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Unashamed: A Romance / Elysia
The third entry in Kino Lorber's Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age Of The Exploitation Picture, which is done in conjunction with the Library Of Congress and Something Weird Video, is a double feature disc containing two vintage nudist films: 1938's Unashamed: A Romance and 1933's Elysia (Valley Of The Nude). How much nudism can you take? Read on to find out…
Unashamed: A Romance:
Directed by Allen Stewart in 1938, the first film, which runs sixty-six-minutes, the film tells the story of Rae Lane (Rae Kidd). She is a beautiful woman of mixed-race, but she doesn't really seem to know she's beautiful. She's got a big crush on her employer, Robert Lawton (Robert Stanley) and she talks him into joining her on a trip to a nudist camp. He obliges and once they arrive, we're treated to the typical nudist camp footage where we see people engaging in sports, socializing and just sort of hanging around. There's some comedy here when a football accidently hits a woman in the rump!
Rae's plan goes quite well at first, everyone seems to be having a good time, but all of this changes when pretty blonde Barbara Pound (Lucille Shearer) shows up and catches Robert's eye… and if that weren't enough there's a random scene just over half way through the movie where a nude ventriloquist and his dummy, Woody McGillicuddy, show up and do a routine (this is utterly bizarre)! They show up throughout the film and at one point lead a singalong with their fellow nudists. When Rae invites Robert to celebrate her birthday with her in her trailer and he agrees, only to stand her up so that he can hang out with Barbara, she realizes the hopes of her romance with Robert blossoming have been dashed once and for all…
The film is an interesting one, it does have more of a plot than most other nudist films and it does deal with the issue of race at a time when it was uncommon for films like this to do so. Rae is a stunning beauty by anyone's standards, but when oh so blonde and oh so Aryan Barbara shows up Robert pushes her aside. It's debatable if the film was intentionally making a statement on race but even if it did so accidently, the statement is there: Rae is made for feel inferior because her skin color is different. You don't expect social commentary of this sort from a nudist film, yet here it is, and that makes this one stand out from the pack in a big way.
It's also worth noting how the nudists are framed in the film. There's very little genitalia or pubic hair on display here, the nearly constant nudity instead delegated to topless shots and posteriors. More often than not, the nudes, the women in particular, are actually quite artfully framed. The compositions are quite nice and do a legitimately good job of showing off how aesthetically pleasing the human body can be.
Most of the performances are okay and not much more than okay, but Rae Kidd (who the IMDB says claimed to be a descendent of Captain Kidd!), definitely stands out. The fact that she's gorgeous doesn't hurt but in addition to that, she handles the dramatic aspects of her role very well. She doesn't have tons of dialogue here, but she delivers what she has quite effectively. More impressive is the physical acting that she does, particularly in the final part of the film where her heart has been really and truly broken.
Elysia (Valley Of The Nude):
This forty-five-minute picture from 1933 was, if the opening text scrawl is to be believed, shot on location at Elysian Fields, the largest nudist camp in all of California. More text lets us know that the purpose of the film is to show the health benefits of being naked under the sun!
From there, we head to the office of a newspaper editor at the International News Bureau who hands his reporter a copy of ‘Nudist' Magazine and asks him what he makes of it. This reporter, James Mack, is sent out into the wild to find a nudist camp and right an article about it. First, he visits a Doctor King to interview him about his thoughts on nudism. King talks to Mack about the ancient Greeks' penchant for getting the right amount of natural sunlight, how the Romans followed suit and how ‘modern day' nudists are simply doing what people have been doing for ages. From here, the doctor shows Mack a few films to better explain the phenomena. We learn about nudism in Africa where we learn about ‘savage and semi-civilized races' (this movie is definitely a product of its time) and how they do such a good job of keeping their minds and bodies well-balanced. We then learn about the importance of taking naked sea baths and how Benjamin Franklin was a nudist.
At the end of the talk, Mack asks the doctor to take him to a nudist camp, but he's too busy to oblige so he has his foxy assistant, Ms. Kent (Constance Allen), take him to Elysian Fields instead. She does, offering little bits of trivia about the place on their way there, happy to drive him way up into the mountains of California only seventy some odd miles away from Hollywood. They arrive and Mack signs an agreement not to harass anyone, and from there, he's let into the camp, at which point we're treated to an introductory campfire scene where the camp leader explains the philosophy behind nudism and further explains its merits. From there, Mack gets nervous about going nude until Dr. King shows up and they undress together! Eventually everyone is naked and having a good time sunbathing, playing, working on their cars, playing on a swing, sawing logs, playing with dogs and enjoying breakfast. After the meal, King talks to Mack about the nudist lifestyle as we see people playing leapfrog, throwing horseshoes, reading, playing baseball, boxing and playing the accordion! And all the while, Mack keeps asking… "Where's Miss Kent?"
The fact that the unidentified actor who plays Doctor King is a dead ringer for Michael Bloomberg is a bit distracting but otherwise this is a perfectly enjoyable little movie that goes a long way towards making the case for the nudist lifestyle. There's nothing impure here at all, it never feels ‘dirty' or anything of the sort. The film's age does show when discussing other cultures, but otherwise this is a remarkably wholesome film. It lacks the drama and social commentary of the first feature but makes up for it with… nude accordion playing? The direction is fine, not as artsy or interesting as the other picture but more than adequate and the scenes that are purported to be real scenes of nudists at the camp doing their thing definitely do come across as such.
Both films are framed at 1.33.1 and presented on a 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Unashamed shows pretty regular print damage throughout, though the image is at least stable. Contrast looks pretty decent and detail is good given the nature of the elements used for the film. Black levels are fine, and the image is free of noticeable compression, edge enhancement or noise reduction problems save or a weird stretch that lasts a few minutes about 2/3 of the way through where you can see some visible macroblocking.
The English language 16-bit LPCM Mono tracks are on par, quality wise, with the video. There are no alternate language or subtitle options provided. There's some distortion during the thunderstorm sequence towards the end of the first film and constant moderate hiss noticeable for the duration of the second. That said, dialogue stays clean and clear and easy enough to follow in both pictures. The levels are properly balanced throughout each film, and while there are some audible defects here and there, if these don't sound amazing they sound just fine given the age and obscurity of the pictures presented.
Extras start with an audio commentary from film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholos for The Unashamed. Here she speaks about the film's reputation as a ‘top-shelf' nudist film of the era because it integrates the nudity into the narrative. She discusses the original press kit/press release that was sent out to theaters, the film's roadshow distribution, the differences between nudist films and the burlesque films that followed, the boom in nudist films that occurred in the 1930's, the difference that the Hayes Production Code took films like this to the roadshow circuit, how and why the films were often portrayed as encouraging a healthy alternative lifestyle and how the Olympic Fields nudist camp featured in the picture was a real nudist camp in California. She also does her best to talk up the cast and crew involved in the picture, the history of the screenplay and the man who wrote it, the significance of the title of the film itself, how it was unusual for a film like this to feature a mixed-race character and how she is portrayed in this picture, the film's connection to Nazi's and quite a bit more.
The disc also includes three shorts, the first of which is Hollywood Script Girl, a six-minute silent quickie from 1938 that shows a director on set as a film is made about a man painting a trio of naked women. The director calls cut, brings the script girl over, and sends her out to find the missing Gloria Golden. She sets out to do just that but when she can't find her, some of the models decide to transform her from a frumpy little thing into a bombshell to fool that grumpy director!
Nudist Land, an eleven-minute short made in 1937, is a quick documentary that tells us of the merits of nudism. The print is choppy and some of the opening narration is missing but what's here is good stuff. We learn why the modern nudist movement is so popular and about its benefits as we watch a lovely young lady shower and we watch a chubby old guy eat some spareribs. There's not much story here, it's just the narrator spouting off random ‘facts' about the nudism movement overtop of footage of nude people playing cards, lounging in hammocks, and generally just goofing around but it's a fun and genuinely charming document, strangely wholesome in its way, and you've got to love the ‘voyage' we take to visit Hawaiian nudists (who actually leave their lower portions covered).
The third short, Why Nudism: An Expose Of Nudism, is a twenty-two-minute piece from 1933. This one is in rough shape. Though it was scanned from an original 35mm print, the condition of said print was not great and as such, the soundtrack is obscured and distorted for most of the film. Regardless, this United Roadshow Attractions picture tells the story of a man who isn't feeling well and whose doctor prescribes him ‘plenty of sunshine.' Before you know it, he and his wife are off to the nudist camp, reluctantly at first, but as you'd gather, eventually they grow to be comfortable there and enjoy their new lifestyle. Lots of corny comedy here, the husband gets so nervous before going to the camp that he tries to jump out a window, and the guy who plays the doctor is a kick, literally pounding his chest to show how healthy he is since indulging a bit himself. Once at the camp, much of the nudist footage that we see is the same footage we saw in Nudist Land! There's also some nude wrestling footage in here too.
Menus and chapter selection are also provided. The disc is accompanied by a double-sided insert card containing a short essay entitled Forbidden Fruit: An Introduction wherein Something Weird Video's Lisa Petrucci writes about how SWV came to acquire these vintage exploitation films.
Kino's Blu-ray release of Unashamed: A Romance and Elysium presents a remarkably atypical nudist film alongside a more traditional entry in the genre from elements that are more than watchable but less than perfect. The extras here are solid as well and for anyone interest in early exploitation pictures or nudist films more specifically will get a kick out of this. Recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.