[Originally published in Movietone News 64-65, March 1980]
Russ Meyer’s Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens is a rowdy, funky, and occasionally obnoxious comedy which just happens to be one of the livelier entertainments of 1979. Meyer, of course, has long been known as an uncommonly talented filmmaker on the burlesque-house side of the industry, andâ€”at the very leastâ€”his latest effort seems likely to more than satisfy his fans. The oversized female breasts, the nonstop libidinal overdrive, and the cartoonish sexual antics are all here in abundance. But there’s also a chance that word may get around about Beyond the Valley‘s generally happy mixture of sex, satire, and film artâ€”in which case, some people may begin suggesting that this middle-American Rabelais’s new film is his masterpiece. The thing has a plot, but to summarize it would be to miss the point. It’s rather like what you would expect if a Henry Miller character had rewritten Our Town for serialization in Playboy or Penthouse. Better yet, and perhaps also worse, a Meyer press release describes the film thusly: “…an all out assault on today’s sexual mores and moreâ€”an end around attack against women’s libâ€”blasting through the male machismo syndromeâ€”blasting the crap out of convictions, hang-ups, obsessionsâ€”the whole bagâ€”sexually aggressive females, willing klutzy men, petroleum jelly, gingham and gossamer, tax-sheltered religion, black socks, bedroom prowess, bunko artists, big breast fixation, rear window red necks, therapeutic cuckolding, the sixty mile an hour zinger, born again immersion,” etc., etc.
That about covers it from indiscriminate discrimination to space-age abandon by way of Hefnerized Walt Whitmanism. But it might also be useful to mention a few of the characters by name: Lavonia, Eufaula Roop, Lamar Shedd, Junkyard Sal, The Stripper, Mr. Peterbuilt, Semper Fidelis, Flovilla Thatch, Dr. Asa Lavender, Beau Badger, The Very Big Blonde, and The Man From Small Town U.S.A. In a dark-humored “historical” touch of doubtful value, there is also a character named Martin Bormann (who has been showing up in all Meyer efforts of the past decade or so). All of the females abovementioned are colossally endowed. And except for the unfortunate husband Lamar, everybody is on 24-hour sexual alert. One of Beneath the Valley‘s more interesting peculiarities is that it brings so much cerebral humor to its blatantly visceral preoccupations. Extravagant bedroom gymnastics recur quite noticeably, of course, but much of Meyer’s authorial energy has gone into a mock-serious Our Townâ€“style narration delivered by The Man From Small Town U.S.A. (Stuart Lancaster), and into the consistently cultivated jokiness of the film’s editing. Indeed, film students and buffs who wonder whatever happened to Russian-style editing might do well to ponder the comical, New Wavish uses to which Eisensteinian montage has been put here.
The use of the onscreen narrator together with Meyer’s own cameo (as himselfâ€”camera in hand) late in the film helps make Beneath the Valley into a curiously sophisticated piece of funk. Meyer is thus able to make fun of himself while also further calling attention to his presence as the film’s pretentiously unpretentiousÂ·auteur. Beneath the Valley treats gays, blacks, and women in ways that are certain to offend a fair number of peopleâ€”none of whom are necessarily black, gay, or female. But professional watchdogs on these matters would do well to note that Meyer has set a number of traps for the unwary critic of stereotypes. Among the more prominent signs of Meyer’s strategy on the stereotypical is the mocking humor directed toward such all-American topics as redneck sexuality, male supremacy, and the masculine orgasm. (One of Meyer’s funniest sound effects compares Lamar’s organ to a rubber toy that squeaks.) Meyer extends his comedy of stereotypes to the point that some parts of the film emerge as deliberate imitations of animated cartoon action. And therein lies an especially intriguing paradox: Meyer’s movie seems to celebrate the pursuit of sexual pleasure and yet its comedy tends to lampoon sex and people alike. Perhaps it’s a matter of burlesque burlesqued.
© 1980 Peter Hogue
BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRAVIXENS
Direction, cinematography, editing and production: Russ Meyer. Screenplay: R. Hyde and B. Callum, after an original story by Russ Meyer.
The players: Francesca “Kitten” Natividad, Anne Marie, Ken Kerr, Stuart Lancaster, June Mack, Lola Langusta, Pat Wright, Michael Finn, Steve Tracy, Sharon Hill, Henry Rowland, Robert E. Pearson, DeForest Covan, Don Scarborough, Aram Katcher, Uschi Digard, Mary Gavin.