All singing, all dancing

Film revolution, with some nudity required

Published: Dec 29 2013, 01:01:am

Tuesday, April 11, 1978
THE FIRST NUDIE MUSICAL. Screenplay, music and lyrics by Bruce Kimmel. Directed by Mark Haggard and Bruce Kimmel. Running time: 97 minutes. Restricted entertainment with the B.C. Classifier's warning: some nude and suggestive scenes.
RIGHT NOW YOU'RE PROBABLY  asking yourself, "whatever happened to all those wonderful kids from 1973's American Graffiti?"
    The full answer would take several articles. For the moment, let's concentrate on the three who have movies playing in town right now — Cindy Williams (who played Laurie), Richard Dreyfuss (Curt) and Candy Clark (Debbie).
    The thing that they have all had in common since their Graffiti experience is an on-screen flirtation with pornography.
    Two years ago, Clark had a particularly bizarre nude scene with David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). She doffs her duds again in the current The Big  Sleep, playing an over-sexed heiress who models for her pornographer boyfriend.
    Dreyfuss, winner of the 1977 best-acting Oscar, is on view in three films: The Goodbye Girl (his Academy-Award role), Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and a 1975 film called Inserts, a British-made movie.
    Inserts is Dreyfuss's pornographic involvement. In it he plays a once-great Hollywood director who is reduced to making stag films. Generally underrated on its first release, it has gone on to have a minor cult following.
    Williams, who stars in TV's Laverne and Shirley, can be seen singing and dancing in The First Nudie Musical, the story of a pioneering porno producer. Made in the summer of 1975, the movie was acquired for distribution by Paramount Pictures.
    After sending out publicity kits, Paramount backed down and shelved the movie. Eventually, it was sold to a small company that has managed to put  it into circulation. Cindy's name probably helped.
    An inept, somewhat frantic comedy, it needs all the help it can get. No masterpiece, it was the brainchild of would-be auteur Bruce Kimmel, who wrote the script, the music and the lyrics, co-directed and even plays a starring role. His film spoofs the backstage musical, one of the most durable film forms of the 1930s.
    Kimmel's picture introduces Harry Schechter (Stephen Nathan),  a second-generation movie-maker whose porno production company has fallen on hard times. ("They're tired of cheerleaders, they're tired of nurses.") Inspired by his quick-quipping secretary, Rosie (Williams), he mortgages his studio to make a new kind of movie, the first nudie musical.
    His casting call attracts some familiar film types.  There's Susie (Leslie Ackerman), the   starry-eyed ingenue just in from Indiana; Mary La Rue (Alexandra Morgan), a self-styled "star"; and Juanita (Judy Canova's daughter Diana), the Latin American comic relief. (One surprise is Ron Howard, Williams's beau in American Grafitti, seen in an unbilled guest   appearance.)
    It's a cute idea, and Kimmel is a capable composer who provides a pleasant, tuneful score. He's less impressive in the screenplay and directing departments, though.
    Relying on cuteness, Kimmel has failed to develop his characters or his story. His staging is flat, comic timing uneven and direction (a job he shared with porno veteran Mark Haggard) bland and uninteresting. Despite an energetic and talented cast, The First Nudie Musical  is a bad joke.
    Filmgoers can take heart, though. Universal City Studios have announced that George (Star Wars) Lucas has agreed to produce More American Graffiti, scheduled to go before the cameras this summer. Williams, Howard, Clark, Paul LeMat (who played John Milner) and Charlie Martin SmIth (Terry the Toad) will continue in their original roles.

THE BARE FACTS: The answer to your other question — the one about Cindy  Williams's performance in The First Nudie Musical  — is no. Her character, Rosie, remains fully clothed throughout.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1978. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Movies such as The First Nudie Musical were a challenge for reviewers as much as for audiences. On the one hand, the picture had made it through the commercial distribution and provincial classification systems to be offered to the public on a mainstream theatre's screen. On the other hand, daily newspaper publishers were attuned to the sensitivities of their most conservative readers and dedicated to reflecting the accepted moral standards. This made coverage of the popular culture a daily tightrope walk for a mainstream media critic. The very use of the word "pornographic" was problematic. In the entertainment industry of the mid-1970s, the term had become little more than a genre description, used to identify films containing explicit sex acts. In the broader world, the word retained its pejorative meaning, and its use contained a whiff of moral condemnation. Although The First Nudie Musical was about the porno film business, it was not pornography. Even so, making a discussion of it acceptable to my editors — my readers, on the whole, were light years ahead of their mass media gatekeepers — required a great deal of context to justify the column space. Pointing out that three star performers from American Graffiti were independently involved with pornography (or, more precisely, cinematic explorations of the idea of pornography), indicated that The First Nudie Musical  was part of the bigger social picture and, therefore, worthy of our attention. Which was true, and remains so to this day.
IN ALL FAIRNESS, Bruce Kimmel's tuneful feature did go on to become one of those cult movies beloved of people who prefer brash imagination to the gross-out obviousness of what passes for comedy in many current films. And, truth to tell, The First Nudie Musical is better entertainment than any of the movies that Mel Brooks made in the 1990s. The vocals for The Lights and the Smiles, the song sung by ingenue Susie upon her arrival from Indiana, were dubbed for actress Leslie Ackerman by Annette O'Toole, who would go on to play Superman's girlfriend Lana Lang (in 1983's Superman III) and the Teen of Steel's Mom, Martha Kent (in TV's Smallville; 2001-11).