Greetings readers! I have returned once more (after a long hiatus) to ramble about some strange oddities.
But with a catch.
In honor of this column’s theatrical namesake, we’re going to be running “The Offbeat Marquee” like a true old-school theater: with double bills. Every Friday, this series, “Double Bill Delights,” will highlight real-life double bills that were shown in theaters throughout the 20th century. And we are kicking this all off with what inspired me.
On July 31st of 2020, Joe Blevins, cohost of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, posted this: a newspaper ad for a double bill of the 1970 Candid Camera sex comedy What Do You Say to a Naked Lady, and the infamous 1966 cult classic Manos: The Hands of Fate. Made even more fascinating by the fact that this was shown in the Rex Theatre in downtown Honolulu, Hawaii. The theater was initially one for athletic events such as sumo wrestling, known as the Asahi Gekijo. In 1934, it was rebranded as a cinema, the Roosevelt Theatre, and by 1959, was a full-blown adult movie house. What makes the ad even more peculiar is that the theater closed down in 1970, the same year as What Do You Say to a Naked Lady’s initial theatrical run, and the double bill was shown at 12 PM.
I repeat: a double bill of a Candid Camera sex comedy and a legendarily horrible film was shown at the middle of the day in HONOLULU, HAWAII. Who in their right minds is going to a cinema, ANY CINEMA, at high noon, let alone a grindhouse, in HAWAII?
So you’re probably now asking: what’s it like watching this shit back-to-back? Allow me to answer.
The short answer: it’s fucking weird.
The long answer? Let’s take a look.
What Do You Say to a Naked Lady? (1970)
TV’s own Allen Funt takes his famous, long-running Candid Camera format to the big screen in a light-hearted, almost Mondo-type affair, examining the issues surrounding sex in the (then) modern day-and-age. What Do You Say to a Naked Lady, while lacking a clearer flow (resulting in a really rough vignette style), on top of being peppered with obnoxiously blunt pop music, has a really cool metatextual quality about it all. Funt has the film structured in such a way that we see a bevy of sexual and nudist scenarios, we get to see unknowing participants’ reactions, audience reactions to workprints of the film, and even a scenario where Funt asks a model about participating as an actress in one of his scenarios. Thus, the film becomes an amusingly meta-documentary.
However, because of a lack of an apparent, clear-cut through line, the amusement is fleeting to say the least. Definitely worth a watch if you want to get a kick out of some old-school Candid Camera, a document of the sociopolitical state of the era, and be reminded of the program’s power thanks to some genuinely hilarious and kind of heartwarming reactions to Funt revealing the whole scenario.
Also, for a split second, you get to see a pre-Shaft Richard Roundtree as one half of an interracial couple that Funt uses to strike up a conversation between his unknowing participants.
Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)
Y’know, I genuinely think this could have been a decent C-grade grindhouse horror in the vein of something like The Severed Arm or an H.G. Lewis film, but it is the almost magical ineptitude of the filmmaking of Manos: The Hands of Fate that makes this thing a landmark cult film. The already poor acting is enhanced by a complete redub armed with only three people, the only credit for its opening is a title card, the script is nonsensical, the incompetent direction infects all elements of the film, and even though the music is surprisingly solid, it is poorly used and suffers under the weight of the film’s archival noise.
But it’s lovable in its incompetence.
Manos is a special, wholesome kind of stupid. It isn’t aggressively boring like Monster A Go-Go or Red Zone Cuba, but doesn’t enjoy the overproduced insanity of films like the comic book movie that launched a thousand internet critics, The Super Mario Bros. Movie. It is a perfect blend of incredible ambition and complete inexperience. If this was in the hands of anyone else, it would’ve just been an average exploitation film. A bit silly, but still capable of shocking. Manos has proven that it is only capable of drawing laughter from any audience. And that’s okay. That’s why we love it.
While I don’t have much to say when examining both films apart, as a double bill, it proves a weird sit. On one hand, you have a beloved TV franchise entering the arena of film in a lovably provocative way, thanks to Funt’s charms as a presenter that softens the blow of the then risqué scenarios his cast and crew construct. On the other…it’s literally one of the worst films in all of creation. Thankfully its one of the most lovably bad, but to go from seeing real people reacting to nude people to an average, poorly dubbed American family falling in with an inept cult leader and his cabal is jarring to say the least. Again, thankfully both are entertaining in their own unique ways, but it’s not the immediate pairing I would have made had I been running. I dare say that double bills like these were a sign of how far the Rex had fallen as a theater, and it’s kind of no wonder it closed down the same year. But in the end, it is certainly an experience, and given how both are included with Amazon Prime at the time of writing this, there’s no reason to not at least give it a shot. Although you should probably down a few before diving in.