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Blu-ray Review: The First Nudie Musical

Anybody who’s a fan of cult movies knows that it can sometimes take years for a certain title to hit DVD. When it comes to a midnight favorite being released to Blu-ray, however, the wait can take even longer: there’s a delicate process of restoration and remastering to go through — something your average Joe usually doesn’t invest their time, effort or money on without the generous monetary backing of a major studio keen to cash in on the longtime success of said film.

Of course, when that Joe is actually a feller named Bruce, it’s a different situation entirely. In 2002, Bruce Kimmel’s ‘70s cult hit The First Nudie Musical found its way to DVD in a bonus-laden special edition, but the source materials used weren’t in the best of shape. Sometime later, Bruce discovered the film’s original internegative. Seeking to re-release his brainchild in High-Definition, Kimmel took an intelligent approach to manufacturing a Blu-ray and relied on his own fans to fund the transfer (something a lot of other filmmakers should take a cue from), releasing this Blu-ray under his own Kritzerland label.

An uproarious send-up of goofy nudie films from the ‘60s and classic musicals of the ‘30s, The First Nudie Musical tells the peculiar plight of a struggling movie producer, Harry Schechter (Stephan Nathan), whose film studio has been reduced to making porn flicks. A moment of inspiration — inadvertently caused by his wisecracking secretary Rosie(Cindy Williams) — prompts Harry to concoct the world’s first pornographic musical: something that could feasibly lead to him (ahem) pulling out of the smut picture racket for good.

The catch here (there’s always one, right?) is that his reluctant, greedy backers have only given him a short window of opportunity to realize the project — and on the condition that they will take over the studio should the film not be completed before then. To make matters worse, one of the backers (Hy Pyke — who, thankfully, does not get naked here like he did in Dolemite) appoints his naïve and virginal nephew, John Smithee (Kimmel), to direct the piece. Those sleazy backers.

And so, the race is on: Harry and Rosie try to rush a musical together with a perverted composer making up the tunes as he goes along — with John’s utter innocence over life in general stopping them dead in their tracks every step of the way. Diana Canova (Soap) plays a heavily-accented Cuban cutie, Alexandra Morgan inhabits the role of the diva here, Leslie Ackerman is the ingenuous ingénue who agrees to get nekkid providing she doesn’t have to take her clothes off (with Annette O’Toole providing her singing voice), and the great Alan Abelew is oh-so-memorable as “George. George Brenner.” Ron Howard makes a cameo as a confused young actor (a choice piece of casting that has haunted him ever since) and Frank Doubleday (from John Carpenter’s Escape from New York and Assault on Precinct 13) also pops up in a few scenes.

Now, what would a musical be without any memorable songs? The answer to that particular question, of course, is The Apple — but we‘re talking about The First Nudie Musical here. The movie includes several delightful toe-tapping tracks — many of which are Broadway-esque — as written by Bruce Kimmel himself, including the epic “Dancing Dildoes,” “Perversion,” “Lesbian, Butch Dyke,” “Honey What’cha Doin’ Tonight” and “Let ‘Em Eat Cake.”

Those of you who haven’t seen this hit (which made it to the number four slot on the box office report in 1977, just three spots down from something called Star Wars), might be wondering “OK, so is this a porno?” and/or “Wait. Cindy Williams from Laverne & Shirley made a skin flick?” If so, allow me to state that, while the movie is about people making a porn flick, The First Nudie Musical isn’t a blue film itself. It’s a comedy: one that features nudity, but doesn’t leer on its nude actresses (and sometimes actors) in a lascivious manner. And that’s just one reason why it’s so great: there is definitely skin here, but it’s always treats said skin as incidental; blasé, sil vous plais.

This marks the third home video version of The First Nudie Musical that I have seen. I used to have a slightly washed-out EP videocassette that I picked up in high school, which I replaced with the aforementioned 2002 DVD. I can safely say that this Blu-ray is by and far the best I have ever seen the film look. The colors here — though shot on that funky ‘70s filmstock — are very vibrant and crisp, while the detail is astonishing when you compare it to the Standard Def release. You DNR-phobes out there will be pleased to learn that absolutely no Digital Noise Reduction has been employed with this release (yay!), so you can expect some grain.

The movie is presented in a 1.78:1 ratio with DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono sound. Yup, that’s right: Bruce is keepin’ it real with the audio. While I enjoy a movie that exploits every aspect of my surround system, I can hardly imagine how a revamped 5.1 mix would have improved The First Nudie Musical in any way — and I’m certainly glad the soundtrack here stayed authentic. There are no subtitles included with this release, which is available from Kritzerland’s website.

Most of the special features for this Blu-ray have been carried over from the 2002 Image release, beginning with two audio commentaries: one with performers Bruce Kimmel, Stephen Nathan and Cindy Williams, and the other with Kimmel and documentarian Nick Redman, who made the included retrospective documentary “From Dollars to Donuts: An Undressing of The First Nudie Musical” — which is an informative and comical look back at the making and distributing of the film (wherein we learn of Kimmel’s encounter with Paramount Studios). The documentary also has an optional audio commentary with Kimmel, Redman and producer Michael Rosendale.

Also included are two deleted scenes: one of which (interestingly enough) was in the VHS copy I used to have, while the other — the musical number “Where is a Man” — looks to have been pulled from a videocassette source. Another deleted musical number (“I’ll Kick You with Boots”) is presented audio-only. A costume test, stills gallery and several advertising spots (two trailers and a radio spot) round out the bonus materials, and there’s a two-page booklet from Mr. Kimmel that reveals the history of this High-Def release.

Some of you will notice that the optional audio commentaries for the deleted scenes and the soundtrack CD that were part of the 2002 DVD are not included here, though the soundtrack is also available from Kritzerland.

In short: Kritzerland’s Blu-ray for The First Nudie Musical is a commendable one — one that finally presents this excellent comedy in a worthy transfer. “The Color, the Camera, the Lights and the Action” have never looked better — and it’s a must for longtime fans of the film and all the future fans that are destined to discover this classic.

Highly recommended.

About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the alter-ego of a feller who loves an eclectic variety of classic (and sometimes not-so-classic) film and television. He currently lives in Northern California with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.

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