3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt is a movie drenched in fascinating Hollywood trivia but fairly excruciating to sit through. Comic and actor Tommy Noonan followed the Russ Meyer 'nudie' trend in the early 60s by finding backers for a pair of peek-a-boo exploitation shows. Each was a 'tease' picture with minimal nudity. Noonan directed as well as played the lead, extending his 'harmless boob' persona, basically the same character he played in Howard Hawks' 1953 comedy Gentleman Prefer Blondes opposite Marilyn Monroe. Promises, Promises paired him with Jayne Mansfield and gained a great deal of publicity through feature layouts in Playboy Magazine, which pretended that the film represented a new trend in screen sophistication.
The follow-up 3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt has Noonan playing himself opposite the third "M" sex symbol, Mamie Van Doren, here given the subtle character name Saxie Symbol. Written as a bad burlesque takeoff on The Three Faces of Eve and populated by Noonan's late-night entertainer friends, the movie seems to have been conceived as a nudity-free straight farce. My guess is that when it turned out horrible, Noonan and Van Doren sexed it up with color inserts. The result can be fairly described as "dreadful" -- and perfect bait for lonely guys trawling the film ads for something to see. 1
Working from an unpromising idea, Noonan and his co-writer Ian McGlashan make 78 minutes seem like forever. That the film is poorly directed means little when the jokes are so unfunny, and the best Noonan can do to compensate is to concentrate on Ms. Van Doren's perplexing exhibitionist act. The basic B&W story is interrupted with color inserts: Mamie sings (after a fashion) a song while stripping, and tells her troubles to Tommy in a hot-cha episode cavorting in a spa bathtub. Obviously self-conscious, she keeps looking at the camera and flashing a pixie smile to mask her feelings. There are only about ten seconds of nudity in the film and none of it is particularly sexy, as Saxie Symbol's overdone personality is hard to take, clothed or un-. There is barely any human contact in the picture. The rules with 'nudie films' were probably the same that applied to 'adult entertainment' on the nightclub circuit: Nudity could dodge the vice squad only if it were free of any overt sexual context.
The independently produced film simply needed more writing and directing talent to come off. Mamie Van Doren is the weak link amid a crowd of troupers giving it the college try. Paul Gilbert and John Cronin wear out their welcome as the housemates while Ziva Rodann is functional as the duped psychiatrist. Rodann appears in a color insert as well, in cheesecake poses to represent Tommy's sexual fantasy. Among the drinking pals (everybody drinks in this picture) are Alvy Moore, Howard Koch (presumably not the famous writer, although the IMDB says so) and game old Marjorie Bennett, who figures in a bar-holdup scene that plays as if it were tacked on to pad the picture out to a minimum length. Weird female impersonator T.C. Jones is Rodann's mincing male receptionist. Anthony Eisley appears in a 'star' cameo.
Savant places 3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt in that netherworld of borderline 'adults only' filmmaking that hovered around people like Albert Zugsmith and titles like Sex Kitten Go to College, The Private Lives of Adam and Eve and Macumba Love. Van Doren and Rodann moved in those circles along with pin-up woo-bait like June Wilkinson. Cameraman Fouad Said's varied career started with English language versions of foreign films (I Vampiri). Like several other technical people from these Tommy Noonan pix, he moved into TV series work, evidently clicking with star Robert Culp on I Spy. Said eventually produced Hickey and Boggs and some other films before expanding into equipment rental -- and became most famous for outfitting a fleet of custom-designed location camera trucks.
VCI's DVD of 3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt is a good transfer of an okay print (scratches and dirt at reel changes) given an acceptable encoding. VCI's menus are nicely designed but on large screens end up looking low-res. The non-enhanced B&W scenes are sharp and well defined. The color sequences are softer, with the image slightly faded. Van Doren's reddish beer-bath scene makes whatever she's sitting in look horrible, like stale lemonade -- all except the very last shot, which pops out in perfect color.
Starting off the extras is an extremely long new interview with Mamie Van Doren that's badly in need of trimming; she explains the origin of her name at least three or four times. A stills gallery shows every nude that could be found from behind the scenes. An actor bio for Tommy Noonan explains a wild set of show-biz relationships: His brother John Ireland married Joanne Dru, and her brother Peter Marshall (later of The Hollywood Squares) became Tommy's stand-up comedy partner, appearing with him as a team in movies and on the Ed Sullivan Show. That history plus an impressive acting career opposite Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland (A Star is Born) make Noonan much more than the wanna-be that this abortive directing effort might indicate.
A pair of trailers is listed as "hot" and "cold" even though both have nudity. Actually, the longer version of the trailer gives "lonely guys" most every bit of salacious material in the picture, including a couple of off-color moments with Mamie that I don't remember seeing in the movie itself.
According to the Amazon Website, 3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt is an Amazon.com exclusive.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt rates:
1. Savant remembers the film hitting San Bernardino in 1966 or so with big ads in the paper. It played at a seedy side-street theater that usually didn't advertise in the Sun-Telegram; I only remember passing it once or twice in ten years. Two friends next door who were 16 or 17 simply told their mother they wanted to see it and went; I knew it was definitely off limits to me. I was afraid anyone might think I was interested but was quick to plague my friends with questions when they got back. The two of them were thoroughly ashamed of themselves, but for a reason they hadn't expected: The picture was a complete rip-off; they had been bored out of their skulls. They were particularly shocked to find out that it was in color ... for only five minutes out of 75! Things for curious teenaged boys improved just a couple of years later when intelligent sexy films appeared, like Michael Powell's Age of Consent.