Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! (1968)


three star


The third & final picture in Russ Meyer’s trio of in-color “soap operas” plays very similar to the first, Common Law Cabin. As with Common Law Cabin, Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! is more or less Meyer on auto-pilot. With his career finally developing a sense of cohesion, Meyer was now able to make a film that was unmistakably his own without trying very hard to impress. All of the Meyer calling cards are here: buxom women, go-go dancing, bitter marriages on the rocks, non-sequitiur monologues, etc. The only thing missing from Meyer’s pictures in this phase of his career is the aggressive, disorienting editing style that turned pictures like Mondo Topless & Europe in the Raw from straight-forward “documentaries” into something much more sinister & psychedelic. The oddball editing is present, for sure, but it takes a back seat to the bitter war of the sexes that had tinged Meyer’s work since the adultery tale Lorna. Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! unfortunately doesn’t pack quite the same hateful punch that the now ex-Meyer writer Jack Moran’s scripts did in the past, but it does have plenty of bitter weirdness to spare that makes it a moderately enjoyable addition to the director’s catalog.

Starting with the go-go dancing “documentary” Mondo Topless, Meyer had made a habit of delivering early in his runtimes what his core audience had come to expect: gigantic, bare breasts. The opening credits of Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! features a topless go-go routine performed in the desert sand by a model sporting only a tight skirt, tall boots, and a motorcycle helmet. Instead of Meyer’s trademark of besides-the-point opening monolgues, the movie instead begins with a swanky titular theme song, the first since the lounge lizard opener for Lorna. The director also continued his recent trope of representing the opening credits in physical spaces. The credits for Common Law Cabin were displayed on hand carved signs, the credits for Good Morning . . . and Goodbye! were painted on mailboxes, and the credits here are printed on labels of liquor bottles. The claustrophobia of his staged play-like sets is also repeated here, as the film takes place almost exclusively in a bedroom, a brothel, and a go-go club/pool hall. As I said, Meyer had reached groove at this point of his career where his films were easily recognizable as his own, each following a relatively strict pattern.

Although Meyer had captured the unrestrained mania of go-go dancing before in pictures like Mondo Topless & Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, here he for the first time builds a narrative in a go-go club setting, intercutting the violent bursts of topless dancing with shots of money changing hands & alcohol being downed at a maddening pace. My best guess of what he was trying to get across there was something as simple & crass as the thought that big tits are big business. As his pictures are usually centered on the sexual failings of a male lover, Finders Keepers focuses on an adulterous employee of the go-go club featured in these scenes. Between being distracted by the erotic dancing & a side-hustle that connects the club to a nearby brothel, our bonehead antagonist is oblivious to his unattended wife & business, which leads the bored wife to dancing nude & philandering as payback and the club itself being held hostage by a couple of safe-breaking thieves. These themes are surely familiar to Meyer’s previous pictures, but within that framework he injects a couple unexpected touches, ones that oddly stray from his onscreen fornicating’s usual lack of adventure or experimentation.

The sex scenes in Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! are what make the film unique enough to be a wortwhile addition to the Russ Meyer catalog. In one scene, images of flesh bucking underwater are mixed (hilariously) with footage of cars crashing in a demolition derby. In another, a sex worker shaving a john’s chest while recounting her childhood experiments with incest is presented with the dementedly obsessive detail of a fetishist. The oddly arresting chest-shaving scene is certainly the film’s most memorable centerpiece, especially since the bare chest the sex worker is shaving is mixed with closeup footage of a much, much hairier specimen being stripped of its luxurious coat. The film also poses as an alternate timeline in which Meyer was a butt man instead of his obnoxiously apparent preference for breasts. The screen is filled with plenty of butt cheek during the film’s relatively short runtime, including a surprising amount of man-butt for those interested. Throw in a small dose of lipstick lesbianism and you have the director’s most sexually adventurous film at least since the vague BDSM leanings of Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.

Besides the unexpected kinks & oddities in these details, Finders Keepers stands out as a unique Meyer picture only in its half-assed attempts to establish itself as a crime noir. The hostage situation & safe-breaking scenes fall hilariously short of similar fare in films like, say, Michael Mann’s Thief, and instead feel like a half-cooked afterthought, taking a back seat to the much more detailed sexual perversity (duh). My favorite aspect of the failed noir aesthetic is the heavy reliance on the Venetian blinds lighting of the genre, which is so ever-present that it’s included in exterior shots outside the go-go club, which makes absolutely no logical sense. There’s also a last minute revelation of betrayal that constitutes the closest thing to a “twist” that any Meyer film to date had attempted. Otherwise, the director’s usual themes of adultery & sexual payback play out in typical Meyer fashion. Finders Keepers may only have a few scenes & spare details that distinguish it as a unique work in the director’s catalog, but it does have enough unnatural weirdness in those details (especially that chest-shaving scene) that make it a worthy drop in the Meyer bucket.

-Brandon Ledet

Mondo Topless (1966)




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