A vintage nudie-cutie that's more "cutie" than "nudie," unfortunately. Independent International Films has apparently recovered and restored the previously "lost" exploitation film (was anyone really looking for it?) Babes in the Woods, starring...I guess she's the only "name" here: Vicki Miles (a.k.a.: Allison Louise Downe, the then-wife of Herschel Gordon Lewis, and the screenwriter of his classic, Blood Feast). A few off-kilter, button-down jokes from this 1962 effort are a bit of a surprise here, but there's also a lot of filler inbetween the chaste nudity, so nudie-cutie buyers, beware.
High above in heaven, the soul of J. Wellington Figby (I believe it's the voice of Gordon Lewis alumni, William Kerwin) sardonically narrates the adventures of his widowed wife, Martha (Pat Bolin), who now runs his Figby Pine Tree Resort, in the remote wilderness. In an effort to drum up business for the faltering resort, Martha has advertised the Figby as an ideal vacation spot for businessmen and women on the go...and sure enough, three young professional women (Karen Moore, Vicki Miles, Marge London) book a cabin for the weekend. Arriving by Jeep (it's adorned with flowers and painted polka dots), the girls stop at Sam's Service station for a quick fill-up and the use of the outhouse. Sam (Karl Morton), mesmerized by the sizeable (for 1962) busts of his customers, puts too much air into their front tire and blows it out.
Knocked into a mudhole from the explosion, and taking advantage of the unplanned delay, one of the girls (the dark brunette, whom I believe is Karen Moore), heads off to the rickety, scary-looking outhouse to wash up...with Sam in surreptitious hot pursuit. As if by magic, the interior of the outhouse is transformed into a comfortable tiled bathroom, where our plucky heroine takes a long, sudsy bath. Leaving Sam to contemplate what might have been, the girls continue on to the resort, but not before they stop off at Virgin Falls for some discreet skinny dipping. Uh oh! The Jeep won't start. So the girls get naked to flag down a helpful motorist...who turns out to be prudish Martha. The girls eventually make it to the lodge, where they engage in some aerial sight-seeing (clothed), Twisting (clothed), playful hijinks in their cabin (naked), cooking breakfast and eating it (naked and naked), fishing (clothed), and the return home (clothed).
Directed by Afem A. Krovek and written by a credited Ralph Timm and "a committee of experts" (the IMDB puts Edmund Kerwin as the writer), Babes in the Woods does have an agreeably self-mocking attitude to its narration, a purposefully smarmy tone that lets us know the filmmakers were aware of the junk they were making - which no doubt the audience was well aware of, too. The "Sam's Service Station" sequence is probably the most successful one in the film because it honors the tradition of the classic American dirty joke set-up, while getting in a few topical digs at corporate America and advertising at the time. Introducing Sam in the manner of all those 16mm training documentaries so many of us actually saw during long-ago school years (when the teacher couldn't get a Disney cartoon on short notice), the narrator proudly declares that the oafish, lounging Sam is in reality, a prime example of the American go-getting businessman ("When he drops his pipe and girlie magazine...watch out!"). And a couple of the lines have a Mort Sahl/Bob Newhart kind of hipster smartass ring to them that cracked me up a few times. During Sam's ogling of the girls, out of the blue, the narrator says of the dilapidated Sam's Service business, "You know, he's been using this same mudhole for years." It's delivered in a dry, knowing manner, and had more of the jokes been that consistently funny and askew in their self-lampooning, Babes in the Woods might have been a more genuinely entertaining experience. Unfortunately, most of the jokes are either too broad in their straining to be double entendres, or, they're just plain unfunny (the narrator, pointing out the resort's backwoods road to the viewer, says, "I built that road myself, right between those two towering virgins (half-beat pause) of the forest."). Even worse, they never stop - and for a reason: the constant stream of verbal gags not only covers up the fact that the film was filmed without sound, but it also papers over long, long sections of nothing even remotely nudie happening.
I've written before about nudie-cuties, so I won't go into too much detail about them. The main thing to know is that they were the first American films to purposefully show nudity without the need of a phony educational ("the wages of sin"-type sexploitation films of the 30s and 40s) or documentary (so-called "nudist films") framework after the introduction of the Production Code (mainstream Hollywood films had some few examples of mild nudity prior to the Code). Coming out right when the Production Code was finally seeing faint but inevitable signs of failing under the increasing pressure to modernize the American screen, these nudie-cuties didn't last long ("roughies" replaced them - nudie-cuties with harder-edged themes), before exploitation films came out into the light (or rather the dark of the drive-ins and grindhouses), with even mainstream Hollywood films eventually going starkers. Watching a film like Babes in the Woods, it's virtually impossible to see how this could have been considered pornographic hot stuff at one time, but copious shots of bare breasts and bottoms (but nothing else) in these nudie-cuties was the height of erotica for the average mainstream American male in 1962 (outside of out-and-out stag films). So for historical purposes, they're valuable documents of the time.
But watching them today strictly for entertainment purposes is a far trickier proposition. Contemplating the value of Babes in the Woods specifically, outside of the jokes that largely don't work and all that filler time, the nudity is brief and uninspiring. Too many scenes do nothing to advance the nudie-cutie concept (too much time spent on unfunny Martha; and what's with that weird aerial sequence, where the narrator says Martha's going to the moon, and we never even see the girls?), with the girls engaging in several activities nonsensically fully clothed (who the hell wants to watch them Twist in their clothes, for god's sake?). The brunette, Karen Moore (again, no specific character names are given, so I'm guessing how the performers match up on screen) has an attractive figure and she looks good nude; she gets the most nude time, and her bubble bath isn't bad, as they go. But Allison Louise Downe/Vickie Miles is awkwardly and unflatteringly shot the few times she's nude, while the Olive Oyle-like Marge London isn't appealing at all (and I seriously thought I was going to be ill when they showed her "comically" trying to pose on the cabin's couch...and her feet were filthy dirty. Jee-zus that's a turn-off!). And while it's an appealing thought that three young businesswomen on a camping holiday would immediately strip-down at the drop of a hat, regardless of the innocuous situation (women do do that when they're alone together...don't they? It's okay to lie to me on that), some of the other nudie-themed activities are pretty hard to take (frying an egg nude? Hello, flying hot fat. And eating at the table...in chairs...nude? Cripes no!). When all's said and done with Babes in the Woods, filler outstrips the stripping.
The windowboxed, 1:37:1 black & white transfer for Babes in the Woods looks surprisingly good at times, especially when one considers that such a title probably wasn't ever thought of as one that would be archived for future generations. Scratches and splices still show, with contrasty shots vying for far-too-dark ones, but overall, a solid presentation considering again the source material.
The English mono audio track is adequate for the job (hiss is noticeable, though), but beware those snaps and pops when the abrupt splices hit. No subtitles, of course.
There are no extras for Babes in the Woods.
If you like nudie-cuties, you might find Babes in the Woods diverting during Karen Moore's bubble bath or her dance in front of the dresser, but other than that, it's a lot of unnecessary filler, with maybe a handful of funny jokes (and the rest fairly obvious and sniggering and labored) as meager compensation. Aficionados of this genre will want to rent first, while everyone else can safely skip.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.