Mondo Topless (1966)

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With his first six films, Russ Meyer pioneered & eventually mastered what is now known as “the nudie cutie”, an antiquated genre that is exactly what it sounds like: a cutesy comedy featuring nude models. His first feature, The Immoral Mr. Teas, is cited as the very first example of the “nudie cutie” and, following a few Teas-imitating stinkers, his final film in the genre, Heavenly Bodies!, proved to be a finely-tuned, navel-gazing example of the limits of what the format could accomplish. The next phase of his career was a series of black & white “roughies”, a collection of crudely violent crime pictures that were about as far from the word “cutie” that the director could possibly get. Again, that phase saw some highs & lows for the director, including the irredeemably vile Motorpsycho! & the indisputable crown jewel of the “roughie” genre, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. For his followup to Faster, Pussycat!, Meyer deviously combined the “nudie cutie” & “roughie” aesthetics into a single, incomprehensible picture, Mondo Topless. Mondo Topless is the cinematic equivalent of a child being forced to smoke an entire pack after failing to sneak a single cigarette. Meyer effectively asks his audience, “You want breasts? Here’s more than you could possibly handle. Choke on them.” The resulting film is an overwhelming assault on the senses, featuring an ungodly chaotic jumble of topless go-go dancing & non sequitur narration. If it were any longer than an hour, it’d be unwatchable. As is, it’s a oddly engaging spectacle of pure madness, one that summarized the full extent of what Meyer had accomplished at that time in his career.

One consistent feature of Meyer’s nudie cutie work is the non sequitur ramblings of an offscreen narrator, often delivered with the blank expression of an industrial film. Like with everything else it delivers, Mondo Topless adds a barely digestible layer of aggression to this Meyer trope. The narrator, John Furlong (who worked on several Meyer features, including Mudhoney & Common Law Cabin), delivers his relentless monologues in a near shout, backing the audience into a corner as the screen is overloaded with go-go dancers doing their thing. He starts by describing an especially salacious view of San Francisco, a city that reportedly “thrusts itself into the bosom of the Pacific” with the “bulging peaks & deep canyons” of its landscape, its trollies “digesting & disgorging humanity at will”, and structures that “thrust their bulk majestically toward the sky.” The rapidfire montage of this opening segment features a nude woman maniacally driving through the Bay Area intercut with images of the skyscrapers, ads, automobiles, and dancing naked women that make up Russ Meyer’s America. In a fit of shameless self-promotion our aggressive narrator promises an expose on the artform of “the topless”, “the phrase & the craze that is changing the mood & the morays of people everywhere […] Here, go-go girls in & out of their environment will be revealed to you in scenes that can only be summarized as a swinging tribute to unrestrained female anatomy. Mondo Topless is believably real in Eastman color. But ‘unbelievable’ just barely describes all of Russ Meyer’s discotheque discoveries: fantastic women, fantastic dances, featuring the world’s loveliest buxotics. You only dreamed there were women like these until now. But they’re real! Unbelievably real!” It’s an onslaught that makes you so dizzy you could puke.

The rest of the film’s dialogue is provided by the dancers themselves. As they answer interview questions that were not included to provide context, performers with names like Donna X & Babette Bardot dance frenetically while making strangely disconnected statements like “I used to play cello in a symphony orchestra when I was 13,” & “All you’re doing is a dance, it has no meaning whatsoever.” The range of topics covered in these “interviews” are as disparate as women’s sexual autonomy to the freedom of not wearing a bra to bed. The narrator only occasionally interjects to literally dare you to focus on what the dancers have to say as they’re violently shaking their bodies for your visual pleasure/motion sickness. When he shouts at you to “sit back!”, “relax!”, or “enjoy!” what the women have to offer it takes immense emotional fortitude to not shout back “Okay! I’ll try! Stop yelling at me!” There’s a very small amount of variety to be found within the film, mainly in the different styles of the featured dancers & the locations where they’re filmed (a rocky beach, near a passing train, underwater, in a mud puddle, etc.), but otherwise Mondo Topless is aggressively one-note: gorgeous women dance topless to portable radios & tape players at a maddening pace that never once pumps the brakes so the audience can catch its breath.

There’s a little bit of cultural context that makes Mondo Topless significant as a historical document, but there’s no way that it can be mistaken for a documentary. It only makes the slightest differentiations between “the erotic” dances of the past & “the topless” dancing (aka go-go dancing) that reportedly started in San Francisco. Erotic dances are supposedly built on the tease of the reveal & use of obscuring objects like pasties, where as topless go-go dancing is an all-out “burst of inhibited frenzy.” Mondo Topless does its best to recreate this feeling of frenzy in its relentless pace, intentionally distancing itself from Meyer’s burlesque nudie cutie past despite re-purposing the exact footage of what seemed to be every single dance from Europe in the Raw in its short runtime. Meyer also takes multiple breaks to pat himself on the back for his own accomplishments, like in an interview with Lorna Maitland, star of his film (duh) Lorna. The narrator brags, “Without artistic surrender, without compromise, without question or apology, an important motion picture was produced: Lorna: A Woman Too Much for One Man.” Maitland then goes on to speculate about her boundless future as an actress, tellingly only describing & showing footage only from the exact two scenes of the film I found worthwhile in my initial review.

Otherwise, Mondo Topless makes no attempt to pretend to be anything more than it is: an overwhelmingly aggressive hour of frenzied go-go dancing, Meyer’s bizarre editing style (that would later reach its apex in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) and disorienting, besides the point dialogue that only added confusion & obscurity to the proceedings. But, why should I attempt to describe the overall effect of the Mondo Topless to you when the film was content to review itself in its final monologue? It concludes, “Well, Mondo Topless measures up. The unmistakable Russ Meyer touch makes this more than a gang of great gals. It makes it move. We sincerely hope you enjoyed the flick.” Indeed.

-Brandon Ledet

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9 thoughts on “Mondo Topless (1966)

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