“If her style was nothing more than the aggregate of a massive accumulation of errors, at least she made the same errors over and over again. They began to become familiar, anticipated, meaningful; at some point, they became art.”
- extract from Michael J. Bowen's DVD booklet tribute
Whether you regard Doris Wishman as a pioneering independent writer/producer/director or an overrated B-movie hack, this deluxe 2-disc set from Retro-Seduction of her film debut, Hideout in the Sun, offers one of the funniest exploitation films ever made, backed by some excellent contextual extras on Wishman's early career, her ersatz directing style, and the nudist film genre which enjoyed a brief but profitable lifespan when U.S. courts allowed the depiction of frank nudity (minus genitalia) in films, provided it was within the context of the nudist lifestyle.
Shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm for theatrical exhibition, Hideout had an oddball production history that began with Wishman wanting to move from distribution to active filmmaking during the late fifties. After the success of Max Nosseck's The Garden of Eden (1954), pegged as the first nudie film, Wishman thought nudity in Eastman color was a sure bet, and commissioned a script by a local Floridian professor named Eugene Fernett, who scribbled a kooky plot of bank thieves (brothers Steve and Dick) that choose to hide out (get it?) in a nudist colony with their kidnapped maiden (single girl Dorothy, nabbed in the parking lot).
According to the commentary track by Retro-Seduction's Ashley Spicer and Wishman's friend and biographer, Michael J. Bowen, Fernett directed some footage before distancing himself from the project when he felt an association with an exploitation film was bad for his image and position as a college professor. Although Wishman directed parts of the film, the credited director is cinematographer Larry Wolk, who chose to use the pseudonym of Lazarus L. Wolk.
Shot on location in sunny Florida with a mixed cast of amateurs, some apparent local talent, and models quite comfortable in the buff, the only star is Dolores Carlos, a perky model who made a handful of sexploitation films during the sixties - including Herschell Gordon Lewis' bloated A Taste of Blood and his nudie-cutie musical Goldilocks and the Three Bares - before disappearing from film in 1969.
Once the two robbers and their maiden (Carlos) enter the colony (actually a fancy private residence set decorated with bum-bums, boobies, and assorted free-ranging fowl like emus and parrots), the film shifts from a tough-talking Z-level crime film to nudist film, and Wishman delivers the goods by showing plenty of topless women, nude families, and naked bodies seen from the sides, or covering their tatas and hoohas with beach balls, towels (even in the pool!) and briefs during the ubiquitous volleyball sequence.
As Steve and Dorothy play tennis (shown only in close-ups, with the occasional ball tossed at frame's edge), engage in some archery, dine with fellow nudists, and float around in the pool, Steve quickly realizes that living among nekkid people is the way to go. Deeply offended by this wanton act of sibling betrayal, bad brother Dick decides to flee, only to end up stung to death in the local serpentarium as a local highway cop closes in.
You could argue Hideout is a low-level derivation of a noir, as you have the classic conflict between a bullying older brother and his younger sibling who clearly doesn't like the business of robbing, being on the run, and threatening pretty girls, plus there's the searing divisions the girl causes when love becomes more important than stolen money, and the villainous brother who suffers a pathetic demise.
Even the film's finale recalls the end scene in Tay Garnet's classic Technicolor noir, Leaver Her to Heaven (1945): after serving time for his crime, the good brother is reunited with his love on a dock, with blazing daylight colours, and a surging love theme playing before the end credits roll.
The rampant nekkidness, though, really makes Hideout as a nudie film, since Wishman goes through the familiar sports montages, has her burgeoning couple walking through the environs, and has women going through the ridiculous motions of rising out and falling back into the swimming pool solely so the camera can capture their glistening mammaries.
The film's midsection (ahem) basically follows Steve and Dorothy on bonding walks, and a key element of these montages is the title song, composed by Wishman's niece, Judy Kushner. It's a pretty slick lounge ditty whose lyrics, sung by Ralph Young, encapsulate the story, and the song benefits from some smooth orchestrations by an uncredited Doc Severinsen during his pre- Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson years. (Severinsen would also do some uncredited work on Wishman's second film, Nude on the Moon, in 1961.)
Hideout was shot silent, and post-sync dialogue was looped over edited scenes - a practice that was quite common in Europe - except Wishman tended to favour shooting the backs of and use odd angles of actors' heads to minimize looping dialogue to match actual lip movements (otherwise known as the El Cheapo Post-Sync Sound Method), which makes many of the dialogue scenes visually clunky, if not amateurish.
The film's running time is also addressed by the commentators, since it's not only very short, but also suffers from jarring breaks within shots – likely the result of damage, or some snipping from the local censor board.
(One waist-up shot of the soon-to-be lovers has a laughable white picket fence that was apparently imposed by censors, concerned perhaps that a full-frontal view of nipples was far more dangerous to audiences than all those other angles left untouched in Wishman's final edit.)
While Wishman entrusted cameraman Wolk to shoot the mostly well-composed film, neither cinematographer nor director paid much attention to continuity, and many dialogue scenes have glaring blunders where characters are looking in the wrong screen direction.
(Wishman did supervise the editing, and the credited cutter is Victor F. Paul, the apparent pseudonym of Paul Falkenberg, a German editor with an erratic career whose handful of credits includes Fritz Lang's M, and Otto Preminger's first film, Die Grosse Liebe / The Great Love !)
Regardless of its length, however, Hideout is a cult favourite in-the-waiting, and a hidden gem of novice filmmaking within the exploitation realm. Even in the archived video interview, edited from material shot for the great exploitation doc Shlock! The Secret History of American Movies (2001), Wishman admits the film was a complete learning experience, yet it's to her credit Hideout became profitable, and ignited her own career as a director of nudist and subsequent exploitation films.
In an unusual move by Retro-Seduction, viewers are given two choices to watch Hideout : in its original 1.33:1 ratio on Disc 1, or matted to 1.85:1 anamorphic on Disc 2.
The ability to create two distinct versions may be due to Wolk's sometimes awkward compositions and framing (Eastmancolor notwithstanding, Hideout's cinematography lacks a certain finesse).The full screen version has more headspace, but the widescreen transfer offers more edge info, so it's a tradeoff at times. Sometimes the widescreen version is tight at the top, but in comparing various shots in both transfers, one can see that some shots were subtly recomposed to ensure the framing was less clumsy. Purists need not worry about losing naughty details, as no peaks or valleys are clipped, cropped, or shaved clean (so to speak).
In addition to the brief Wishman video interview, there's a related piece with veteran exploitation pioneer David Friedman (Blood Feast), who recalls Wishman's early years when she worked as a distributor before taking the plunge as a director. Friedman also gives a brief overview of the nudist film, and traces the roots of its popularity, and quick demise after its inherent story limitations exhausted further narrative options.
That's one of the reasons Hideout still works and entertains far more than the standard nudist film, and as a bonus, Retro-Seduction have included a vintage nudist short for comparison.
Titled “Postcards from a Nudist Camp,” it's basically a non-linear travelogue short from the fifties that loosely follows a starchy English father and his vacationing family, and occasionally flips to a stalker that follows a group of nudists as they setup camp on the French Isle of Levant, although some footage appears to have been shot in England and Holland. The original soundtrack, apparently missing, has been recreated using very goofy sound effects, including gunshots that punctuate a game of nude bacci.
Matted to 1.85:1 (a decision that does limit the headroom at times for the actors), it's a decent print of a well-shot film made by more experienced filmmakers – there's some great footage of the island's rocky formations, and some portraiture shots that give the film a certain glossy elegance – but like Friedman says in the archived interview, there just aren't that many stories to tell within the genre, making Hideout, with its flagrant continuity flaws and laughable dialogue, way more fun.
Also of note is an excellent booklet that features a personal portrait by biographer Bowen who tries to eloquently explain his fascination with and the validity of a filmmaker he acknowledges made very few good movies during her 30-film career. It's a bit of a schizophrenic piece, as there's no doubt Bowen's affection for this feisty and independent filmmaker is genuine, but he's trying to apply greater meaning to her work than it deserves (see quote at the very top of this review); it isn't an attempt to elevate Wishman as a forgotten master craftsperson, but one can discern the unique struggle any biographer or documentarian has in trying to explain why the men and women who made exploitation fodder have their own deserved place in film history. For some it might be the size of a pencil tip, but they earned it.
There's also an edited Q&A between Bowen and Wishman conducted in 1997 when the director was interested in Bowen's quest to chronicle her career, and the extensive piece offers additional information not covered in the commentary track or interviews. We certainly get a better sense of Wishman's personality, and she touches upon other films, including Nude on the Moon (1961), and the infamous Let Me Die a Woman (1978).
Finishing off the DVD extras is a montage from vintage newsreels from 1960 that establish the political bickering and international paranoia of the times. With the Cold War going into gear in 1960, one can see why the nudist film – a ridiculously cheesy showcase of boobs, bottoms, and backsides – succeeded as colourful escapist entertainment.
An exceptionally produced DVD release for connoisseurs, and fans of B-movie nonsense.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan