The opening of Russ Meyer’s Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers!, the first of two Meyer films produced in 1968, is something of a bait and switch. As the red Fiat seen in Good Morning… and Goodbye! rushes across the California desert, it sets itself up to be a typical Meyer film set in his specific brand of Dogpatch, USA. But, shockingly enough, the tables turn within seconds and were plopped right into the middle of the big city nightlife; a first, and rare, locale for Meyer’s films. And, though anchoring itself in a low-level strip joint where there is T&A aplenty and wild undulations are half-off, Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! immediately sets itself apart from anything previously helmed by Meyer by explicitly introducing itself as a crime film; the story of Paul (Paul Lockwood), club owner and hopeless pussy hound whose inability to save it all for his long suffering wife, Kelly (Anne Chapman) puts everything in massive jeopardy as forces conspire to incapacitate him on another side of town while two thugs crack the safe in his bar.
Of course, that is just the elevator pitch for Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! as there is a LOT of movie packed into its tight 71 minutes. Strippers and prostitutes battling deadly thieves might be what all of this boils down to but this is a film that is also a sly, self-reflexive comment on the business of sex and the chasm that separates the performative and the personal. Russ Meyer’s female characters were always fantasies made flesh who were then put into perilous situations for the pleasure of the viewer in a way that’s not unlike what’s actually occurring in the film. Claire (Lavelle Roby), the cynical and manipulative madame who is tired of dealing with the dull mechanics of sex as a commodity, is in cahoots with Cal (Duncan McLeod) and Feeney (Robert Rudelson), the two thieves who are knocking over the safe in Paul’s bar. For a cut of the dough, she’ll push all of the players, directly and indirectly, into positions where they’re at their most vulnerable and for the benefit of paying customers. Her style of project management in her own brothel, a top-down and lightning fast shuffle of rooms and clients and employees, is not unlike Meyer’s as he similarly had to make quick decisions on the fly in the pursuit of sex for dollars.
In contrast to Claire, Kelly is an amateur who uses stripping as a means to vent her sexual frustration. Left unsatisfied by her philandering husband and never made to feel desired, Kelly turns to dancing as a desperate measure and her routine is so rawly sexual, highly energetic, and immaculately shot and edited that it actually made three people in different parts of the country spontaneously pregnant after they saw it in the theater on opening day and, most surprisingly, one of them was a man. Juxtapose her emotion-filled routine that celebrates her sexuality while lamenting her horrible reality with the humdrum reactions of Christiana (Jan Sinclair), a sex worker who toils in Claire’s stable, who steels herself for an upcoming S&M session with a client by rolling her eyes in a way that spells out “Meh… it’s a living.” Given Meyer’s penchant for allowing his female characters to embody all facets of female identity and sexuality there is good reason that noted film critic B. Ruby Rich heralded Russ Meyer as America’s first true feminist filmmaker.
Though only produced the following year, it feels like there is a whole generation gap between Good Morning… and Goodbye! and Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers!. The character of Ray (Gordon Wescourt), barkeep at Paul’s club, supplies the link. Though they aren’t the same character, the clean cut, hip kid played by Don Johnson (no, not THAT Don Johnson) from the previous film has now become the bottom-shelf Iago of the second, a chasm of about 12 years between them. The endless summer that came with the fun of Good Morning… and Goodbye is replaced by scheming and shameless manipulation that comes with the adulthood found in Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers. The sharp camp in the earlier film is ground down into a kind of sadness here as Ray’s teenybopper look at middle-aged complacency has melted into an all-too-inevitable turn to Ray’s more mature look at bedroom boredom where early morning desperation sex feels truly desperate. And by using his famous Dutch angles and a battery of lovingly cut cucoloris, Meyer makes the bedroom antics in Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! feel nightmarishly stale, tacky, and fleeting but also uses his editorial skills to expand time in a reverse-elliptical to allow the viewer the necessary taste as to why people pursue such things in the first place.
Much like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! was a gender-reverse redressing of Motorpsycho, Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! does the same for the basic plot of Good Morning… and Goodbye! Here, is is Paul catting around the vicinity and not Angel and it is Kelly, not Burt, who has to confide in another to become more sexual. If the film isn’t as satisfying as Good Morning… and Goodbye!, it’s that Meyer doesn’t quite succeed in giving the film the lighter touch it needs to avoid being sadistic and mean. Meyer aims for another Motorpsycho where the violence is nasty and plentiful but, unfortunately, much of it is directed at the hapless Kelly. Additionally, he bobs where he should weave, short-selling the character of Claire, portrayed by the first African American actress to enter the Meyer universe. If Claire is to be the hero of this film (and she kinda is), we’re given too little of her throughout the film. If we’re to identify with Kelly, then we’ve come too far for her to be a more fleshed-out version of Sue Bernard’s whiny and helpless character from Faster, Pussycat! Kill Kill!
Along with not having enough characters in the mix to really pull off what it wants to, Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! feels like it doesn’t have a proper ending. Employing a music-only montage of the characters without context right before the credits roll, it seems like Meyer had possibly laid his usual cornball moralizing over it only to pull it at the last minute. Maybe he felt the film spoke for itself and it got across what it needed to without resorting to the kind of comedic landing he did in previous pictures. Leaving the broken married couple among a detritus of violence and betrayal with their future necessarily vague was statement enough, proving that his aim was at something a little more serious than the fairy tale endings found in his previous two features.
But just because the film doesn’t quite hit the same heights as some of his previous works, there is quite a bit to love in Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! The sexuality in this one seems much more progressive and loose than in his previous films which, when talking about Meyer’s oeuvre, is always of interest and value. Given the film’s explicit lesbianism, the inclusion of the Kama Sutra and a conversation piece, and the explicit dominance in the shaving scene, Meyer sheds the more puritanical and mechanical aspects of sex (“Straight up and down” as Alaina Capri put it in Good Morning… and Goodbye!) for something more adventurous. This is summed up by Christiana’s sizing up of Paul’s sexual education when she purrs, “I think you have the finer points of your education down there but a little more variety could make it more interesting.”
And to this end, the nudity in this film is the most direct and explicit than in any of Russ’s previous narrative films. The sexual activity is hotter here than in Good Morning… and Goodbye! because where that film was all talk and tease, Meyer fiercely goes for it here culminating in an underwater sequence (shot, like the rest of the film, by Meyer) which, up to then, was the most revealing and shocking of his career. Per usual, the violence that concludes the film is pretty shocking but Meyer’s ability to mix his wildly divergent tones (pre-David Lynch) was almost a trademark by 1968.
And, like the suburban interiors of his previous film, the popcorn ceilings, swag lamps, thick carpeting, and wood paneling gives this one the truest soap feeling of all the soaps. Funky decanter sets and period jukeboxes make for amazing mid-century detail and, like Good Morning… and Goodbye, there is a beautiful utilization of colors as the cool blues and the bright reds simmer among the darker interiors. Again, Igo Kantor’s swinging score is so great that hip hop genius Madlib cribbed it as a foundation for the “Rainbows” track on his brilliant Madvillian album from 2004 (a Meyer fan, Madlib had previously used some of the soundtrack for Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! for one of his Quasimoto projects). Also, in adding to his stack of great tunes written and performed for his films, Meyer scores big with the film’s title track, written and performed by Melvin Ellis and the Causals on the Square.
Ultimately, the sum of the parts of Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! is definitely better than the whole. Neither Lavelle Roby nor Anne Chapman are well-served by the material as Meyer’s instincts get a little frazzled in his attempt to expand his personal vision. While he managed to push the boundaries of the sexual content with this, it was at the expense of his lead characters, both of whom deserved a little better. Whether or not Russ Meyer was conscious of this is irrelevant as he would most definitely stumble onto the perfect formula for his next film which would be released in October the same year.
Hold on to your popcorn.
(C) Copyright 2022, Patrick Crain