Recently Al Ewing and Sarah Peploe came into possession of a box set containing “18 uplifting classics” (end quote) from the cinematic oeuvre of Russ Meyer. Heedless of the consequences, they have taken it upon themselves to watch and review each of these in turn on a roughly one-per-week basis. This is part one.
DISCLAIMER DEPT: This is probably NOT SAFE FOR WORK.
Meyer’s first big film is not easy to get through by any stretch, even at 62 minutes. The only voice we hear throughout is (according to Jim McDonough’s Meyer bio, Big Bosoms And Square Jaws) Irving Blum, later to become big in the world of art, and he sounds a lot like Pete White narrating a Disney doc about the habits of the screech owl. Aside from that – I hope you enjoy accordions, because that’s what you’re getting.
Mr Teas is the story of this man:
Yes. This is, apparently, ‘The Common Man’, trapped in a world he never made and awash in all manner of modern hustle, bustle and folderol. Is it any wonder he spends every waking second gawping furtively at passing dames? His job is to deliver false teeth, which in the fifties apparently looked like this:
Terrifying Gigeresque contraptions that we would not see again until the advent of the Saw franchise. Anyway, he’s constantly wandering around looking at low-cut tops to the accompaniment of accordions and the nasal tones of Blum, in between tedious visits to trademark Meyer Swamps, until he hits up the dentist he delivers these instruments of God’s wrath to for some root canal work. Enter the plot, such as it is, as the gas transports Teas, via orange-and-blue ‘hypnotic’ spiral, to a land of fantasy:
Including a bit of prop comedy as the dentist pulls a large stag antler out of Teas’ mouth. From thence the hi-jinks ensue – although they’re barely even jinks – as Teas finds himself sucked by the hypno-swirls into various fantasies involving the same women he macked on throughout the first chunk of the film, and the occasional watermelon.
He also gets plenty of opportunities in the real world to ogle naked broads, including breaking into a burlesque theatre advertising FRENCH PEEP SHOW STARRING TEMPEST STORM in giant letters (a burlesque flick by Meyer now lost to the mists of time) to watch ’Nana’ strut her stuff in front of an audience of four baying schnooks, including Russ Meyer himself and what appears to be a young Richard Nixon:
Which puts the whole Irving Blum thing in the shade. Also he visits a psychiatrist:
Who turns out to be A GOIL! (The shock ending to this film is like The Sixth Sense times a billion Usual Suspects! Don’t breathe a word! It’s like The Mousetrap! Well, we‘ll get there.)
It’s a common problem, apparently:
Finally the two strands of ogling naked women in fantasy and ogling naked women in reality come together as Teas has an extended dream sequence in which he watches the three main dames act out scenes presumably parodying the kind of ’educational’ nudist camp flick that was as far as cinema had dared to go up until now. Meanwhile, allegedly-Blum narrates a thick soup of quasi-educational factoids over the viewer, as well as some music-hall level yuks. Over a scene of Michele Roberts vaguely fondling a guitar, we get the following: “The guitar is a very sensitive instrument, with “G” being the third string, and is played over a system of frets. Sensitive men have – chuckle – been fretting over G-strings for years!”
It’s not the only old bar-room gag that gets trotted out. Witness a cartoon from the depths of an ’armpit slick’ mag made flesh:
Eventually, we wind up to the punch line as he returns to the shrink and, as literally NO-ONE could have seen coming:
“Some men just enjoy being sick”, intones the nasal voice of Blum, and we’re out.
It’s worth pointing out that nobody had ever made something like this before. There’d been nudie-cuties and roughies, slipshod underground skin-flicks, but – post-Code – nothing that had ever passed a censor board or been reviewed as a serious film in newspapers. And the public responded – the film grossed one and a half million bucks (having been made on a budget of twenty-four grand). It played for three years straight in Los Angeles.
This wouldn’t be the last time Meyer would push the boundaries, but it was definitely one of the most successful. Like the atomic bomb, Russ Meyer was here to stay, and like the atomic bomb he killed millions of WAIT HOLD ON BACKSPACE BACKSPACE
DESIGNATED SAP: Mr Teas himself. Practically invisible to women, the only attention he gets is from bouncers giving him the boot he richly deserves. The narrator refers to him as a ’poisonous snake’. Small children stone him. They’ve got the right idea, by God!
BECAUSE YOU CAN DIE THERE: Meyer was a big fan of the desert for this reason, according to Charles Napier, and if he can’t get desert he’ll happily take a swamp. Any patch of wilderness will do. Here’s Teas and a honey of the period in a tree for no reason:
OF ITS TIME: Schwinn bikes.
FAMILIAR FACES: None yet, this being Meyer’s first. Although octogenarians may recognise June Wilkinson, who agreed to have her breasts in the film, but not her face. Which basically means them poking out of a window like the copy protection from Leisure Suit Larry III.
ONE-HIT WONDERS: Very often, an actor will never appear on celluloid again after making his debut in a Meyer film. In this case, Bill Teas. Also, Marilyn Wesley as the Dental Assistant and Dawn Danielle as a topless model posing on a beach, who Teas squints at while making this face:
BREAST COUNT: 12 at a rough estimate.
NEXT WEEK: Eve And The Handyman.