Friday, July 3, 2009

Nude on the Moon (1961)

Directed by Doris Wishman
Starring Lester Brown, William Mayer, Marietta

"Here are your messages, Mr. Huntley."
"The devil with the messages. We're going to the moon!"

Sexploitation pioneer Doris Wishman was one of the very first film-makers to bring cinematic nudity to the general public; prior to her nudist camp cycle, it was grubby 8mm loops in your drunk uncle's basement or nothin'. Wishman's first film, 1960's Hideout in Sun, established the aesthetic: throw a few half-sketched characters into a situation that forces them to interact with nekkid people. In the case of Hideout, two bungling bank robbers take refuge from Johnny Law in the warm, sunny embrace of a nudist colony. In the more high-concept Nude on the Moon, two cockamamie 'scientists' build a rocket and visit the moon, which just happens to be populated by naked girls. Hey, it was 1962. Nobody had been there yet. Could be anything up there.

Wishman was often referred to as 'the female Ed Wood', and the reasons why become glaringly obvious right off the bat. Right away you know that something's amiss, because the entire (awesome) theme song is played over a static painting of the moon. No credits. The credits don't actually start until after the song is over. Never mind the middle, Doris starts padding the running time before the credits even roll. The song, "I'm Mooning Over You (My Little Moon Doll)" is performed by Ralph Young, later of popular 70's easy-listening duo, Sandler and Young. Once you hear it, there's a good chance it will never escape from your brain, so be forewarned.

After that languorous intro, we meet our two space stooges. Dr Jeff Huntley (Lester Brown, in his debut - and final - role) is an impetuous scientist with heady dreams. His partner, known simply as "Professor" (frequent Wishman collaborator William Mayer), is the more grounded of the two. Older and wiser, he goes along with Jeff's schemes, but complains pretty constantly.

Also on deck is Kathy (one-time, singularly-named actress Marietta), Jeff's secretary. Kathy clearly pines for Jeff - she even keeps a bizarre painted portrait of him in her desk drawer - but he barely knows she's alive. I'm not sure what the appeal is for Kathy, since Jeff is a dick, but love is notoriously blind.

Life plods along at the lab until one fateful day, an excited Jeff bursts in to tell the prof that his uncle just dies and left him a princely sum of one million dollars, an almost unfathomable amount in 1961. So what's he going to do with it? Buy a castle? No, he wants to use the dough to build a rocketship and fly to the fuckin' moon. While the professor is amused by this news, he's also a little concerned. He tells Jeff that maybe he should think about pursuing something a little less dangerous, like getting married - to Kathy, for example - and raising a family. Jeff tells the prof off. "I'm not interested in getting married," he says. "All I care about is science." Then he takes off. The professor takes this rare quiet moment to feed his pet monkey, which he keeps in a tiny little dog house.

I'm not sure why they keep brewing up chemicals if they're trying to build a rocketship to the moon, but that's what they do. They spend quite a bit of time staring at bubbling beakers and spouting scientific-sounding nonsense in order to meet their six-month deadline for the moon trip.

Finally, the fateful day arrives. The professor and Jeff drive out to god knows where to take their trip to the moon. They open up a gate that has a "Huntley Rocket Project" on it and stare at something off-camera.
"Well, there it is," says the professor. "Isn't it beautiful?"
How would I know? You have not shown it to us, sir.
So then they both climb some scaffolding that does look like it could be a rocketship bay, only there is clearly no rocketship attached to it. They climb in, tell mission control that they're "all set", and then they shoot off into space. This effect is achieved, naturally, with a model rocket. By the way, no spacesuits for our heroes, no way. They prefer denim for space flight.

Things seem to be going ok, but then the professor, followed quickly by Jeff, falls into a sudden slumber. When they wake up, they've landed safely on the moon.

Now, they put on their spacesuits - they're Ace Frehley sorta deals, with motorcycle helmets and rubber breathing tubes. Naturally, the astronauts are taken aback when they get off the ship to find trees, grass, and blue skies outside. They expected the usual: dust and rocks, or perhaps green cheese. They wander around for awhile and discover that there's chunks of solid gold littering the ground. The prof wants to scoop a bunch of it up to take back with them so that they can use it to finance their next trip, but grumpy Jeff insists they move on, as they are there for "science, not gold." Reluctantly, the professor agrees, and they wander around some more. They encounter a man-made wall with a ladder propped up against it.

"Look, there's a ladder," says Professor Obvious. And so he climbs it.
On the other side of the wall, there's a park where topless men and women (and a couple naked kids) frolic. A couple of brawny moon-men (you can tell they're from the moon because they have pipe cleaners on their heads) spot the peeping prof and snatch him.

Jeff, who is still standing there on the opposite side of the wall, finally decides to climb the ladder and see what's up. Naturally, he gets snatched by the no-nonsense moon men as well. Soon, both astronauts find themselves locked up in a coral grotto. That's when it hits you: everything in this screwy place is made of coral. Maybe it is the moon!

Actually, Nude was shot at Coral Castle in Miami, a popular tourist spot with an awesome/sad backstory. Seems there was this Latvian teenager, Edward Leedskalnin, who was engaged to his true love, sixteen year old Agnes Scruffs. For reasons unknown, Scruffs jilted our man Eddie, so he left Latvia and ran away to Florida to escape his heartbreak. When he got there - in 1920 - he started obsessively building a structure out of coral. He continued to build this odd "Coral castle" for 28 years, usually at night, away from the prying eyes of his neighbors. How he moved the incredibly large and heavy slabs of coral back and forth remains a mystery, but build and build he did. He eked out a very modest living by granting tours of the property, but otherwise kept to himself. One day in 1951, Eddie started to feel ill, she hopped a bus to the hospital. When he got there, he found out he was suffering from malnutrition, and died three days later. He left no real explanation for why he dedicated thirty years of his life to the Coral Castle, but then tourists asked him, he'd tell them it was for his "Sweet sixteen". And that is officially the most heartbreaking fucking thing I've ever heard in my life. Billy's Idol's 1986 hit "Sweet Sixteen" was about Eddie. The video even opens with a shot of him in front of the Coral Castle.

Anyway, ten years later, Doris rented the joint and stocked it with booby girls. Back to the story.

So the guys are locked up. Meanwhile, the bosomy queen of the topless moon people (Surprise! It's Marietta again!) has a telekinetic meeting with them (one of whom happens to be about 60) and tells them she's not sure what's up with these new dudes, but she'll have a meeting with the Great Council and figure it out.

So then she has said meeting at a big rock table, but it happens to be with the exact same crew. Maybe the Great Council was busy. She decides the Earth Men are friendly - one blonde disagrees, but what is she gonna do? She's not the fuckin' queen - so they let them out.

Happy to have their freedom, Jeff and the prof wander around, taking photos of rocks and trees. They're surrounded by topless girls, and they take pictures of rocks and trees. Meanwhile the girls do their best to distract them by fiddling with their spacesuits, playing catch really slowly, splashing around in the pond, and taking naps. A couple of the girls goof on the prof's dumb mustache. Moon humor.

The fellas get enough "interesting data" together (Honestly, no notes are needed, are they? You just go back home and say, 'There's naked girls and hunks of gold on the moon!', and that'll pretty much explain everything), but before they split, Jeff wants to hit on the queen. While he does this, "Moon Doll" plays on the scratchy soundtrack again. Jeff gives the Moon Queen a candy bar, which she gobbles up while it's still in the wrapper. This cracks him up. The two fall instantly in love.

The grumpy old prof comes by and tells Jeff that it's time for them to go, since they're running out of oxygen. Dunno why they'd need oxygen, since the moon appears to have the same atmosphere as Miami, but regardless, Jeff says he doesn't want to go back. He wants to stay there and feed candybars to the queen.
"I'm in love," he says. "For the first time in my life, I feel for someone, and it's wonderful."
The queen feels it too, but she knows their love is doomed. So she bonks him gently on the head and sends him on his way.

Jeff and the professor make it their rocket and blast off back to Earth. Jeff's sore about having to leave the queen, but even worse, he forgot his fuckin' camera, and the prof forgot his satchel, so there's no proof of their trip. When they get back, the professor has some scientists look at the rocket ship, figuring that might convince them, and they tell him they don't even think the thing could get off the ground, never mind go to the moon. Now the prof isn't sure where the fuck they went.

Jeff has no regrets, though. Especially when Kathy walks in, and he suddenly notices her resemblance to a certain candy-freak from outer space.

While its never reaches any heights of outrage or high-camp, the good-naturedly goofy Nude on the Moon is still a howl to watch. From the wretched acting of the two leads to the mismatched shots (Shot one: it's day. Shot two: it's night), Nude is threadbare, nonsensical, and thoroughly charming.

Sci-fi sex-flicks would get weirder and raunchier as time went on (see Flesh Gordon, Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders, Zeta One, or even Bimbo Cheerleaders from Outer Space for a few prime examples), but Doris, as she was often wont to do, did it first. Ten years later, she was making some of the most over-the-top sexploitation films of the 70's - and that's saying something - but Nude is very much a fluffy, lighter-than-air Nudie Cutie. Fun stuff.

Here's the trailer!

- Ken McIntyre

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