THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS
Pros: Comical and surreal
Cons: Undeniably tame by today’s standards
The first feature from director and skin flick auteur Russ Meyer, 1959’s The Immoral Mr. Teas is regarded today as the first in the cycle of “nudie cutie” films, a picture that for the first time since the 1930s, presented nudity in a story that wasn’t focused strictly on so-called “naturalists” i.e. nudists. For years, “naturalist” and exploitation films had been skirting around the film production code’s outright ban on nudity by claiming to possess “educational value” and presenting “authentic scenes,” but Meyer’s film avoided all that, challenging the production code and opening the floodgates for similar, even more explicit films to come.
Wouldn’t ya know, every female around virtually throws her cleavage into the face of our noble protagonist.
Playing out like a surreal, adolescent fantasy, Mr. Teas is quite obviously just a film that unabashedly presented a parade of (universally stacked) topless women for the sole purpose of providing a thrill to the (presumably male) audience. The film exists as a satirical “day in the life” portrait of the titular character, employed as a bicycle delivery man for a dental company. As part of his job, Teas has to interact with various secretaries and waitresses, all of whom he has rather salacious daydreams about. Following a dental procedure in which he has a tooth yanked after being put out with gas, Teas’ daydreams start to become more eye-popping in their intensity. Whereas before, he was content just to stare googly-eyed into exposed cleavage, now Teas’ hallucinations include fully nude women strolling around and conducting their day-to-day activities. Throughout these visions, Teas seems content to look on as the voyeur; he makes no attempt to “make a move” on the women. In the end, following an extended session of watching a trio of bathing beauties, Teas comes to the realization that he may need psychiatric help – but is it possible that “some men just enjoy being sick?”
“Modern man must, in the course of his own endeavors, always keep his eyes on the future, for who knows how the windy zephyrs of fate may twist and cross two lives…”
The Immoral Mr. Teas is a prime example of how sexual content and the promise of nudity can be used to market a film that otherwise would have been seen as pure garbage. Despite the fact that this film was photographed in gorgeous color, it may as well have been produced in the 1930s since it’s essentially a silent film with a narration and music score being heard over the images. This booming-voiced narration (which sounds eerily similar to the typical Criswell monologues found in several of the Ed Wood films) might seem only vaguely connected to what is seen in the film, but in the end, it becomes very humorous (and more than a little bit suggestive) in context, firmly establishing the satirical, playfully comedic feel of the film. Ultimately, the goofy tone of the narration is probably one of the reasons why this picture was even allowed to play theaters when released since it’d be really hard to label this film as being even remotely offensive.
It’s immediately clear when watching Mr. Teas that it was an early feature from Meyer, who would go on to enjoy an immensely successful career as a true American original and auteur. Some of the trademark elements of Meyer’s films are already in place in this first feature – namely, the abundance of full-figured, buxom women and omnipresent elements of voyeurism. There’s not much of a message to be found in this film; it’s solely designed to be entertaining, but I still have to commend Meyer for handling most every aspect of this production in a capable manner. The photography is crisp and sharp, and there’s a nice sense of progression to the piece: initially, this film is very much a “tease” in the way it presents the female form, but later on, we get lingering glimpses of bare (topless and rear) female flesh. This would have very much made the film one that was “worth sitting through” back in 1959: any amount of nudity was a “ticket seller” at the time.
Even if Mr. Teas is enjoyable enough for what it is, I can in no way, shape, or form call this a good movie. The silent film approach seems woefully inadequate for a feature made around 1960, and the repetitive music score by Edward J. Lasko (who also wrote and performed the narration) becomes positively maddening after a while. I get that one of the goals of the film is to provide a commentary on the tedium of modern life, but to make a monotonous film just to prove a point is nearly inexcusable. Acting in the picture is acceptable, but nothing to write home about. Bill Teas (a war buddy of director Meyer) stars apparently as himself, performing exaggerated, theatrical-like actions that let the audience know exactly what he’s thinking. The women here are more or less objects rather than characters, viewed as being little more than breasts and buttocks (Meyer was notorious for his breast fetish). This presentation might be offensive and/or disgusting to some viewers, but this film is no comparison for the genuinely disturbed and upsetting “roughies” made by the likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis and The Findlays (among many others) that would show up on the grindhouse circuit a few years after Teas was released.
“…guy just can’t get no peace round these here parts…”
Clocking in at just 63 minutes in length, The Immoral Mr. Teas made more than a million at the box office on a $24,000 investment, setting the aggressively independent Meyer on the course for future successes and much more sophisticated films. Today, the relatively harmless Mr. Teas is more valuable as a curiosity piece and time capsule than as a rewarding piece of cinema. It’s remarkable how tame this once scandalous film plays in the context of today’s oversexed society, and the film is perhaps most interesting for the way in which the “ideal woman” visualized here differs from what might be thought of and portrayed today. Most (male) viewers would probably get a kick out of this film, and it would almost be a must for fans of the cult-favorite director, but considering how difficult it is to locate any of Meyer’s films these days (Meyer personally retained the rights to all but two of his films and tightly controlled their distribution), it’s perfectly skippable.
Russ Meyer films are ridiculously hard to see nowadays, released only in limited quantities on obscure labels. There are however several foreign DVD releases of this title and others from the director.
0/10 : A dream-like trip to the dentist is as bad as this one gets.
1/10 : Some mildly suggestive dialogue and a reference to “the dark continent.” No profanity.
6/10 : Topless and rear female nudity. Compared with what is seen regularly today, this film is almost laughable.
5/10 : A crude, early effort from one of the singular voices in American independent cinema that’s more worthwhile as a curio than an important work.
“Another dull day like the last? Or has the pressure of modern living begun its insidious task of breaking down the moral fiber of the indomitable Mr. Teas?”
Soundtrack Tune: (Video is G-rated)