Common Law Cabin (1967)


three star


With his sixth feature, Heavenly Bodies!, Russ Meyer had more or less perfected the “nudie cutie” genre he inadvertently created when his first film, The Immoral Mr. Teas, became a surprise hit. His career then entered its second phase with a series of black & white “roughies”, a more violent & salacious genre Meyer eventually perfected with the cult classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. With those accomplishments behind him & the two aesthetics married in the go-go dancing freak show Mondo Topless, it was time for Meyer’s career to again take a new direction. His next three pictures following Mondo Topless would be a trio of in-color “soap operas” that continued to boil down the battle of the sexes theme he had been hammering since he made his adulterous morality tale Lorna. This would prove to be far from the most exciting or notorious era of Meyer’s career, but this “soap opera” trilogy did boast a deeply bizarre sort of misanthropic bitterness that often gets overlooked in discussions of his work.

The first film in Meyer’s series of in-color soap operas was Common Law Cabin, a serviceable effort that more or less amounts to a mixed bag of the director’s highs & lows. Originally titled How Much Loving Does a Normal Couple Need? (which is, funnily enough, featured onscreen in a hand-built credits sequence, over-imposed with its much more easily digestible replacement), Common Law Cabin might just be the first sign that Meyer was reaching a groove where his films have an unmistakable aesthetic. Everything from the film’s buxom go-go dancing (including a performance from Mondo Topless‘ Babette Bardot) & the incongruous party music that makes the film it like a harmless Gidget picture instead of something much darker to a non-sequitur opening monologue about The Colorado River “taking & leaving like a woman, but with a name like a man” all scream pure Meyer, despite the film’s genre skewing toward an aesthetic he had never explored before. What really stands out here as Meyer greatness, though, is the hateful war of the sexes dialogue shared between the far too drunk characters who are miserably isolated at a hellscape resort named Hoople’s Haven.

The story Common Law Cabin tells is admittedly thin & inconsequential (another Meyer trope in a way). There’s a maniacal cop on the lam with some stolen money that keeps two unsuspecting, unloving couples hostage at the aforementioned Hoople’s Haven, beating & seducing everything in sight like a feral alpha male with nothing to lose. Again, that’s not really the heart of the film. The owner of Hoople’s Haven, Dewey, played by Jack Moran (who wrote several of Meyer’s more notable films, including this one), is self-consciously guilty of ogling his teenage daughter because she ‘s a dead ringer for his dead wife (yikes!). His current sexual/business partner Babette (played by Babette Bardot, of course), constantly calls him out on this shortcoming with acerbic statements like “They at least knew the difference between a wife & a daughter,” and “I only say what you think, so you can hear how lousy it sounds.” Another couple made up of a suicidal doctor & his adulterous wife are equally troubled. Calling out his wife for flirting with strangers before his eyes, the doctor asks, “Must you pant? It’s an animal trait.” She retorts, “It’s the bitch in me, dear. Or don’t you remember? It has been such a long time.” Alaina Capri is pitch-perfect in this vengeful, dissatisfied wife role, one she’d develop to an even more ridiculous extent in Meyer’s next film, Good Morning . . . and Goodbye!. There’s a little bit of misogynistic violence that sinks the enjoyable contention in these exchanges, but the way Meyer plays the whole thing out like a soap opera comedy only makes those moments complexly bizarre and, besides, the maniac cop who’s responsible for slapping everyone around (spoiler alert?) gets his bully ass run over by a speed boat at the climax in a satisfying way. Common Law Cabin is far from Meyer’s most significant film, but it works as a typifying example of what the director has to offer, mostly enjoyable for its hateful exchanges between “loving” couples on the verge of strangling each other at any given moment . . . and for the buxom go-go dancers, of course.

-Brandon Ledet