Western Film WTF: Wild Gals of the Naked West (1962)

Less a film than an artifact of a strange cinematic period, Russ Meyer's "Wild Gals of the Naked West" was one of the last of a genre than Meyer invented: the "nudie cutie." These were comic films, mostly consisting of short vignettes, based around circumstances in which men might see a lot of topless women.

The films are essentially bawdy cocktail napkins brought to life. They generally starring a mixture of very meek men and grotesquely overmasculine men leering at women with enormous breasts. All of Meyer's films did and, if anything sums up Meyer's career, that previous sentence did. That sentence could have been his mission statement. It was his entire raison d'ĂȘtre.

Meyer also had a sharp sense of humor and a strange regard for female power: His female characters generally have their own sexual agency and are pretty touch, sometimes considerably tougher than the men around them. (This is especially true in Meyer's justifiably famous "Faster, Pussycat Kill! Kill!", where the main actresses are physically stronger than almost every man in the film.)

This film might be considered a rough draft of that. It's set in a cocktail napkin cartoon of a Western town — some of the sets are literally painted on backdrops, making it look like nothing so much as a Warner Brothers cartoon.

The town is full of slobbering cavemen in cowboy costumes and topless women, all going through a strange, seemingly endless series of repeated vignettes: Two men fight endlessly, a woman repeatedly tries to drink champagne only to have it shot out of her hand, a man enters an outhouse only to have it tipped over. These events loop over and over again for much of the film, sometimes slightly altered, as though Meyer's were inventing a topless Western version of Phillip Glass's minimalist music. Halfway through, a meek fellow enters town, and he soon dons a florid orange cowboy costume and interacts with these vignettes, solving them.

This is not one of Meyers' better films, as the film's slapstick has aged poorly, if it was ever funny. It does, however, have a distinctive visual sensibility: Meyers' had been a combat photographer and, upon his return from World War II, translated those skills into so-called glamor photography, including a number of shoots for Playboy.

His photos often featured bright colors and bold patterns, and he often composed the shots so that they either seemed photojournalistic, like he just happened to catch the models topless while they were doing something else, or active, like the women could not help but pose like they were about to jump in the air or start running. They are images with an awful lot of vim, let's say, and he brought this to his film work as well.

So there's not a quiet moment in this film, which is sometimes some frenetic that it seems to vibrate, all playing out in front of abstract, frequently artificial Western backdrops. The film as a whole isn't much fun, but, somehow, every single frame of the film, if taken in isolation, is fascinating. I would put them on my wall as art.

"Wild Gals" is important for another reason: It is the film that introduced Meyer to Jackie Moran, a former child actor who stars here as an old prospector in awful makeup. Moran also coscripted the film and would end up being a recurring Meyer collaborator, co-authoring "Faster, Pussycat" and scripting and appearing in "Common Law Cabin," two of Meyer's better films.

So if you've ever wondered how it is that child actors might transition into adult filmmaking (and more than a few have, including Dustin Diamond, Lisa Loring, and John Bailey), well, this movie is an early example.


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