In more ways than one, The Immoral Mr. Teas is a right place, right time kind of motion picture success. Long before legendary cult movie director & eccentric asshole Russ Meyer set the world on fire with films like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls & Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, he was a combat photographer that found a post-WWII career shooting pin-up models for “glamor magazines”. With nudist camp “exposés” & the high class pornography of Playboy magazine paving the way for mainstream acceptance of nude modeling on film, it was only a matter of time until someone brought nude photography out of underground screenings of stag films to much more visible (not to mention more profitable), conventional cinemas. With The Immoral Mr. Teas, Russ Meyer simply filled a need. While many exploitative sex films of the time heavily moralized & scolded the very salaciousness they depicted in order to sneak pass the censors, The Immoral Mr. Teas combined moving pictures of naked girls with the comedy genre for the first time since the Hays Code first took its chokehold on Hollywood. Although it’s hard to see exactly what the fuss about the relatively tame & decidedly hokey film was in the context of modern sensibilities, Mr. Teas essentially opened the floodgates for playful nudity on film, giving birth to a genre adorably named “the nudie cutie” & fighting many a censorship battle across the country, from which Hollywood would later benefit greatly.
Presented as a sort of comedic documentary on modern living, Mr. Teas only thinly pretends to be anything more than an excuse to display naked breasts. As the only dialogue heard throughout the film is a hilariously overwritten narration, the film’s endless visual gags & gradual stripteasing call to mind both the artforms of vaudeville & burlesque. The titular Mr. Teas, played by Meyers’ war buddy Bill Teas, is a horny, bargain basement version of Charlie Chaplan’s Tramp. Early in the film Teas openly oggles the barely-covered breasts of dental assistants & barkeeps in a leering way that well earns his “immoral” moniker in the film’s title. True to burlesque fashion, Meyer’s camera gradually reveals more & more female skin as the nudity escalates. What starts with cleavage escalates to a leg being bared to a pin-up photo shoot on the beach (as a nod to Meyer’s profession/passion) where breasts are cleverly obscured from the audience behind objects like a well-placed elbow or a camera. After a loosely defined incident at the dentist that leaves Teas magically altered by Novocaine, our peeping tom protagonist is suddenly struck by intense reveries that overrides his mind with hallucinations of every woman he meets in the nude, giving birth to the “nudie cutie” picture. At this point, the narration fades a great deal, leaving us alone with a shrill, accordion-heavy soundtrack & what will eventually become Meyer’s onscreen calling cards: insane editing choices & strikingly large breasts.
Although lighthearted nudity in motion obviously doesn’t hold the same shock value today that it would’ve fifty-six years ago, there’s plenty of jarring weirdness to The Immoral Mr, Teas that makes it worthwhile as a cultural relic. Much of the charm is dependent on the overreaching narration, which adds a level of snarky commentary on the absurdities of modern living that feels very much in tune to the early works of (my favorite band of all time) DEVO. Much like the gradual escalation of nudity, the narration ratchets up its absurdity over time. It starts by contrasting the calming nature of rocks & trees to the much more constricting traffic, pills, and tight underwear of modern man, but eventually gives way to over-the-top, Criswell-esque statements like “Modern man must, in the course of his endeavors, always keep his eyes on the future. For who knows how the windy zephyrs of fate may twist & cross two lives?” & “And so ends another day, another seeming eternity in the complex scheme of things.” I think the best laugh I got from the entire film was when the off-screen narrator, voiced by Edward J. Lasko, droned about photosynthesis, the density of water, famous discoveries made by sea, and the history of bathing all to justify Teas peeping on women as they skinny dip. It’s a ridiculous, disorienting moment & a tactic that Meyer will repeat several times in his five redundant nudie cuties that immediately followed Mr. Teas.
In addition to the film’s historical significance & ludicrous narration, Mr. Teas is also an early glimpse into the visual weirdness Meyer would eventually push to absurd extremes in Faster, Pussycat & Beyond the Valley. His odd Dutch angles, rapid cuts of mechanical equipment & ample bussoms, and general sense of feverish horndoggery are all present in the film, just on a smaller scale. In order to avoid having the film’s shoots shut down for indecency, he also filmed all of Teas’ hallucinations indoors, placing the film’s naked women in these strange pastel-colored voids that feel like they exist outside of space & time. It’s a genuinely strange touch that, like the besides-the-point narration, would be repeated incessantly in his five nudie cutie follow-ups to Teas. You can tell that Meyer had a ball filming & editing his first foray into motion pictures & it’s no coincidence that the director’s cameo in the film is as a rowdy strip club patron shouting emphatically at a burlesque dancer. The Immoral Mr. Teas is nowhere near the heights (or the depths, honestly) of where Meyer’s career would eventually go, but it is an appropriately silly start for a man whose passion was making movies about large breasts.