Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The Meyer Files #10: Common Law Cabin (1967)

This movie is great. It's just over an hour long, which is about right for a Meyer movie. It has a pretty simple, melodramatic plot, a collection of out-sized characters who either hate or lust after each other, and a great sense of humour. If you are a neophyte to Meyer and his work, Common Law Cabin is the perfect introduction.

A funny thing about this movie. Originally, it was supposed to be shot in Hawaii. Well, that plan went the way of the dodo and Meyer moved production to a slice of backwater hell that feels like it's just downriver from Lorna's locale. This change in location adds a dark meta-irony to the movie, as we watch a bunch of hapless dupes in Hawaiian shirts and bikinis slog through swamps and deserts.

Meyer gets things started with a bang: Opening with sweeping shots of the Colorado River, John Furlong returns as narrator to offer a series of pompous soundbites about its significance ('leaves like a woman, but a name like a man!'). Signalling Meyer's shift toward outright parody, the main credits are physical signs along the beach.

The story is simple: Dewey Hoople (screenwriter Jack Moran) is the owner of a broken down ranch on the bank of the Colorado river. It's a hellhole surrounded by desert, yet Dewey has, with the help of local boatman Cracker (Franklin Bolger), turned it into an unlikely tourist attraction -- Cracker hangs around a local resort and entices unwary tourists on a day trip to Dewey's place, vaguely described as a hidden treasure.

The saps on this occasion are Dr. Martin Ross (John Furlong, who also performs the opening narration), his wife Sheila (Alaina Capri) and mysterious stranger Barney Rickert (Ken Swofford), who has a gun, a bag full of money and an eye for the good doctor's wife.

It's like a cartoon remake of Knife in the Water, with characters trading barbs like drag queens. Alaina Capri is catty to the extreme, but the real find is Babette Bardot, one of the 'stars' of Mondo Topless!, who plays Dewey's girlfriend. Thank god for closed captioning because her dialogue is almost impenetrable. It does not help that Dewey's daughter is played by German stripper Adele Rein. Between their respective accents, dialogue is almost pointless.

In terms of the male side of the cast, Moran does well as sad sack Dewey, and John Furlong is equal parts hilarious and sad as ultimate chump Dr. Ross. The best performer overall is Ken Swofford. He is terrific as a psychotic cop who hijacks the expedition -- he's another in Meyer's collection of evil he-men, and Swofford gives him a diabolical charm that is both funny and scary. He seems to be completely in tune with the tone of this picture, and it is a pity Meyer didn't put him in more pictures -- he would have been great in Supervixens.

Of the Meyer films I have not seen before, Common Law Cabin is definitely one of the highlights. As an entry point into Meyer's comedic output, it is note perfect.

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