Don’t look now — or rather do look now, as Kino Lorber releases three packed Blu-rays of a series called Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Picture, curated in collaboration with Something Weird Video, pioneer distributors of forgotten exploitation films.
These films embody a highly independent spirit of off-Hollywood filmmaking that exploited topics forbidden by the mainstream studios, the Motion Picture Production Code, and most local censor boards. In other words, these producers carefully studied the Code for rules of what was strictly forbidden by the big studios, including such topics as “sex hygiene and venereal diseases” and “scenes of actual childbirth”, and promptly made movies with those elements to fill the void.
These films were then distributed piecemeal on a “states’ rights” basis, where local laws permitted, or the producers traveled with the film and rented venues for roadshows to “adults only” audiences. In order to deliver these tales of sex, drugs, and nudity to a titillated public, their makers paraded their product in the socially redeeming value of educational lectures and reinforcement of morals through object lessons. These low-budget indies were the flipside or dark twin of the mainstream industry and they reveal much about paradoxical standards of morality in American life and movies. Let’s pull aside the curtain and take a gander.
Mom and Dad (1945) Director: William Beaudine
Drafted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, this most famous of the “birth of a baby” pictures ran for decades around the country to the edification of spellbound crowds. Screenings of Mom and Dad were accompanied by locally hired actors as imaginary expert “Elliot Forbes”, who lectured on “sexual hygiene” and hawked books on sex education. “Sex education” was among the most controversial ideas in American pedagogy during the 20th Century, and the battle is typically defined as between progressive forces and reactionary bluenoses who don’t want sex discussed in school and (the presumption goes, as per this film) not in the home either.
This “birth of a baby” subgenre is defined by the inclusion of actual medical footage of birth, presented in an impeccably scientific and instructional manner. To this end, the exhibition employed such ballyhoo techniques as “adults-only” screenings segregated by sex and the presence of supposedly professional nurses in attendance. Even so, screenings were often challenged by local censor boards, which in turn created publicity that could be turned to the film’s advantage by master showman-producer Kroger Babb, who must be regarded as the true auteur behind this film.
The plot is connected to what could be found in regular Hollywood pictures where society punishes the heroine’s pregnancy until she virtually becomes a candidate for sainthood. In the mainstream films, a heroine shows her mettle and self-sacrifice for the good of the child, who’s frequently adopted by the true father and his lawful wedded wife. These fascinating movies were not only common but commonly remade, and include such titles as Madame X (many versions), King Vidor’s Stella Dallas (1937), Joe May’s Confession (1937), and Sam Wood’s Kitty Foyle (1940). However, these stories usually contrive to explain that the baby is legitimate and that the mothers were at least temporarily married.
By contrast, Mom and Dad features a script by Mildred Horn that’s truly about pregnancy without benefit of wedding ring. The heroine is high-school girl Joan Blake (June Carlson), who belongs to an archetypal upper-middle all-American suburban family in a town with the all-purpose name of Centerville. They live in a two-storey house with all the amenities, including a jovial black maid with no life of her own. As in the hallowed Hollywood tradition, the teenagers look to be in their 20s because the actors are.
At a school dance with jitterbuggers, a singer, and sibling acrobats, Joan is wooed by Jack (Bob Lowell), a recently graduated out-of-towner who works as a pilot. He persuades her to lie to her parents so they can go to some juke joint (cue another singer). In the heat of the moment in his huge convertible, Joan falls for his slick talk about how people like us recognize each other. The act is implied via fade-out and fade-in.
In his commentary, historian Eric Schaefer describes the event as a kind of date rape, but Joan is shown impulsively making a decision, exclaiming “Yes”, kissing Jack and throwing her arms around him before the fade-out. Nevertheless, she immediately regrets it, and we shouldn’t be surprised. We may surmise it was painful and unsatisfying and not as she’d imagined, on top of which social guilt now kicks in. I think Horn provides some subtlety and depth in her screenplay, when we look for it. One of the best lines comes from Joan’s best pal, who flings in Jack’s face: “One date with you and they run away from you. What kind of a guy are you anyway?”
Joan spends the night crying and pacing. Instead of dropping her now that he’s gotten what he wanted, Jack says he regrets what’s happened and promises it won’t happen again and that he’s still serious about her. He might be, for he writes every day when his dad sends him away on pilot business, and suddenly he’s killed just as Joan figures out that a month has gone by without her menstrual period. It does happen in real life that a single encounter may result in pregnancy, but it’s an iron law in films.
The rest of the story focuses on Joan’s emotional suffering, which can be interpreted as karmic punishment for breaking society’s rules, even though the teacher keeps underlining the point that the parents should be blamed rather than the teens. It becomes a minor point in a screenplay directed at Joan, but Jack too has received his punishment, not only for “ruining” Joan but for being enough of a weasel never to introduce himself to her parents as a serious prospect.
A close relative to the plot of Mom and Dad is Ida Lupino’s Not Wanted (1948). The two films would make an illuminating double feature. Both stories feature an overbearing mother and an easy-going father who mostly ignores his wife, and both locate the sexual moment between a more experienced man (whose word definitely can’t be trusted in Lupino’s film) and a virgin young woman. A crucial difference is that while the sex act turned out to be an unpleasant experience for Joan and didn’t repay her sense of shame, Lupino’s heroine found her desires for her swain increasing and never became disillusioned until he brushed her off.
Mom and Dad generates tension mostly from Joan’s fear of her officious mother. Her mother is shown to be an “old-fashioned” busybody whose women’s club is forever railing against scandalous behavior and getting a popular high school teacher (Hardie Albright) fired for daring to answer students’ questions about love, sex and venereal disease.
All the men, even the lothario, come across as level-headed guys, and that includes dad (George Eldredge) and a gosh-swell big brother (Jimmy Clark), who hangs out with the rest of the kids at the malt shop while talking football. He could be easily cast as Archie Andrews from the comics, although he’s too twig-like for today’s incarnation. Oddly, he calls his sister “Butch”.
If the film proclaims itself solidly on the side of “innocent young girls” in “this fast-moving world” and all the be-sweatered bobby-soxers at the malt shop, their uptight moms tend to be blamed for thinking “ignorance is a guarantee of virtue”. The long opening “square-up” lecture, which is common to this self-justifying genre, calls the picture “A Vital Educational Production Appealing to All TRUE-AMERICANS!” and throws out bromides like “Ignorance is a sin — Knowledge is power” and “In this modern world youth is entitled to a knowledge of Hygiene — a complete understanding of the Facts of Life.”
Mom and Dad (1945) (poster excerpt)
And there it is: “Hygiene” as code for “sex”, allied with the “modern”. And you, Dear Viewer (the film implies), are doing the right and modern thing by attending this screening and buying our books (also written by Horn). At just over the halfway point, when Joan’s being “in trouble” (nobody says “pregnant”) is finally out of the bag and mom is scolded for thinking more about her social position than the welfare of her daughter, the film interrupts its drama for an intermission in which these books are sold.
When the film resumes, Joan is packed off while the story indulges a protracted “meta” moment in which the restored progressive teacher shows the class films (from the same production company as this feature) about pregnancy. The birth footage is somewhat explicit, and the part on Caesarean sections very much so. These films are shown to the girls only, and then comes the boys’ screening of repulsively explicit films about VD. You see, boys and girls, genitals can be shown in a movie as long as they’re deformed, cankerous, and horrifying, nothing anyone would want anything to do with; that’s the not-so-subliminal message.
These films within the film, with their borrowed medical footage, were what sold the tickets and elevated the movie from routine melodrama to theatrical event. While the medical footage has documentary validity, it’s also obvious that the VD film is designed to “scare the viewer straight”, as it were, and that all the hygiene lectures are delivering a cinematic novelty for an enthralled audience unused to seeing such things.
Even the birth footage, with its narrator extolling the splendid wonders of modern medical science and well-trained doctors, is enough to make many women want to never get pregnant. As remarked by Schaefer, author of Bold! Daring! Shocking! True! A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959 (Duke University Press, 1999), this movie and others like it straddle a line between being progressive while reinforcing conservative views. They knock the “self-styled moralists” while crusading in favor of “clean” and “morally pure” living in which one’s energies are expended by tennis and pole-vaulting.
Aesthetically, it’s curious and mildly disorienting for the movie to flip back and forth from the films within the film to wide shots of the classroom and the backs of teenaged heads, as though the film’s audience is sitting behind them in a theatre containing their theatre.
In this fast-moving modern world, today’s viewer may smile at all this hyperventilation, but consider that these were genuinely controversial issues and to some degree remain so. If the drama presents reductive images of victimization and nobility — though Joan accepts her agency in the decision before virtually disappearing from the picture — the movie’s basic ideas about education and the sexual impulse aren’t hogwash.
Mom and Dad (1945) (poster excerpt)
As part of the exploitation ballyhoo, the film presents itself as striking a blow for truth and health against censorship and narrow fuddy-duddies, and yet the “controversy” was often fabricated by Babb via phony letters of protest to local papers and similar stunts on the one hand while he also recruited local endorsements with the other hand. However, as Schaefer points out, genuine controversy and court cases did occur, with Babb usually winning. Incredibly, Olympic hero Jesse Owens was even recruited to appear at screenings in all-black theatres. A film about the making and selling of this movie should be of even greater fascination than the movie.
William Beaudine was an astoundingly prolific B director hired to do a job on a tight budget, and the results are aesthetically unprepossessing but professional. We can’t decide if it’s a Freudian joke when Joan and later her brother grip one of her highly suggestive bedposts during moments of truth. One enlightening gaffe occurs in an ambitious shot where the camera dollies forward and then backward as the brother discovers Joan in the bathroom, and the camera can be glimpsed briefly in the mirror. Details like this can be spotted in this surprisingly clear version cobbled from multiple prints. The movie’s never going to look “shot yesterday” but this Academy Film Archive restoration is remarkable.
As we’ve mentioned, the real auteur is Babb, an indie producer whose most profitable film was this one. Schaefer’s figure is that it grossed at least $16 million, while book sales were at least another $7 million. According to David F. Friedman’s A Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash-Film King (Prometheus Books, 1990), Babb met writer Horn after, as a critic, she trashed and deplored his earlier Child Bride (1943). Something clearly sparked between them, because Mom and Dad launched a personal and professional relationship that lasted until his death 40 years later.
This generous package is rounded out with five more short “sex hygiene” lecture-films, more than anybody can sit through with equilibrium. One of them, The Wrong Rut, has also been included on Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray of Not Wanted because it recycles footage from that film. We also get various filmed pitches for hygiene books, one of them in color from the ’60s. All of this makes clear what a sturdy exploitation formula this was.
The most fascinating and professional of the extras is one never made for commercial exhibition: John Ford’s Sex Hygiene (1942), a VD film made during his stint with the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps in order to scare male soldiers away from contact with local women who, the film says, probably have the clap. Yes, no less than John Ford made such a film, and on public tax dollars, and in one of those only-in-Hollywood coincidences, his older brother Francis Ford appears as the country doctor in Mom and Dad.
Reefer Madness (1936) Director: Louis J. Gasnier – and – Sex Madness (1938) Director: Joseph Seiden
This double-feature opens with probably the most famous exploitation film, originally hawked as Tell Your Children and achieving fame in ’70s midnight shows and ’80s video as Reefer Madness.
This anti-marijuana melodrama opens with one of the exploitation genre’s typical “square-up” prologues asserting the film’s importance in combating ignorance while proceeding to spread its own catalogue of wild misinformation. We’re informed that “marihuana” (sic) is “a violent narcotic — an unspeakable scourge — The Real Public Enemy Number One!” This is a reference to contemporary gangster movies.
Reefer Madness (1936) Poster excerpt (IMDB)
“Its first effect is sudden, violent, uncontrollable laughter, then come dangerous hallucinations — space expands — time slows down, almost stands still…fixed ideas come next, conjuring up monstrous extravagances” …more in this vein, yadda yadda… “leading finally to acts of shocking violence, ending often in incurable insanity.” So the effects aren’t far removed from what other films, like the co-feature Sex Madness, tell us of the final stage of syphilis. It’s true that sudden, violent, uncontrollable laughter is a symptom known to affect audiences of this film, who may indeed have been indulging in some substance.
The drama opens with a concerned teacher lecturing a group of parents who represent the film’s intended audience: older people concerned about the behavior of kids today. His presentation leads to somewhat haphazardly assembled anecdotes and flashbacks in which alleged teenage “kids” jitterbugging to jazz at the malt shop are preyed upon by dope peddlers who never seem to take any money while distributing reefers like candy.
The first addict brought to the viewer’s attention is the wild-haired, wild-eyed jazz pianist known as Hot Fingers (Ted Wraye), thus cementing the association of marijuana with jazz. When we consider Cab Calloway’s performance of “Reefer Man” in Edward Sutherland’s International House (1933), this doesn’t feel entirely unreasonable.
Rather than catalog the story’s absurdities, we’ll note how close its vision of innocent, clean-cut kids who get swept up in city slickery resembles the context of Mom and Dad ten years later. We again have an innocent sister (Dorothy Short) and brother (Warren McCollum) among the characters. Much more terrible things happen to them than pregnancy, and yet the film keeps underlining that one of the deadly weed’s most dangerous threats is the inclination to uninhibited sex, which is another way of saying the removal of social barriers to the id.
This film and its many look-alikes are obsessed with sending their characters to house parties where license reigns, and where the hostess is perhaps some kind of prostitute. The fact that everybody drinks and smokes tobacco is taken for granted without too much eyebrow-raising, but reefer breaks the camel’s back by causing people to burst into shrieks of hilarity and seclude themselves in a bedroom or sprawl licentiously on a couch, necking and canoodling and making out something fierce in ways that definitely didn’t prevail in the studio pictures.
The bonus trailers for several other drug exploitation films confirm the recurring trope. Dwain Esper’s Marihuana (1936) goes even farther, showing topless stripping by giggling girls and even full-frontal skinny-dipping — yes, it’s in the trailer.
Similar things happen without getting high in Sex Madness, a much more amateurishly thrown-together picture that seems at times almost a random collection of scenes and stock footage from who knows where. This print, preserved by the Library of Congress, doesn’t even have credits, although the package lists the director as Joseph Seiden. IMDB and Wikipedia claim Esper as the director, but that seems less likely as it doesn’t achieve his gonzo dementia, and if Kino thought he had anything to do with it, they’d trumpet the notion.
To the extent that Sex Madness keeps its eye on a central narrative, it involves a small-town heroine (Vivian McGill) who won a beauty contest and came to New York in search of fame and fortune. She found a job in a burlesque chorus and caught a case of syphilis, which requires a two-year treatment. “I was an unclean thing!” she wails to her kindly doctor. Unfortunately, she’s deceived by a country quack into marrying her boyfriend too soon, and the result is tragedy for all.
Along the way, we get medical footage of people with sores, rashes and hideous deformities while a doctor lectures about it. At one point, the doc takes our heroine on a tour of his ward and shows off patients like exhibits in a zoo, and another whirl of documentary footage springs forth magically when the characters open a medical book. Maybe they’ve been ingesting something.
The most interesting and provocative part of the film is the opening reel, in which a flagrantly lesbian secretary with shoulder pads and Cleopatra hair gets all handsy with a colleague when they attend a burlesque show. Alas, we never again see this pair who seem to be starring in a more stimulating movie. Among others provoked by the lewd display is a man whose facial gestures forecast those of the wolf in the later Tex Avery cartoons, and he’s so worked up that he goes out and, according to a headline, promptly commits a sex murder on a child in a scene that feels inspired at a dismal remove by Fritz Lang’s M (1931).
The ragged style of Sex Madness can make you yearn for the professional aesthetics of the director of Reefer Madness, Louis J. Gasnier, whose many years of legitimate Hollywood service included the pioneering 1914 serials The Perils of Pauline and The Exploits of Elaine. Needless to say, his career had declined, yet enough competence remained that, even under a very tight budget and shooting schedule, he could keep up the pace in Reefer Madness while throwing in a few visual flourishes, like one character’s subjective montage of hallucinatory dissolves at the story’s surprising turning point.
The performers in Reefer Madness aren’t that bad either, even when way over the top. Honors are taken by Dave O’Brien as the chief jittery gibbering addict who blows his mind. Nobody can deny that he throws himself into the role memorably. In real life, he was married to Dorothy Short, who plays the ill-fated heroine. They went on to better things, for example co-starring in the 1942 serial Captain Midnight. O’Brien won an Emmy as a writer on The Red Skelton Show, so there was life after Reefer Madness.
As on Mom and Dad, Eric Schaefer shows up for commentary on Reefer Madness, focusing on its role in social history at both ends of the marijuana arc. He explains why this film and a few others were made in a period of developing hysteria, fueled by economic and racial perceptions, that resulted in a 1937 federal anti-marijuana law, and how the film’s rediscovery decades later was largely due to activists pushing to repeal such laws.
The widespread circulation of this film as a “camp classic”, Schaefer says, has played a part in persuading people that those laws were passed in a context of hysteria and false information, as abundantly demonstrated on screen. Therefore, the film may after all be performing a public service of the type it once pretended to, albeit in the opposite direction. There’s a howdy-do.
Unashamed: A Romance (1938) Director: Allen Stuart – and – Elysia (1933) Director: Carl Harbaugh
While mainstream Hollywood avoided nudity, exploitation producers took advantage of trends in nudism and “physical culture” to offer fact-finding exposés (as it were) for adult audiences, when local laws allowed. What’s surprising is how good these two examples are and how well they play today in excellent Library of Congress prints.
Unashamed: A Romance is an eye-opening minor classic directed and shot at Olympic Fields nudist camp, near California’s Lake Elsinore, in professional contemporary film language that doesn’t betray any special budgetary limitations. In other words, it’s not a series of four-square scenes where the camera hardly moves and little editing is required.
The early indoor scenes have a cramped ambiance in sharp contrast to the outdoors scenes, which are mostly shot silent and post-dubbed. This must have given the filmmakers flexibility, and it’s why the movie breathes when it gets to the camp that dominates the running time. The film is often lovely to behold, and the story is surprisingly gripping for what would seem a mere idyllic excuse to look at naked people.
Is it too much to draw a connection between the name Olympic Fields and the 1936 Olympics, as documented in Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1936)? No, because everyone in 1938 would connect the word “Olympic” with the recent events, and some of Riefenstahl’s Soviet-derived compositions in ecstatic celebration of the human body are echoed by deliberate choices in this film, with its diagonal compositions and upward angles.
In her excellent commentary, historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas makes the same connection and briefly sketches the paradoxical relations between the German naturist movement and the annexation or perversion of some of its ideals, which led some German naturists to flee to America and start a brand of naturism whose flourishing led to the topicality of films like this. And while on the subject, please remember that Hitler’s showpiece Olympics and Riefenstahl’s film were stolen by Jesse Owens, who would later show up at screenings of Mom and Dad. It all goes round.
Unashamed stars Rae Kidd as Rae Lane, a secretary in love with her hypochondriac boss, Robert (Robert Lawton). To what must be the eternal surprise of modern viewers, the actress appears to be a light-skinned African-American, although one gossipy woman says “She looks like an Indian or something.” Another gossip opines (absurdly) that her face won’t win any beauty prizes, and they presume this is why Robert doesn’t notice her.
The paradoxical dialogue crosses the street to assert Rae’s legal whiteness before twisting back to disavow it as a pragmatic fact, so the film immediately plays with the difference between reality and surface. A doctor avers that Rae’s parents were Caucasian and probably their parents and grandparents too, but she has “a darker cast” and he talks about East and West not meeting. So society works overtime to position Rae in the trope of the “tragic mulatto” or mulata. It makes no sense, but then it never does, which is why it’s disturbingly credible as a plot device.
Asking if she isn’t entitled to happiness, Rae persuades this doctor to convince Robert to relax at a nudist colony. So Robert drives through a liminal highway wilderness from society’s outside space, defined by so many interiors, to the space inside the heavily locked gates where everyone spends most of their time outdoors. There’s a gatekeeper, as at Heaven or perhaps Eden. Before taking off his clothes, Robert sizes himself up in a mirror, and Rae too has mirror scenes. Self-consciousness is a stage to be shed, but we can also return to it.
Robert discovers that Rae is a member of the camp, and as they spend time together in the film’s idyllic central act, the plot seems like a retelling of the old joke about the boss who realizes his secretary is beautiful without her glasses. Then, in another surprising gesture, the story introduces a woman (Lucille Shearer) fleeing from society and publicity after a divorce scandal. As Robert becomes attracted to her, the story makes the point that throwing off one’s clothes won’t always count as throwing off one’s problems.
A curious and entirely accidental detail of this other woman is that she’s nicknamed Pinky because she’s a “pink pill heiress”, and Pinky would be the title of the 1949 Elia Kazan film about passing for white. This would be a trivial coincidence but for the point, and I may be way off-base in tossing this out when there seems no way to verify it, that this actress doesn’t seem all that rigidly Caucasian either, and yet that’s never a plot point for her character.
I don’t wish to give away the ending, which has an impact beyond anything we’d have reason to expect, but Rae becomes an almost mythic goddess figure capable of summoning the elements in pathetic fallacy mode to reflect her moods, from sunny joy to stormy anguish. The story’s change in tone and direction is both surprising and, in retrospect, carefully modulated.
While this is all fascinating and strangely modern, the film exists to titillate the audience with scenes heavily populated by unclothed men and women who, for the most part, are young and attractive. They also have the curious habit of standing with their backs to the camera or are otherwise discreetly poised to conceal lower frontal nudity. We can imagine audiences flicking their eyes across the screen in a state of agitation, hoping for glimpses of something the film will never provide, for the nudity is strictly “T & A” material.
All the members are exercise-happy, and scenes go by with volleyball (they throw volleyballs obsessively), golf, tennis, archery, swimming, and other outdoorsy frolics. One good joke is an art class in which the nude students paint while two overdressed models pose — get it? Not a single person is seen kissing or being romantic until Robert gets in a clinch with the newbie, because nudist films stressed the strategic point that mere healthy nudity has nothing to do with sex, so get your minds out of the gutter.
Another nudist who takes up a lot of screen time is a ventriloquist (Rosslyn J. Cowen) and his grotesquely “nude” dummy of boxy wooden framework. In the most surreal moment, the dummy leads the group in an original song, “Back to Nature”, and our final glimpse of the dummy is truly uncanny. By this point in the film, both comedy and drama have turned disturbing, as signaled by a late sing-along in a more mournful tone.
This is the only film produced by Cine-Grand Films Inc. and constitutes the sole IMDB credit for director Allen Stuart and photographer George Sergeant, who both do a fine job. Are they pseudonyms for other Hollywood professionals? Information on this film is only slightly less skimpy than the costume budget, but IMDB and Wikipedia state that Rae Kidd was married to the ventriloquist, that she died at age 44, and that she claimed to be descended from Captain Kidd the pirate. We want to know more.
Elysia (Valley of the Nude) (1933) Spanish poster (IMDB)
At 45 minutes, Elysia is shorter, older, and eventually nuder, since it finally permits some distant or fleeting glimpses of the full body. Again, it’s shot at a real camp, Elysian Fields, and the virtually non-existent and conflict-free “story” simply follows a skittish newspaper reporter (James Mack) who’s sent by his editor (prolific producer Bryan Foy, who produced this film) to “cover” the nudism trend.
After stripping and realizing that he quickly forgets being nude, the journalist spends the whole movie being led around the camp and given lectures while watching everyone play baseball, stage foot races, practice leap-frog, throw buckets of water on each other, and, yes, play volleyball. He’s particularly attracted to one long-haired statuesque blonde (Constance Allen) who radiates health and happiness in this bubbly vacation-like movie.
Again, virtually everyone is young and good-looking and they’re all occupied with innocent physical exercise until the lead couple chase each other around a mighty tree like Adam and Eve and rush through fields of foregrounded flora like in Gustav Machaty’s Ecstasy (1933), the most famous film of this period with nude scenes.
It all adds up to a great recruitment film and could make many a viewer want to head for the nearest camp of sun-worshippers. As Schaefer and others have noted, and as Heller-Nicholas points out, it’s in the “nature” of nudist films to invert the inherent conservatism of exploitation films, with their punishments and condemnations, in favor of extolling an alternative to the audience’s standard uptight values. Nudists are presented as rebels and outcasts who reject the status quo, and they’re celebrated for it — although Unashamed boldly complicates that formula.
Both features on this Blu-ray keep throwing out bits of philosophy, especially Elysia. Camp director Hobart Glassey, as himself, gives a speech in which he declares that humans naturally wish to be unencumbered since birth, and that all sorts of neuroses and ills in society come from absorbing bad ideas about the body and sex.
The early scenes had shown “mondo” footage from “primitive societies” all over the world, over which the speaker (an uncredited “Dr. King”) opines that the white race would naturally be at the top if only its superior intellect could be joined with the healthful sun-loving practices of uncivilized races. Yes, he actually says this, and if it’s the most jarring note for today’s viewers, it reminds us again of the ways that “physical culture” was being annexed for its own eugenic purposes by the Nazis at this time — not that we’re trying to bring anybody down on the idea of getting naked. Truly, we believe very few films wouldn’t be improved by gratuitous nudity.
Carl Harbaugh was primarily an actor who was also active as a writer and director in the silent era. His direction here is as good as William Sullivan’s photography. Since this is Sullivan’s only credit, we must wonder once again if someone is working under a pseudonym, because there’s no good reason for such an excellent cameraman to have no further professional credits.
On the commentary track for Unashamed, Heller-Nicholas quotes from the film’s pressbook, points out a historical connection between Elysian Fields and Olympic Fields, and discusses both Schaefer’s book and Robert M. Payne’s critical analysis in Film Quarterly (Vol. 54, No. 2) called “Beyond the Pale: Nudism, Race and Resistance in The Unashamed.” (Sources sometimes call the film The Unashamed although the onscreen title is Unashamed: A Romance.)
Three anonymously-directed bonus shorts are included. Why Nudism: An Exposé of Nudism (1933) follows a comical story of a milquetoast and his wife going to a nudist camp. The ragged nudism footage is clumsily inserted from other sources, and the sound is badly deteriorated. Curiously, much of that same footage can be seen in much better shape when recycled in Nudist-Land (1937), a simple newsreel that for some reason spends half its time in Hawaii showing dancers at a luau.
In amazingly great shape, Hollywood Script Girl (1938) is a five-minute silent anecdote in which the mousy bespectacled brunette gets a quick makeover and puts all the Jean Harlow-esque topless blondes around her to shame as she now stands proudly at the top of the pyramidal set, displaying herself as goddess-queen for the frantic director. So it’s an allegory of self-actualization.