Monday, July 24, 2006

It Came from Netflix! Three Nuts in Search of a Bolt (1964)

Folks familiar with my reviews might recall that I consider bad comedies to be generally unwatchable. If the definition of a ‘bad’ movie is one that fails at what’s it trying to do, the reason why becomes clear. Bad horror movies try to scare you, and fail. That’s funny. Bad dramas try to tug at your heart, and fail. That’s funny. Bad comedies try to make you laugh…and fail. That’s not funny. Probably the most widely adopted ‘bad movie’ phrase to emanate from the Web is Dr. Freex’s coinage of Odious Comic Relief. Again, monster suit with visible zipper, bad and funny. Unsuccessful stabs at comedy…. not so much.

Still, if there’s one era (at least for me) that produced bad comedies whose failings remain somewhat amusing, it’s the ‘60s. I speak in particular of the last gasp of the vaudevillian style of purported ‘wacky’, anything-goes comedy. Films like The Fat Spy and Arch Hall Jr.’s The Nasty Rabbit attempt to sell a brand of shtick that even at the time was woefully antiquated. Because of this, the sheer flop sweat freneticism of their antics can, if one is in the right mood, provide a form of entertainment, if few belly laughs.

3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt falls directly into that category. The film stars Tommy Noonan (playing a nerdy character named Tommy Noonan) as an unemployed actor in Hollywood. At the state unemployment office—the site of the film’s first really lame gags—he meets successful stripper Saxie Symbol (ha ha!), as played by Mamie Van Doren. It should be noted that while Doren doesn’t come anywhere near good here, neither does she appear to have completely given up on acting in the way she does in her final movies like Navy vs. the Night Monsters and Women of the Prehistoric Planet .

[The gag that reveals where the movie is going takes place at the unemployment office. A seated woman is being told by a supercilious caseworker that she has run out of unemployment. She asks about worker’s comp. He replies that her condition doesn’t warrant it. She stands up, and naturally proves to be heavily pregnant. “Why not?” she retorts. “It happened on the job!” What sells it, though, is the jump cut to an extreme close-up of the caseworker, who has assumed a desperately unfunny ‘Oh, no, Mr. Bill!’ expression.]

Saxie takes Peter back to her ludicrously palatial house, which she shares with two male housemates, Joe and Bruce. After several supposedly farcical scenes in which Peter thinks they want to hire him for sexual shenanigans, he learns that they instead want to hire him to see a prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Myra Von, for them.

They can’t afford her rates (despite living in a palace) separately, so the idea is that Peter will use his acting skills to impersonate them in turn, splitting up his hour appointments into thirds and presenting each of their various problems and symptoms to Von. As you can imagine, extremely lame wackiness ensues. For the record, Saxie hates men. Handsome male model Bruce hates women, who are always trying to paw him, and steals from them. Joe, an alcoholic car salesman, just hates people in general. They are, in case you failed to ‘get’ it, the “3 Nuts” of the title.

Tommy accepts the job, because otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie, and hilarity ensues—well, not really—as the housemates keep him up all night relating their various backstories and such. The next day, Tommy sees Dr. Von, proceeds to act out (with accents and all) his employers’ personalities. Von and her bald mincing male secretary are delighted, thinking Tommy is a split personality that they can ride to professional stardom.

The film is probably best remembered today because of the accompanying Playboy photo shoot featuring Ms. Doren’s assets. (Returning the favor, a Playboy magazine is featured as a prop in a key scene.) Weirdly, the main film is in black and white, while ‘sexy’ inserts, mostly involving rather unrevealing (and sadly ‘musical’) strip acts by Van Doren, along with one bath scene where she does give the audience what they presumably came to see, are presented in color. Presumably these were made so boldly separate so they could be easily removed when the film played non-adult theaters.

Anyhoo, Tommy’s performances end up being telecast on TV—don’t ask—and become a public sensation. However, he becomes increasing uncomfortable with the fraud he’s committing. Take it from there.

For what it’s worth, the film doesn’t have high regard for psychiatrists. Von is mostly taken with the opportunities for professional prominence Tommy seems to provide. Her secretary listens in on the sessions (so as to provide an opportunity for some of the most jaw-dropping mugging facial expressions I’ve seen in while). Von is later blackmailed by another shrink, who further misdiagnoses the ‘nuts’. Luckily, two of the roomies are cured by Tommy himself, who is the only one who figures out that stripper Saxie is (Guh-huh!) a virgin who “just needs a man,” and that male model Bruce just needs a woman who he’ll have to chase after, rather than the other way around. (Joe? I guess he’s just screwed.)

The weird, semi-obscure cast is of interest to the sorts of people interested in weird, semi-obscure casts. Let’s put it this way: The film features a purportedly exciting ‘star’ cameo by actor Anthony Eisley (Dracula vs. Frankenstein, The Mighty Gorga and a zillion more) as himself. He grimaces in the foreground as Noonan and Van Doren carry on the scene behind him, and seems most likely in the film because he lost a bet of some sort.

Van Doren probably needs no introduction. Noonan, meanwhile, proves basically a taller, 10% more macho version of character actor Joe Flynn, of TV’s McHale’s Navy and Disney’s The Boatniks. He played Marilyn Monroe’s nebbish of a boyfriend in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and rode that bus for a while, playing similar roles against manqué Monroes like Von Doran and, inevitably, Jayne Mansfield. The latter film was Promises! Promises!, also available on DVD via VCI.

Alvy Moore, later famous as Mr. Kimble from TV’s Green Acres, pops up eventually as a lawyer. He is given a special ‘introducing’ credit despite having already appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows! Meanwhile, if I’m not mistaken, the TV technician with the Playboy magazine is ‘Little’ Jackie Little, a small fat comic of the sort who appeared at strip clubs and in nudie shorts. Dr. Von, meanwhile, is played by Ziva Rodann, best remembered as the obscure villainess Queen Nefertiti, sidekick to Victor Buono’s King Tut, on a two-part episode of the Adam West Batman show.


At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you sure you are on vacation? Your output in the last few weeks has been impressive :)

I am highly enjoying these netflix "mini-reviews". They are like a Video Cheese that just keeps growing.


At 3:14 PM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

So, who played the "bald, mincing assistant"? America wants to know!

At 5:18 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Henry the mincing bald secretary was played by T. C. Jones, who's specialty was female impersonation. He played woman and/or female impersonators in the movies such as Promises! Promises! (again opposite Tommy Noonan), The Name of the Game is Kill and Head, his last film. (The Monkees', too, at least for several decades.) He did the same duty on episodes of TV shows like The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and The Wild, Wild West (!).

Oddly, this is one of the only movies where he only plays a man, although I might have missed something.

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