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The First Nudie Musical
26th Anniversary Special Edition

review by Anthony D.

 

 

Rating: R

Running Time: 94 minutes

Starring: Stephen Nathan, Cindy Williams, Bruce Kimmel, Diana Canova

Written by: Bruce Kimmel

Directed by: Bruce Kimmel & Mark Haggard

 

Studio: Image

Retail Price: $24.99

Features: Audio Commentaries, Retrospective Documentary, Deleted Scenes, Photo Gallery, Trailer

Specs: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Mono, Scene Selection (28 Scenes)

Released: June 25th, 2002

 

 

"But, there's nothing dirty going on."

Despite the title, "The First Nudie Musical" is a sweetly innocent little movie that never aims to shock, only to entertain. I was charmed by "The First Nudie Musical" a long, long time ago, in a town not very far away*, when I saw it on the big screen at the now defunct Strand Theater, near the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, in Oakland, Pennsylvania. Those of you who have been reading my ramblings for the past couple of years, yes, here we go again, Anthony D. spills the beans on his salad days. So, in order to share my appreciation of "The First Nudie Musical," it becomes necessary to discuss the times in which the film was originally released; BUT, in re-viewing the film, I have found it to be every bit as funny, witty, charming and wonderful as I did that very first time. A long out-of-print video tape, iirc ("if I recall correctly, in internet lingo") was on the defunct Vestron label, was hopelessly muddy - all yellows and browns, and the subsequent dupe from that was even worse! For better of for worse, some version of "The First Nudie Musical" has always been a part of my video collection.

Just before "Deep Throat" and "The Devil in Miss Jones" become cultural phenomena, creating the term "porno chic," the American culture's knowledge of sexy (though not hard-core films) was limited to very playful features filled with buxom babes and very little, if any, full-frontal nudity. Radley Metzger's "Score" and "Camille 2000" and the oevre of Russ Meyer; from "Vixen" to "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" were only a few of the big screen's sucessful attempts to bring what Neely O'Hara referred to in "Valley of the Dolls" as "nudies." If American audiences were remotely familiar with "nudies," they were usually the European-produced films that played "The Art House" circuits. With titles like "Therese and Isabel" and "I, a Woman," these films weren't geared for the trenchcoat carrying crowds, but rather to audiences ready to experince a bit of erotica that actually had characters, plots and sumptuous photography. Looking at a few of those films today, one is constantly reminded of shampoo commericals, where gorgeous blonde boy approaches beautiful blonde girl across a saffron sea of wheat in ever so s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n, they may be pretty to look at, but they're actually quite shallow and innocent. Somewhere in between the Euro-chic and the porno chic, "The First Nudie Musical" was born. Okay, history lesson over, and on to the movie.

"Let's go on with the show!"

Harry Schecter (Stephen Nathan) has a problem at the studio that bears his father's name and reputation. In order to keep the studio going, Harry has been producing exploitation movies with titilating titles (and plenty of that "T" word that rhymes with "it"), the posters of which can be seen decorating his office wall. Looming over the studio, a bulldozer awaits to turn the land into a shopping mall. Harry's last couple of quickie films haven't made money, and the board of investors can easily make moolah by selling the land to developers. Thanks to his noble secretary Rosie's impromptu buck-and-wing step (delivered ala Ruby Keeler by the delightful and surprising Cindy Williams), an idea strikes Harry. He will make a pornographic musical! The backers agree, on the condition that Harry can make the film in two short weeks, or forfeit the studio to them. In a brief, very funny scene, all of this information is given, complete with the film's first musical number (and title tune): "The First Nudie Musical" featuring a dream line of chorines, stepping and strutting their stuff in the near-buff! Hardly exploitative, the number generates a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings, and Stephen Nathan (fresh from playing JESUS(!) on Broadway in "Godspell") delivers an earnest performance of Bruce Kimmel's catchy tune and witty lyrics. Alas, though, the backers aren't as kindly as they seem. In order to force failure on Harry, they resort to nepotism: Benny's (Hy Pike) novice nephew, John Smithee - a twentysomething virginal schlemiel (played to the hilt and beyond by Bruce Kimmel in charming, oafish mode) who wouldn't know a viewfinder from a ViewMaster!

I must interject right here and now, that most of the pleasure of "The First Nudie Musical" comes from the fresh-faced trio of leads. Nathan's Schecter is all smoke and mirrors, right down to the ever present lit cigarette; he puts up a brave front for the sake of his father's pride, and for his lovely Rosie, ah, but underneath, he is a mass of nerves and timidity. Tall, lanky with a definitely dated shaggy haircut, Nathan stands out with a dead-on characterization. His acting partner for nearly every scene is "Laverne & Shirley's" very own Cindy Williams, only a matter of months before she would become a regular household fixture. Williams matches Nathan beat-for-beat, putting a unique spin on a conventional comedic role, that of the lovelorn secretary who only wants what's best for her boss (Eve Arden made this type of character an art form in the 1940's). Williams' line delivery could hardly be improved upon, and her Rosie is given the lion's share of the film's funniest lines - not all of which are reprintable here; yet, they never sound dirty nor lewd.

Finally, there is the John Smithee of the multi-tasker Bruce Kimmel. Kimmel also takes a stock character (see the Mormon son in "Paint Your Wagon"), the hapless, sad-sack who turns into a heroic figure after being seduced. Kimmel makes sitting down in a chair funny, and Smithee created on bits of business usually involving slapstick. It's a surprising physical performance, and Kimmel has obviously learned a lot from the classic clowns of yore: Stan Laurel, Buster Keaton et al seem to eminate from his body. It doesn't hurt that Bruce posesses a cherubic face; he looks just like you would WANT your baby brother to look, and his Smithee is someone you just want to reach out and hug. End of interjection.

Hilarious and hysterical auditons follow for the now-titled film: "Come, Come Now!" One of the aspirant auditioners is none other than a very familiar face from television, and future Oscar winning director Ron Howard. Don't worry, folks, he's still in family territory, and even though he sang quite well in "The Music Man," this time it's just a cameo appearence, but worth checking out. Diana Canova, daughter of the great clown of the 1940's, Judy Canova AND future costar of the groundbreaking sitcom SOAP, makes a fine Cuban spitfire. Diana also gets one of the movie's witty ditties to perform, and like her mother's "The Lady in Red," Canova's "Perversion" leaves a lasting impression. Alexandra Morgan portrays the nominal star of the film's flick, Mary La Rue, who will get a clever tongue lashing from Williams' Rosie when La Rue makes a very overt play for Harry. Add a very experienced (though in what, we never know) Joy Full - who when asked to sing scales, literally sings "SCAAAAAAAALES - SCAAAAAAALES," garnering genuine laughter. Then along comes Susie, fresh of the bus and fresh-faced virginal Leslie Ackerman, whose acting is quite natural and sincere. Susie will do nude scenes, as long as she doesn't have to take her clothes off - -that's how homespun and green Susie is, and it's a tribute to Ms. Ackerman that she can pull that line off with believability. I would have thought that Ms. Ackerman's star would have been on the ascendat with a performance this unique. Just watch Ms. Ackerman during "Lesbian Butch Dyke," and you'll see the range of this gal's talent. (Side Note: although not credited, the singing of this song was done by Tony Award Winner ("Jerome Robbin's Broadway") Debbie Gravitte, who also can be heard on the opening verse of Chapter 20's "Hiya, Honey Watch Doin' Tonight?" This delightful bit of business is so immersed in the style of "Sweet Charity's" "Hey, Big Spender," that it's a wonder that Bob Fosse didn't sue. Five ladies of the evening attempting to seduce the loosely frenetic John Smithee to a very "Broadway beat" arrangement is to die for - and the film's turning point. In a more cliched script, John Smithee would have burst into song here, but, Kimmel saves his voice for the uncredited vocal over the film's end credits role: a lush, Barry Manilowesque ballad, "I Don't Have to Hide Anymore," which would not have been so out of place following John's deflowering. Once Smithee has lost his virginity, he becomes a good director, Rosie tells off Mary La Rue, causing her to quit "Come, Come Now!" and Harry brainstorms the film-within-the-film's finale: "Let 'Em Eat Cake," featuring both Rosie dancing around (Yes! Ms. Williams can handle a few dance steps!) to lyrics which could also fit in a vampiric musical: "Let 'em eat cake, let 'em eat hot dogs, let 'em eat old hamburgers if they haven't got dogs, let 'em eat anything they feel they're due. Let 'em eat cake, but let me eat you." A black eye prevents "Come, Come Now!'s" star from appearing in the finale, so, in true "42nd Street" fashion, Harry straps on his dancing shoes, saves the movie, the day and the studio.

"The First Nudie Musical" weaves a musical comedy spell from its opening moments straight on through to the final clinch. It's little wonder that this film took off like a skyrocket and developed a very vocal cult following - it's sassy, brassy, and dare I say, "assy" to complete the rhyme? A great deal of its charm stems from its homage to old-time filmmaking, although lensed in the 1970's, there is a distinct 1940's feel to the entire endeavor - "The First Nudie Musical" is as reminiscent of those old Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney "Hey, kids! Let's put on a show!" movies as it is of witty Warner musicals. The main title sequence is quite retro, with a gloved, feminine hand turning the pages of a book featuring the credits - a ploy which Peter Bogdonavich would use in his salute to screwball comedies, "What's Up, Doc?" Though not all of the jokes are as funny as they once were, they're funnier than ANYTHING you'll find in today's so-called comedies that "The First Nudie Musical" obviously paved the way for. The innocence in which the participants deal with the decidely adult material is what makes "The First Nudie Musical" tick; this isn't a leering, exploitative movie. The film's makers knew better than to eroticize the seamier side of things, instead, they present a very naturalistic view and stance where the language and nudity are concerned. This wide-eyed innocence brings a breath of fresh air to what could have been tawdry; not an easy feat, but one accomplished with panache by a cast of then-unkowns.

"You never looked better in your life."

 

For the first time in its shaky video history, "The First Nudie Musical" is being presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with an enhancement for widescreen television viewing. This particular transfer has been lovingly and carefully supervised by the film's creator, Bruce Kimmel. Under his guiding hand, the film has also been color corrected and several shots have been re-framed. Thankfully, it's not a "George Lucas" re-working! "The First Nudie Musical" is from that same era that produced Lucas' first "Star Wars" saga, but Bruce has wisely chosen not to digitally tamper with his movie. (In an alternate reality, I can almost see those dancing vibrators actually being digitally removed and replaced with dancing digital dildoes...hmmmmm).

For a film from the 1970's, and filmed with the very problematic Color by DeLuxe, I have to admit that "The First Nudie Musical" looks mighty fine. Gone are those muddy, muddled hues that marred the video releases. They've been replaced with fairly vibrant, brighter blues and yellows. The colors have a stability that probably were'nt there in its initial theatrical release. The colors are all very well balanced, with hardly a trace of bleeding or blotching. And the flesh tones: well, with as much flesh as is on display in the film, they had better be good, right? Of course, right. And right they are! This is not to say that this is a pristine print, though. There are a few age-related artifacts which DO NOT detract in any way shape or form from the enjoyment of the movie itself. As a matter of fact, I find the cigarette burns in the upper right hand corners more of a comfort than a distraction - - the viewer is aware of the fact that he is watching a REAL MOVIE, just like the ones they used to make. Anyone who has never seen "The First Nudie Musical" might be disappointed by the transfer, but considering the budgetary restraints of the film, they shouldn't be. AND if they are disappointed - to hell with 'em - listen to the director's commentary, Bruce Kimmel tells ALL!

 

"The sweetest sounds I'll ever hear."

 

.....are in retro monoaural sound, clearly reflecting the film's budgetary limitations ($150,00.00 all told). The track didn't disappoint me: the songs lyrics are intelligible, the punchlines ring out loud and clear, and I'm very happy with it. The mono track doesn't draw attention to itself, it's very well placed, often making the listener THINK he's hearing stereo tracks. This being a musical, the lack of ambient sound never presents a problem - it's the musical numbers that count! And what a bouquet of totally tuneful ditties Bruce Kimmel came up with to support the movie. From the opening title tune ("The First Nudie Musical" - duh!), to the funny finale, "The First Nudie Musical" brings forth such song titles as "The Lights and the Smiles," "Orgasm," "Lesbian Butch Dyke," "Perversion" and the astonishing "Dancing Dildoes" the song score rings out with the wit and punning of a true musical talent. If we can't enjoy the songs, we certainly can't enjoy the movie!

 

"Extra! Extra! They're drawing a red line around the biggest scoop of the decade!"

 

Can the ever be too much of a good thing? Obviously not, for the fine folks at Image (not to mention Mr. Kimmel himself) have packed "The First Nudie Musical" to the rafters with Bonus Features. Starting with the obvious, there's the sly "Coming from Paramount" original theatrical trailer - all Day-Glo color and humorous narration, that shows that Paramount really DIDN'T know just how to handle the film. The Photo Gallery self plays promotional items, reviews as well as photos; but I wish that one could zoom into the reviews for easier reading. Two Deleted Musical Numbers are presented, "Where is a Man?" is presented in shopworn video format, and despite the stunning vocal work, the cut was logical, since we never developed a vested interest in the character, and it would have disrupted the frantic pace of the movie. The other deleted musical number, is only available as an "Easter Egg," but I found it to be a pretty funny, if cliched, look at a sado-masochistic scene. A Deleted Scene, "The Plumber Scene," isn't really new to me, the scene existed in the cable showings of "The First Nudie Musical." This comic gem shows the work that John Smithee can do as a director, and gives the lovely Diana Canova a bit more screen time. Kimmel accompanies each of the clips with an Audio Commentary.

The first two Audio Commentaries accompany the film itself. That's right, "The First Nudie Musical" has two Audio Commentaries, and the only thing they both share is the presence of Bruce Kimmel - Does this guy ever sleep?!?!?! Wittily on the first track he guides costars Stephen Nathan and Cindy Williams through a viewing of the film; this must have been Cindy's first time seeing the film in over twenty years, her memory is hazy, but Kimmel and Nathan move things along at a brisk pace, and there's never, ever a spot of dead air. As much as I enjoyed hearing from the participants, I think the next Audio Commentary is quite definitive: here, Bruce Kimmel shares the space with the disc's documentary producer, Nick Redman, concentrating more on the technical end of both the movie and the production of the DVD itself. Kimmel is an engaging presence whose vast knowledge of film and DVD is on display here. This latter commentary is the one that I will return to more often, it is the dead-on incarnation of what a commentary should do. It entertainingly educates the viewer without pompousity or arrogance, and like the former, leaves no dead ear space.

Did I mention Documentary a few sentences ago? I did! Yes, "From Dollars to Doughnuts: An Undressing of 'The First Nudie Musical'" is the name of the film's retrospective documentary. Edited with brand-spanking-new interviews from MOST of the film's major players (on-screen and off-), "From Dollars to Doughnuts" celebrates the film's nefarious history, takes pot-shots at Paramount, the critics and Ron Howard, all with a gleam in the eye. The participants have all age, mostly quite graciously - Cindy Williams looks divine, and while Kimmel's John Smithee was like a kid brother, the elder Kimmel holds court like a statesman, giving off the aura of a protective and loving father. He's still quite the animated personality, and it doesn't hurt that he alludes to his reputation on alt.video.DVD, and all the trolls there. After all, it is HIS mark that is all over "The First Nudie Musical," it is only fitting that his labor of love should be so lovingly treated in its DVD form. I found "Dollars to Doughnuts" be as constantly entertaining as the feature itself. But the highlight for me was the way that the documentary work in the names of people ONLY DVD geeks (like me) would recognize. The third Commentary accompanies the documentary, in what is probably a DVD first. Kimmel and Redman are joined by Michael Rosendale(co-director of the documentary), a largely tongue-in-cheek feature, it is as funny as hell, yet still manages to shed new light on the film, its participants and the making of a documentary feature. I reiterate, there can never be too much of a good thing.

Not to be outdone by any other DVD production company, Image has included with the initial pressing of the DVD, a compact disc containing the film's original soundtrack score (long out-of-print, but popular on EBay) which includes the cut song, "Where is a Man?" AND the original musical score to the disc's "Dollars to Doughnuts" documentary!

AND....Don't forget to go on the Easter Egg Hunt!!!

 

"Everytime we say 'Goodbye.'"

 

What more can I say? Like Dolly Gallagher Levi, "The First Nudie Musical" is still going strong, looking swell and playing a favorite song from way back when. This is a very special "little" movie, in fact I might venture to say that it is "THE little movie that could," and Image's presentation defines "Special Edition." From the film itself (a true joy, IMHO) to the various Audio Commentaries and beyond: the soundtrack cd, Image may have even re-defined the ingredients for a Special Edition DVD. Musical mavens, and you know who you are (you're the ones that picked up on every musical theater allusion I've made in this review**), snatch this dvd up right now! The price is right, the movie is worthwhile, the special features are truly scrumptious, yes, truly, truly scrumptious, it doesn't get much better than this! Whip out those cheese slices and ham chunks, sit back, relax, and plan on becoming part of "The First Nudie Musical's" legion of fans!

 

*"Star Wars" reference intentional.

**Just HOW MANY musical allusions DID I make? I lost count after I titled the review sections.