This movie is literally half nuts. I know that seems par for the course with my past Meyer reviews, but there is literally only half a movie here.
This movie is notable for introducing Meyer's favourite heavy Charles Napier. Weirdly, he is cast as the hero here.
While he is more famous for playing redneck psychos, Napier is on good form. Funny, charismatic and totally in sync with Meyer's batty worldview, he is the best male lead Meyer ever had.
The story is, at first, pretty simple. Napier plays Harry, a sheriff in the pocket of a local mobster (played by Meyer favourite Franklin Bolger). The mobster sends Harry after an infamous drug dealer, the 'Apache' (John Milo), who is going into business for himself and is heading into town to make trouble.
Meanwhile, Harry's girlfriends Raquel (Linda Ashton) and Cherry (Larissa Ely) spend the movie trying to find out who Harry's other squeeze is. This being the late 60s, they are totally chill with the arrangement and wind up making out with each other. Totally superfluous subplot but this is an exploitation movie.
Now to the crazy. According to Jimmy McDonough's biography, lead actress Linda Ashton pulled out midway through production leaving him with half a movie.
Every few minutes or so, the story is interrupted by random inserts of model Uschi Digard in an Indian head dress 'symbolically' re-creating the missing scenes. It's barmy.
One minute you're watching Charles Napier talking on the phone and the next shot is Uschi sitting at an old-school switchboard perched on train tracks in the middle of a desert. Huh?
Anyway, the movie is probably better for having these pieces of randomness. The 'Apache' plot is not that interesting, and does not really develop in any interesting way. If Ashton had stuck around, this might have ended up like Finders Keepers... Lovers Weepers!
There are some pretty cool action scenes scattered throughout the movie. There's a neat little ambush in the desert where the Apache figures out that Harry is laying a trap for him and turns the tables.
It turns into a Western-style shoot out, with Harry pinned by his jeep and the Apache firing on him from a nearby outcrop.
The best scene in the movie is the car chase near the climax. Harry's cohort Enrique (Bert Santos) is transporting a supply of weed to LA when the Apache chases him down.
Cue a great scene which ends with Enrique, car destroyed, in a stand-off with the Apache's vehicle.
In an inspired touch, Meyer styles this bit of action like a bullfight, with Enrique dodging out of the way as the Apache's jeep charges past. Eventually his luck runs out, and he gets creamed.
The climax involves Harry running around the desert outside his shack, shouting and shooting at the unseen Apache. This is one scene that could have used more Uschi.
This scene really re-iterated how bad Meyer was at ending his movies. He always starts charging out of the gate, but by halfway in, they usually collapse. The only films that manage to avoid this are Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls -- and even then, they are straining.
So the Apache dies, which would generally be the place to end. But the movie only just hit the hour mark so Meyer cuts straight to an insane montage of various clips form the movie inter-cut with shots of -- among other things -- Uschi pouring milk over herself on top of a mountain, Uschi carrying a tuba through the desert and Uschi at that goddamn switchboard. All the while, a narrator drones on about the importance of 'soul' for what feels like four hours. You can really feel Meyer pulling out every random idea he can think of to bring the movie up to feature length.
As a final corker, we get the revelation that the movie we've been watching is actually a book that Cherry has been writing about her experiences. God knows what that would be like to read...
Cherry, Harry and Raquel! is a real piece of work. There are points which were genuinely bad (basically any scene with Linda Ashton, who clearly did not want to be there), moments where I checked out and some genuinely solid sequences (the car chase being the major one).
What makes it awesome is the bizarreness of the Uschi Digard scenes. They just pop up out of nowhere and make absolutely no sense. If the movie had more of that zaniness, Cherry, Harry and Raquel! would be up there with Meyer's best. As is, it's middle of the pack.
I'll recommend it, but it requires some judicious use of the fast forward button.
Russ Meyer will return with Blacksnake!
For previous entries...
The Meyer Files #11: Good Morning and... Goodbye! (1967)
The Meyer Files #12: Finders Keepers... Lovers Weepers! (1968)
The Meyer Files #13: Vixen!