Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?

That's the real title ... one of the longest ever appended to a movie not directed by Lina Wertmueller ...

... and the title is positively normal compared to the movie, which is an X-rated Broadway-style musical. All of singer-songwriter Anthony Newley's popular successes, like Stop the World and Roar of the Greasepaint, are basically just musical autobiographies focusing on his career in show business, his satyriasis, and his failure to find love, as played out with a minimum of characters on a bare stage with few props. As I recall, the same woman plays all the female characters in Stop the World, while Roar of the Greasepaint is essentially a two-character play acted out on a giant game board, the kind of thing Samuel Beckett might have created if he had been into the English dance hall scene.

"Singing and Dancing for Godot."

Hieronymus/Humppe tells the same familiar Newley story, but this time in the form of a Fellini movie rather than a Beckett play. Writer/director Newley, who also wrote an original score for the film, made a metaphorical surrealistic film in which Newley plays a filmmaker making a symbolic, surrealistic film about his life.

Sounds good already, eh?

The entire film takes place on stage-like sets constructed on a seaside, where Hieronymus (Newley) performs, has sex, screens his film-within-a-film, etc. Imagine a brass bed planted in the surf, where Newley beds his babes while the waves crash around him. Think of Newley standing in flowing robes on a nearby hilltop, looking down on the beach and singing to what he believes to be a non-existent God. Stir in the usual Fellini elements to the stew in your head: living clown-puppets on strings, top-hatted men on stilts, carousels, pompous movie critics, grotesque chessboards, Death. Now you have the complete picture. (Stomp Tokyo did a nice little illustrated summary if you would like more details.)

That picture is shaded a bit by some gimmicky casting. The legendary old-time vaudevillian Georgie Jessel plays the Presence of Death, who spends the film wearing a white suit and telling pointless anecdotes while sipping from a teacup held with white gloves. Jessel's story-telling style is stiff and deadpan, which Death should be, I suppose. As as far as I know there's no such thing as livepan. If there were, it would be exemplified by Hieronymus's mentor, Good Time Eddie Filth, who also seems to be Satan, and is played with hammy aplomb by another showbiz legend, Milton Berle.  Stubby Kaye, another old time song-and-dance man, is in there somewhere as well. The mother of Hieronymus's children is played by Newley's then-wife Joan Collins, a bit of a legend herself, who hated this film, as you might expect since her husband spent a great deal of it with his head buried in other women's crotches.

Hieronymus is featured on many of the web sites which specialize in bad movies, but it's not really a bad film so much as a prisoner of its prententious time, possessing far too much ambition for its own good and absolutely no clue as to who might have been in its target audience. The whole idea of a Fellini film retold as an X-rated musical is high in concept and low in common sense. Think of the audiences in Fellini festivals. Now think of the audiences in Broadway musicals. Now think of the people who went to see X-rated films in 1969. There is some overlap between those groups, but not much, and even the few common people (me, for example) would observe a different dress and behavior code when assuming the three separate audience roles, and would not admit to his friends in each audience that he was also a member of the other groups. Believe me, I know.

I'm a big Newley fan, and actually acted in one of his plays back in my performing days, so I kind of enjoyed this bizarre film. My college roommate liked the thing so much that he bought the album and played it again and again for years. (Nice guy, but a strange man. Last I heard he had been committed to a public mental institution, which I might have been as well, if I had listened to this album for another 20 years after graduation.) At any rate, I heard that damned album so many times in 1969 and 1970 that I was actually singing the songs along with Newley and his Uncle Limelight when I watched the film today, and I remembered almost all of the words, which is amazing when you consider that Newley himself probably didn't remember these songs five years after he wrote them!

Although the sex scenes were covered by Playboy in a lengthy pictorial because the best one involved their Playmate of the Year, the exposure is generally brief and inexplicit. For my taste, altogether too much of the nudity comes from Newley himself. The most memorable scene in the film is this underwater sex scene between Newley and 1969 Playmate of the Year Connie Kreski, who seemed the perfect blond nymphet as the titular Mercy Humppe. This scene stands apart from the rest of the film for two reasons: (1) Although the editing is too coy, it's still a pretty hot sex scene by today's standards, so you can imagine the attention it grabbed in 1969 - in a Broadway-style musica! (2) It takes place underwater, so while Newley still time to put on a jester's costume, at least he had to stop talking and singing for a few seconds - not many though, because the scene was actually in the film-within-a-film, so Newley/Hieronymus, as the filmmaker, was narrating the action as he screened it for critics and producers, who were commenting on it.

There were times when you would just like to have grabbed Newley and told him to shut the hell up for a few seconds.

I guess the film is a C-, in that it's a must-see for Newley's fans and an interesting watch for observers of late sixties culture, a nostalgic demonstration of the cultural experimentation and exaggeration that then dominated the zeitgeist. It's not a good movie, but it's original and unusual, and I still remembered it vividly after 40 years. How many other pornographic Felliniesque Broadway-style musical films can you name?

By the way, both Newley and Connie Kreski have passed away, Connie of lung cancer in 1995, Newley of renal cancer four years later. That makes Joan Collins, who still seems to be working as much as ever, the only survivor of the film's principal cast.






* Yellow asterisk: funny (maybe).

* White asterisk: expanded format.

* Blue asterisk: not mine.

No asterisk: it probably sucks.


Catch the deluxe version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles, here.







Notes from Underground

Notes from Underground (1995) is an modern-day adaptation of Dostoyevsky's novella, which consists of diary notes from a disenfranchised, self-loathing man who admits from the beginning that he is sick, dysfunctional and not very nice. Every time something threatens to go well in his life, he opens his mouth and screws it up. We had a saying in the Navy, "He could screw up a wet dream." That's Underground Man.

Yessir, ol' Fyodor Dostoyevsky really knew how to have a good time. What a loveable, laugh-a-minute rascal he must have been. if had come a few years later in Russian history, he would have been the life of the Communist Party.

The first challenge the filmmakers faced in adapting the story was to figure out a new gimmick for "Underground Man" to use for communication. Clearly, you can't make a film where someone just writes introspective stuff into a diary. They hit on a reasonable solution, that of turning the diary into a video diary. The second problem was that the source material is full of specific commentary on Russian politics, philosophy and art which wouldn't translate well to the English-speaking world of today, so the scenarist stuck to the first and last chapters, which allowed him to tell a story with an arc.


Underground Man is a petty bureaucrat in charge of approving building plans in the building department at city hall, a function which he enjoys because he has power. He doesn't often mix socially, but has one college friend who doesn't openly despise him, and he sometimes visits. On this particular day, two other mutual schoolmates are there, and are planning a going-away party for yet another. Undie invites himself to the party, despite the fact that he can't afford his share of the cost, and that he never even liked the guest of honor. He is completely embarrassed at the party, and makes a fool of himself. The others leave him and head to a whorehouse. He follows with the idea of smashing their faces in, but gets distracted and ends up in bed with hooker Sheryl Lee, who was a breath of fresh air in what is otherwise a terribly dark and depressing work. After the sex, he browbeats her about how dangerous and self-destructive her lifestyle is, then gives her his card and offers to take her away from her current life. He gets through to her then leaves. His greatest hope and his greatest fear is that she will show up at his dingy basement apartment. When she does, he screws that up too.

End Spoilers

The DVD is given the full treatment, including two commentaries, critical essays, slide shows and more. Most of the experts agree that the film captures the spirit of the source material, and demonstrates that not only was Dostoyevsky correct about the existence of an Underground Man in his society, but that Underground Man still exists today. One of the full-length commentaries is from a professor of comparative literature at Stanford. If his dotty thoughts are typical of instruction at Stanford, it goes a long ways toward explaining some of the Stanford grads I have worked with. 

This is a C+, but for a very limited audience of Russian literature fans, who need to see this, but  probably already have.  I found it rather slow going, and it is way too depressing for my taste. Your mileage may vary.



Sheryl Lee shows breasts in an after-sex scene.











Malas temporadas

Es la historia de Mikel (Javier Cámara), Ana (Nathalie Poza) y Carlos (Eman Xor Oña), ambientada en Madrid, personas que se relacionan mientras buscan su lugar en el mundo, un lugar que cada vez se aleja más del idealizado, del que no existe, y la única solución es partir de lo real, para empezar a construirlo. Gente a la que el destino ha terminado llevando por caminos inesperados, y ahora comparten la necesidad de replantearse sus opciones.

The Madrid-based story of three people who form relationships while trying to find their place in life, a place which seems to be moving ever farther from their dreams. They face the need to restructure those dreams to conform to reality.

Variety said, "Hard Times, Manuel Martin Cuenca's sophomore feature following 2003's well-received "The Weakness of the Bolshevik," is an uncomfortable if involving compendium of contemporary unhappiness. Pic is inhabited by a lonely kid, his despairing mother, an ex-con, a wheelchair-bound beauty and many struggling immigrants. Relying on its grim authenticity for effect, film tackles awkward emotional and moral issues in a balanced, perceptive and compassionate manner and seems unconcerned that it could come across as merely depressing."

Leonor Watling



This is not part of the Goya series, which continues tomorrow.









The Ramrodder

It's a "Babe in Bondage" day as the Time Machine is way way back in 1969 for "The Ramrodder." This was one of the first sets I ever did. So this is a re-visit to Kathy Williams and her whipping scene. Lots of T& A.. I have to say I never saw a western like this in my old Saturday afternoon double feature  matinees in my youth. Caps and four clips.







Notes and collages

The Ladies of Sci-fi/Fantasy

Logan's Run

Jenny Agutter







2005's Demonic, from the U.K., may well be a case where the special features are better than the movie. The horror film has an interesting plot line, but the execution is just so-so, and most of the characters that are supposed to be the good guys are not really much more likeable than the characters that are supposed to be the bad guys. And when you consider that the bad guys are female, and spend the total of their time in the movie completely naked, wearing not even a thong, the bad guys (girls) win the popularity contest.

Six young people are driving through the woods when their car is disabled (by running over another young woman who inexplicably runs in front of them). Stranded, they must fight the evil dwellers of the woods. Now, none of this is especially different or interesting, but it's what the dwellers ARE that makes this a little different. Beautiful nymphs populate the woods; fallen angels who were thrown out of heaven when they became infected with lust and sexual desires. They are completely naked throughout, and they lure their victims by seducing them, and then eating them. Yeah, the "fallen angels" thing is a nice little twist to an otherwise uninspired horror flick.

The special features on the DVD, which I found more interesting than the movie, feature auditions by two actresses trying to be angels; Anita, who didn't make it, and Eleanor James, who did. Anita is the prettier of the two but somewhat flat-chested, and Eleanor James is also attractive, but more importantly, well endowed, almost certainly by the doctor rather than by birth. It's a sad commentary on modern life that beauty takes a backseat to big fake boobs.

Various Eleanor James (audition) Anita (audition)








"The Hunger"


Sophie (Doris Milmore) hitches a ride on a snowy night in a large truck which turns out to be the warehouse of a sex fantasy merchandiser, Jess (Jesse Borrego). The truck breaks down and they have to spend the night on the back to protect themselves from the cold. There, Jess has more than one surprise for Sophie.

Doris Milmore









Karen Young in Heading South (2005)

Kate Dickie in Red Road (2006)


Today's collection-builder is Arielle Dombasle, the gorgeous French star (who was actually born in Connecticut).

The astounding thing about Arielle is that she was born in 1953, so those last few films show a woman in her late 40s and early 50s. I would say she has aged well, but it would probably be more accurate to say she hasn't really aged at all!

Milla Jovovich in .45. I don't know much about this one.  Brand new film. Drug dealer abuses his woman, she gets revenge. For whatever reason (unknown to me), it ended up being released in Greece, but has never had a theatrical or DVD release in the USA. The good news is that Milla shows all of her naughty bits, God bless 'er. Below are many scenes from the film, some of which are in the clips, others not.