film an entire movie in this style. Unfortunately, this hyper-stylized approach grows wearying after only a few minutes. I kept waiting for the stylized scenes to stop and the regular movie to begin. But it never happens. This is easily one of Russ Meyer's worst movies.

Common-Law Cabin
Rounding out this triple-billed laserdisc release is Common-Law Cabin, one of Russ Meyer's best movies. Whereas the first two movies on the laserdisc come from Meyer's early nudie-cutie period, Common-Law Cabin represents Meyer near the height of his filmmaking powers. In 1967, Meyer had just finished his early black-and-white dramatic movies, best exemplified by lurid, sweaty action-melodramas such as Mudhoney, Motor Psycho, and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! With Common-Law Cabin, Meyer continued in the lurid and sweaty mold, but now he did so in stunning bright colors. Common-Law Cabin takes place in the great outdoors, at a tiny tourist resort/trap on the Colorado River. Jack Moran runs the joint along with Barbette Bardot, his pneumatically-blessed common-law wife, and Adele Rein, his teenage daughter. Bardot performs an "Amazon" number for the "suckers," that is the customers. Buck naked save for a grass skirt, she carries torches as she streaks through the underbrush, does a little dance number on top of a rock, and then swan dives into the river far below. Rein greets the customers with Hawaiian leis, and later she go-go dances in the resort's floor show. As a matter of fact, she is the floor show. The resort consists of just a one room shack with a few rickety tables set up under a sun shade. After Bardot's "Amazon" number, Rein turns on a record player and begins keeping up her heels for the customers. Her father has begun to notice her well-developed figure and it's driving him crazy.

About her daily skinny dipping expeditions, he says, "I keep telling her to keep her clothes on. It ain't right for her to swim like that!"

Bardot sees what's happening and she eggs him on: "It doesn't bother her. Why should it bother you?" she says.

"I'm her father. I I worry about her."

"Well, I'm sure you do. Tell me about it some time, papa."

This atmosphere of incestuous desires never really amounts to anything, but it hangs over the movie like a thundercloud.

The story gets cooking when Meyer regular Franklin Bolger, as a crusty old tour guide, wrangles a trio of customers to follow him to the tourist resort. Alaina Capri plays a sluttish wife, John Furlong plays her wimpy husband, and Ken Swofford plays a mysterious, always smirking character who causes all hell to break loose when he arrives at the resort. Swofford is one of the main reasons this movie is still fun to watch today. He's a talented actor who appeared in many mainstream movies, such as Thelma & Louise, Annie, and S.O.B. In addition, he made many television appearances, including The Rockford Files, Gunsmoke, and several made for TV movies. He's like a bulldog who won't give up once he wants something. In this case, he wants all the women he encounters at the resort, and one by one he goes after them.

Unfortunately, Russ Meyer himself doesn't seem to understand that Common-Law Cabin is one of his best movies. Coming from Meyer's own video company, RM Films International, Eve and the Handyman gets most of the attention on the laserdisc sleeve, while Common-Law Cabin is relegated to second-feature status. The same fate befell the laserdisc release of Cherry, Harry, and Raquel: it filled the bottom-half of a double-bill with Up! Once again, don't let the packaging fool you. Common-Law Cabin is essential Russ Meyer, while Eve and the Handyman and Wild Gals of the Naked West are easily (and maybe best) forgotten.

 


Russ Meyer's Eve and the Handyman, Wild Gals of the Naked West, and Common-Law Cabin are now available on a triple-feature laserdisc from RM Films International (distribution by Image Entertainment). Suggested retail price: $59.99. For additional information, we suggest you check out the Image Entertainment Web site and the official Russ Meyer Films International Web site.