As Russ Meyer stumbled to the finish line of the nudie cutie craze, it was apparent that he was a filmmaker of commanding energy and imagination that had run through the proverbial store and exhausted it of its contents. 1963’s Heavenly Bodies, his last true nudie cutie, is indicative of both conceits. For Heavenly Bodies is quite literally a segmented movie in the spirit of Erotica that gives full-throated articulation, in numerous anecdotal ways, how the photography of beautiful women is the cornerstone to most commerce through advertising. Throughout each segment in the film, Meyer covers his models in every conceivable pose and situation in an attempt to justify the film’s reason for being. Unfortunately, the film is nothing more than a sixty-odd minute treatise on the not-controversial discovery that, if you already weren’t aware, sex sells.

Heavenly Bodies may not, in fact, even be a real nudie cutie. It’s sort of a combination between a nudie cutie and a pseudo-documentary on photography. This film is little more than Meyer shooting various cameramen shooting models in various states of undress; like a distilled Brian De Palma sexploitation picture in which the movie audience watches people within the movie watching. I might go so far as to say that this might be of equal interest for fans of Meyer’s parade of buxom women or those who have a raw enthusiasm for photography.

And just because the film is trite and silly and exhausted of anything that would make it work as entertainment, there is no denying Meyer’s skill for framing and composition. Some of the earliest images in the film wherein the camera is foregrounded aside Meyer’s models stunningly resemble the split-diopter shots that famously pepper the films of the aforementioned Brian De Palma. Additionally, the segment featuring Nancy Andre has a wild, unbridled energy that would later propel Mudhoney and Vixen showing once again that these nudie cuties were just wood shedding opportunities for Meyer. Just as the upshot view through the bed springs first made its storied appearance in Wild Gals of the Naked West, the utilization of the model in the spinning Danish chair looks suspiciously like a key moment in Cherry, Harry & Raquel.

Perhaps one of the film’s most interesting and revealing moments comes in the second segment as Russ Meyer leads his fellow buddies in the Army’s 166th Signal Photo Company out in the woods to photograph Althea Currier and Monica Strand. Less cheeky than some of the narration in this and the other films before it, Meyer almost deftly uses a photo field trip and all of its trappings to show a metaphoric group sex orgy in which almost every single line of narration could be taken as wry double-entendre. And it is only in this portion of the film that Meyer’s talent and wit collide to make something interesting. “Was your class reunion anything like this?” the narrator asks as Meyer’s buddies all snap away at the ladies as he stands behind them and directs them all. This is Meyer in a metaphoric nutshell. He was a tough, no-nonsense man who took his work very seriously but he was famously big-hearted and generous to friends and loved-ones. Meyer loved to work but he also liked to show people a good time and to be the ringmaster of such journeys. Here, the idea is made flesh and Meyer is showing his Army buddies, the closest friends he ever had, just how awesome his life is surrounded by tits and ass, encouraging them to indulge themselves.

But, honestly, that’s about all that can be said about Heavenly Bodies, the merciful end to Russ Meyer’s nudie cutie period. It’s a dull, mostly rote affair that, at 55 minutes, feels a little incomplete. But the fault in the film is more or less due to the depletion of the tank. For even after blazing the trail and exploring its outer limits, Meyer could still find ways to make the dullest of the sexploitation subgenres achieve a certain artistry in their visual execution.

That said, I sure am glad he only made a finite amount of them.

(C) Copyright 2021, Patrick Crain


Russ Meyer has a true ebb and flow when it came to his nudie cuties. For every advance forward, there was a trepidation followed by a slight retreat. Eve and the Handyman improved on The Immoral Mr. Teas in a fundamental way by ditching the multitude of women in favor of one central female character. Erotica, Eve and the Handyman’s follow-up, cycled backwards in terms of subject matter but found some fresh and creative photographic advances that would serve him well throughout the remainder of his career.

Wild Gals of the Naked West was Meyer’s next film in his nudie cutie cycle and his penultimate effort in the subgenre (excluding 1964’s Europe in the Raw, a film better classified as a nudie travelogue). Moving back towards the strengths of Eve and the Handyman while also beefing up the comedic bits strung along the length of the film, Wild Gals of the Naked West is probably Meyer’s most successful blend of his type of raucous comedy in the service of a mostly plotless phantasmagoria of tits and ass.

From the jump, one of the clearest differences between Wild Gals and the Naked West and the nudie cuties that came before it is the absolutely gorgeous photography that populates the opening narration. Beginning with a brew of stunning horizons and landscapes interspersed with quickly-cut dutch angles, Meyer shows the high level of his talent by taking us out of the muddy cricks and swimming pools of his previous work and expanding his visual world outward to capture some truly painterly compositions of the western vistas. Meyer cleverly maneuvers around the film’s microbudget by utilizing symbols and western iconography to stand in for the lack of action; the first-person perspective used in the ghost towns and broken down structures feel like the spirits of the past that are somehow still alive.

In fact, so beautiful is the opening to the film that it finally draws attention to one of the biggest elephants in the room when it comes to Meyer’s work; in short, this is the first film in his filmography where watching it creates a general sadness when you realize that, due to Meyer’s lack of care in the preservation of his own work either during his natural life or in a testamentary capacity, these movies will likely never get upgraded beyond their current full-frame video scans and will eventually be lost to time due to almost-certain deterioration of the original material. It seems unthinkable that this is truly the case but… well… there’s a reason Martin Scorsese fights so hard for film preservation.

Not quite a series of episodes as his previous three features, Wild Gals of the Naked West tries for something that resembles a plot. Sure, it’s simple and padded out by copious post-credit narration before the wraparound framing device involving a storyteller is introduced, but the bedrock of many of Meyer’s themes he’d take with him into his Gothic period begin to sprout and take form just as some of his more sophisticated framing devices began to pop up in the previous year’s Erotica. In Wild Gals of the Naked West, we are spun a tale by a fourth wall-demolishing old man (Jack Moran), still living among the ghosts of a dilapidated western town that fell into rack and ruin due to too much goodness. But it wasn’t always like that, according to our faithful raconteur. Hell, once upon a time, the town was so marinated in sin that they dared not even give the location a proper name.

And it is here is where the basic story comes into play as the film functions as a before and after, the tipping element being the introduction of a do-gooder Stranger (Sammy Gilbert) who descends on the town with designs on pulling a reverse High Plains Drifter by painting the town virginal white. Set up in the front half with wanton hedonism at a breakneck pace only to be knocked off in the back half as The Stranger executes his righteous morality, Wild Gals of the Naked West unwittingly figured a way for Meyer to indulge in as much bawdy sexuality as he wished as long as he laced it all with a light dose of trite morality. Given how much play both the dopey, square-jawed hero and the tongue-in-cheek pontifications on freedom, ethics, and what-have-you factored into so much of his later work, it’s not inappropriate to see Wild Gals of the Naked West as one of Meyer’s most substantially consequential nudie cuties; the yang to Eve and the Handyman’s yin.

The film is additionally blessed by being well-acted and the imagery is wildly modernistic in its approach, both of which cause the film to really pop. And even if the film’s numerous running gags seem limited and finally run out of gas, the film never drags and it makes a real effort to rise above its throwaway title and to try and wring something a little more creative out of the nudie cutie than what was the standard, mediocre fare at the time. There is a pure visual joy in juxtaposing the authentic exteriors with the Chuck Jones-adjacent interiors where painted backgrounds resembles the angular impossibilities in Jones’s background cel art. Again, this lays some early groundwork for Meyer to work with later during his “Bustoon” period of the seventies which would be chock full of Looney Tunes inspired action replete with fully animated buildings that rock and undulate to keep up with the action happening inside of them.

And there’s more in Wild Gals of the Naked West that speaks to Meyer’s actual thematic concerns that would continue to pop up throughout his work. The masculine hero being a sexual impotent, the celebration of just a splash of hedonism in a balanced life, and the dismissal of male authority figures such as members of law enforcement (Meyer’s old man, a cop, walked out on the family when he was a child) and religious leaders are all rolled out in this seemingly innocuous piece of fluff.

With just one more nudie cutie and a trip to Europe to go before he began his personal narrative films that made up the Gothic portion of his career, Russ Meyer was looking more and more like a talent ready to break away from the confines of his own creation and into something a little more substantial. Wild Gals of the Naked West was a pit stop to that goal but, in terms of Meyer’s cinematic education, it ended up being a more substantial one than anyone thought it would be.

(C) Copyright 2021, Patrick Crain


One of the drawbacks of the nudie-cutie film is that there are just so many interesting ways to show nudity for nudity’s sake for the sixty minutes that made up the average length of the movies. Most of the time, as was the case with The Immoral Mr. Teas and Eve and the Handyman, the films were a string of adult party jokes come to life in episodic fashion. In Erotica, Russ Meyer’s third feature, there is more emphasis on the episodic as the film is built out of what literally feels like a series of differing nude scenarios with Meyer and Jack Moran’s corny narration spot-welded to the images after the fact.

Beginning as an industrial film about the construction of a motion picture, Erotica jumps off the screen with Meyer’s strong visual flourishes that promises to unleash a more sophisticated nudie film than the two previous productions and one that hints that it may in fact act as a meta commentary on them; kind of like Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Boin-n-g from 1964 but… you know… good. It jumps with a breathless narration that employs Russ Meyer’s trademark double entendres, equating the filmmaking process to masturbation in a cadence that makes you feel like you’re going to be asked to buy something by the time it’s all over.

However, once the film opens up, Erotica becomes a hugely hit or miss affair. Its segmented structure serves it well as if you find yourself stuck in the tedium of a segment, you can bet that it will likely end soon. However, that same structure is what causes the film to lurch forth in fits and starts which does not help the sixty minute running time move any quicker. Truth be told, Erotica truly feels like a Meyer sizzle reel that he may have carted around to living room parties with him; kind of like an animated portfolio to the discerning viewer, as it were. The filmmaker’s unsettled legs are apparent as he rocks back and forth between these well-staged pieces of breathing cheesecake and moments in which there seems to be an honest sexual expression that doesn’t feel like a wax put-on. Like putting Esquivel on the jukebox and looking at what once passed as your great-grandfather’s porn stash, Erotica has a kitschy charm that cannot be denied and, on a technical level, it’s quite good. But composition and color aren’t the film’s major problem as much as time is. The humor is a mixed bag of cornpone laffs for the hicks with some inspired moments that are reminiscent of a slower and bawdier Rocky and Bullwinkle episode. But hardly any of it works today which moves this further away from “entertainment” and into the arms of “museum piece.”

In watching the film, though, I began to wonder if the overwhelming feminine appeal for Meyer’s work rests not only in the agency and representation of the strong, independent, and dominate female characters but also in his gravitation to the Rubenesque, where dimples, rolls, and imperfections were all part of the package. Sure, they’re objectified, but they also seem more than exploited; they seem genuinely loved. That said, when compared to Eve and the Handyman, Erotica reflects a clear difference between women who Meyer directs and women who direct Meyer. Erotica is too much of the former and not enough of the latter and Meyer was at his best when his sexual drive and his creative energy were both motivated by a insatiable sense of wanting to be dominated by 50% hard-ass mom and 50% woman he wanted to sleep with. He could set up brilliant compositions of women in pools in his sleep. Creating something while completely obsessed with the central figure? Now THAT would be a real challenge.

Some of the framing in a few of the vignettes appear to be dry runs for much later work such as Supervixens and Cherry, Harry, Raquel!, further giving credence to the idea that Meyer used the nudie cutie to give the audiences what they wanted but also to employ trial and error in seeing what created the most aesthetic and sexual value on screen. By the time he got to his Gothic period three years later with the potent Lorna, he had an arsenal of shots, angles, and visual framing in his back pocket that allowed him to move through his productions like a hot knife though butter while creating something bold and artistic at the same time.

In the end, Erotica doesn’t add up to anything much but is still a fascinating addition to the evolution of Meyer from nudie huckster to narrative trickster. While that metamorphosis occurred in a herky-jerky manner, all points of interest are worth exploring given the incalculable amount of value Meyer gave to American film.

(C) Copyright 2021, Patrick Crain


Russ Meyer had to take incremental steps to get to become the storied and respected filmmaker that he eventually did. His first step was being a gifted photographer who was as adept at his skill as mortars and debris rained down around him in the heat of battle as he was while studying the contours of his models’ bodies as they were lying at the base of an oak tree while bathed in dappled sunlight. His second step was punching through the wall of morality and releasing The Immoral Mr. Teas, his groundbreaking film that introduced actual nudity in a motion picture to those who would pay for the privilege to see it.

I would bet that Meyer’s most important step in the evolution of his success was hooking up with and marrying the former Eve Turner in 1952. No doubt that Meyer had talent to burn and that his personality caused him to be a little shrewd but Eve took his game to a whole other level. At once both his business partner and muse, Eve Meyer pumped life into his output in which she was the subject by being both impossibly built and having a uniquely strong relationship with the camera. In terms of what they did for each other and each other’s work, you’d probably have to look to Jess Franco and Lina Romay for something comparable.

So it’s something of a shame that, as far as his motion pictures went, Eve Meyer was only ever in front of the camera in Eve and the Handyman, Russ’s follow-up to the previous year’s Teas. But her presence in it is both sly and smart; Eve Meyer is the primary woman on display in this film and it ends up being ten times as effective as Teas without having to resort to any nudity on her behalf.

Like Teas before it, Eve and the Handyman is little more than a sketch-pad for Meyer’s visual ideas and micro-budgeted creativity. A jack-of-all-trades handyman (Anthony-James Ryan) is stalked by a mysterious, trench-coated blonde whose constant, double entendre-stacked voice-over narration positions the film as a bawdy, Dragnet-style procedural in which every move of the handyman is noted and remarked upon by his voyeuristic pursuer. Gone is the gimmick in which naked girls pop up to awkwardly pose in the daydreams and hallucinations of our protagonist only to be replaced by our bumbling hero staying 100% focused on his day-to-day tasks, never to be distracted by the many buxom women he encounters along the way (mostly all played by Eve Meyer in various get-ups).

Where Teas reflected women contented to be placed like statues and given little to do, Eve wants women to be the driver of the engine. Teas wants to be a moving centerfold and Eve wants to be the whole damn magazine. The jokes are livelier, the mood is more jovial, and, more importantly, Eve Meyer flips the script by giving the audience an instance in which the woman is on top and the man is the dope. Sexually oblivious, Bill Ryan’s Handyman gets saddled with Eve Meyer almost exclusively because her mission is to, ostensibly, wise him up. So she becomes every woman in his path while remaining the detective that wants to sell him toilet supplies in the end.

Eve Meyer’s presence in this film couldn’t help but inform Meyer as to what exactly he wanted in the future. For Eve Meyer is the first “Russ Meyer Woman.” Eve Meyer showed Russ Meyer how to present a woman who looked like she wanted to be wanted. More importantly, she wanted the audience to know she knew they knew that she wanted to be wanted. Untangle all that and you’re are the heart of what makes Russ Meyer’s films stand so far apart from other films of their ilk that the massive delta between them renders it unfair to mention them in the same breath. Show me a Russ Meyer film that’s blessed with a narrative structure and I’lll show you a heroine that sprung forth from Eve Meyer’s roots which are so firmly planted in this film.

Once past the nudie cuties, the cinema of Russ Meyer is as equally hilarious and exhilarating as it is titillating. And even if the nudie cuties are tame pieces of antiquity, they aren’t bereft of a good laugh or two. The jokes in Eve take a while to unfold and your mileage with them may vary; they might or might not be worth it, depending on your perspective. But this film is the first to have this specific blend of broad, sight-gag humor and sex which was mostly missing from Teas, a film that feels like it can barely breathe lest it get caught doing what it wants to be doing. Additionally, in employing a panoply of visual ideas representative of intercourse and orgasm (the constant churning of oil wells, the coupling of trains, etc.), Meyer gives the thrust of the train into the tunnel at the end of Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, itself released a scant one year earlier, nowhere to hide.

As stated before (and likely will be stated at least one more time in this series), there’s just not a lot of there there in the subgenre of the nudie cuties. They are what they are and the trick is to try and enjoy them with a sense of historical context because there just aren’t many of them that are going to stop the conversation at a dinner party and become the thing everyone will have to have seen before the next get-together. Depending on the director and the talent involved, they mostly all run the gamut between unwatchable and pleasant enough. With Eve and the Handyman, Russ and Eve Meyer joined forces to give the audience something a little more more memorable; electric burlesque compliments of Eve’s stong, palpable sexuality reminiscent of one of Howard Hawks’s joyously randy heroines and Myer’s clean compositions, edited together like a breathless Gatling gun shooting off eye candy.

“The biggest catch in life, my friends, is a happy ending,” so says our heroine in the final line of the film. As much as that phrase meant something even in the creaky days of 1960, the film earns its right to use it as Eve and the Handyman, while not the best or bawdiest of Russ Meyer’s output, is truly his first effective mix of the sex and the sublime.

(C) Copyright 2021, Patrick Crain


There is much more to be said about Russ Meyer’s films outside the obvious. In fact, it’s something of a shame that one feels that they need to qualify their love of his movies or justify placing him in the ranks of other great filmmakers. Sure, he peddled tits and ass, but if that’s all there was to him, his films nor his legend would have endured for as long as they have. For in Russ Meyer, the audience got what they came for and then some. His starlets, as impressively and impossibly built as they were, were always photographed with a master’s eye. And beyond that, the images were always hooked together in a rapid-fire montage of unmistakable rhythm that would have made Sergei Eisenstein proud.

The Immoral Mr. Teas was Meyer’s first film and while it’s no Citizen Kane it’s a much more laudable first effort than Stanley Kubrick’s anti-masterpiece Fear and Desire. Most of the film’s faults can be placed squarely on the constraints of the time. In fact, it’s somewhat amazing that The Immoral Mr. Teas was released at all. Shot in four days and containing a threadbare, almost non-existent plot that covers a couple of days in the life of the hapless titular character (Meyer Army buddy, Bill Teas) who, after a molar extraction, begins to see the peripheral women in his life in the nude, The Immoral Mr. Teas has all the pitfalls of a film that is really only interested in making excuses to display some flesh.

But, after all, this was 1959 and The Immoral Mr. Teas holds the distinction of being the first non-documentary, non-educational, non-naturist film to display on-screen nudity. That really should be given a great deal of quiet reflection. In this day and age when nudity is mostly the norm and passé, it’s hard to imagine that there was a day where on-screen nudity wasn’t a consideration at all. But one day it wasn’t there and the next day it was and when this film punched through that specific ceiling, the walls began to collapse. It’s staggering to consider but every single second of nudity that has occurred in our films and television programs is due to this film. And, sure, had The Immoral Mr. Teas not been made, something certainly would have come along and taken its place as ground-zero for cinematic smut. But history is what it is and just as Herschell Gordon Lewis single-handedly invented on-screen gore with Blood Feast in 1963 and created a piece of actual history, The Immoral Mr. Teas, quaint and naive as it is, lives in a display case in the cinema history museum of the mind, a pioneering relic yet very much one of its time. Along with shattering the taboo of displaying women in the buff, it single-handedly invented the “nudie cutie” subgenre of film; movies that just barely qualified as feature length and were stacked to the rafters with bare breasts and butts but completely devoid of plot (and one to which Meyer would contribute another few titles before shifting into narrative work). The film also caught a wave where, in America, social mores were beginning to become more relaxed and subversive entertainment, found both in juvenile delinquent movies and the nascent Rock and Roll music, was getting eaten up en masse by the youth culture, creating a potent chemistry for change. Though it’s mostly a inauthentic mock-up, 1978’s Grease is something of a celebration of this specific period when a seismic shift in the culture occurred with drag racing, rock music, and a healthy amount of open, teenage libidinousness replacing hand-holding and Your Hit Parade (and, in fact, the cover of Jules Feiffer’s 1958 omnibus of his satirical cartoons, Sick, Sick, Sick, is seen in both The Immoral Mr. Teas and the opening credits of Grease).

What Meyer was after here was, basically, a Playboy magazine come to life. And, to that end, the film is a success. But, in other ways, the film works just as well. The repeated gag of the hula-hoop girl is pretty golden and some of the flat, industrial film-like narration, utilized to keep our sad-sack hero’s mind off of all the nekkidness around him, winds up being subversively funny. Also present is Meyer’s amazing eye for composition and rhythm. When watching the film, it’s apparent that this wasn’t made by someone who couldn’t care less but, instead, it’s a film made by a craftsman who labored over all of his shots and even managed to find a fun, creative angle to the dream sequences, stripping them down to their most basic images with a dash of Chuck Jones’s backgrounds thrown in as a whimsical garnish.

Despite its strengths, The Immoral Mr. Teas, is much more a historic document than it is a compelling piece of filmmaking. It’s dull and wears out its welcome before it sputters out and dies but, at just over an hour, it’s a pretty painless affair even when the novelty of seeing naked flesh on screen has long since become rote and commonplace. The Immoral Mr. Teas may not still light one’s fire as it did when it was first released but it’s a much more watchable and digestible piece of filmmaking than the myriad other nudie cuties that followed in its wake And, yes, I’m talking explicitly about you, The Adventures of Lucky Pierre.

(C) Copyright 2021, Patrick Crain