The Strange Case Of Dr. Sex

Nudie Cutie movies are a very particular phenomenon. They existed for a short time in the mid-twentieth century and were designed to sell pornography without getting prosecuted. The Hayes code and obscenity laws were vague when it came to simple nudity. Mostly they were concerned with the depiction of sex. The nudie cutie exploits this pseudo-loophole and displays nude women who are engaged in “non-sexual” activities such as trying on underwear, taking a bath, playing volleyball at a nude beach, etc.

Nudie Cuties often have similar premises. There is the sex education Nudie Cutie, the documentary about nudists Nudie Cutie, and the mysterious planet of naked women Nudie Cutie. One of the most common tropes is the cataloging of sexual perversions documentary. They are always hosted by a sober psychologist who relays the disturbing cases he has seen in his years of practice. Invariably the cases involve nothing more than peeping toms, and bisexual housewives, but are depicted as depraved acts of sick minds. The irony being that the audience is invited to share in this degeneracy by peeping at all of it.

Dr. Sex has its own unique take on the psychological documentary trope in that it attempts to be both a serious film about sex as well as a comedy. In the officious sounding narration at the beginning, the film’s purpose is explained.

“Freudian theory would teach us that sex is at the root of almost all of man’s subconscious being. It is this overemphasis on sex and its confusion with psychoanalysis that should be our concern. Of course, sex should always be present in a society in a healthy pleasurable way, but it should be treated in its proper perspective. It should not be made to bear the burden of all of man’s failings… It is our purpose to expose this confusion through satire to show with humor the ridiculous extremes to which we have allowed society to go.”

The assumption is that this introductory monologue is just a silly pretense to show boobies and not get busted, but the movie is stranger than that. To begin with, there is something odd about the cinematography. It’s as if the whole film was shot by someone who had never shot moving film before, only still photographs. I suppose you could say the film adheres to the Eisenstein school of juxtapositional editing, but that might be stretching it just a bit.

The film begins with three psychologists meeting in an office to discuss their strangest cases. Each doctor tells one story. In a more conventional nudie cutie, these stories would be comedic little one-acts or half-acts that contain nudity. Dr. Sex does employ this formula but the stories all seem to contain more than just an excuse to ogle women. They each have a Twilight Zone twist of irony.

The odd twists in each story invite you to think over what you have just witnessed. One skit is of a man who lives in a house haunted by naked housewives who spend their time cooking, vacuuming, and pouring glasses of wine for the living man of the house. It’s an interesting fantasy. A man finds himself surrounded by naked women who are only half there. The man of the house gets to be taken care of and titillated without having to deal with an actual woman. The women of the house come with the house as if they are an extension of it. They have no independent personhood nor any needs, they exist only to serve. It’s a nightmare vision of what many real women feel. Then there is the twist. When the man goes to touch any one of the ghosts they disappear. It’s unclear what this is supposed to mean, but it is a metaphor for the film’s audience who is aroused by a ghost vision of a woman that they can not touch.

Another of the stories involves a man who can not tell the difference between a real woman and a mannequin. He does not molest the mannequins but he believes that when the store is closed they need to be treated with respect and given an opportunity to rest and relax in the evening. The twist comes when instead of seeing mannequins as women, he starts seeing women as mannequins. This spirals out of control and eventually, he breaks down. It all seems like an unintentional metaphor for objectification. The man is so caught up in the glamorous image of the female sex object he loses any real reference point and goes insane. I don’t think there is a secret feminist subtext to Dr. Sex but there are unintended meanings that sneak through. Consciously or not the writer and director end up illustrating the sexual politics of their time.

Along with these unintended socio-political references, there are what appear to be unintended visual references as well. I couldn’t help but notice some compositions that looked very familiar, as seen below.

To solidify the artistic references there is one more story in the film that involves a painter and his model. You can see the twist coming a mile away. He has her pose while he paints on a canvas that neither the camera nor the model can see. Then at the last moment, he reveals the painting and it is a mess of scribbles that the narrator refers to as abstract art. There is nothing more gut-bustingly hilarious than making fun of abstract and modern art. I never tire of hearing museum-goers say “My kid could do better than that.” it’s just hysterical.

As with all Nudie Cuties, Dr. Sex ends in a big, half-naked dance party. You have to be drowning in a sea of your own testosterone to be desperate enough to make it to the end. Only those who are truly obsessed with boobs will survive the endless scenes of naked women doing nothing. I, of course, am an exception. As a college-educated film critic, my interests are purely academic. I am a trained and objective witness to culture. You should be grateful for my sacrifice.

Nudie Cutie films also perform a little-known but valuable public service. For all those unfortunate teens who end up playing oboe and bassoon in their high school band or orchestra while suffering the derision of their friends and family, Nudie Cuties provide an opportunity to be heard by a wider audience. Not the audience the musicians might choose but a wider audience nonetheless. After hours of laboring to learn an instrument that many people have never heard of, these aspiring musicians can finally get a paycheck, or an equivalent amount of cocaine, for providing their talent to the film industry, and the world.

Nudie Cuties of all stripes seem obsessed with the bassoon and the oboe and maybe an occasional clarinet. During the 1970s, these instruments are usually reserved for comedic effect in shows like the Brady Bunch or Star Trek, but nudie cuties often use these instruments as the sole source for the entire musical soundtrack.

Dr. Sex was written, directed, and produced by Ted V. Mikels in 1964. For a Nudie Cutie filmmaker, Mikels was considerably more successful than many of his peers. He directed the original Black Klansman as well as two grindhouse classics, The Corpse Grinders, and Astro Zombies. The nudie cutie era would come to an end in 1968 when the Hayes Code was repealed but fortunately or perhaps unfortunately these films remain to remind us of how desperate teens were before free internet porn.

I have an MFA in painting and I’m an art professor but I managed to convince the school to let me teach film. https://twitter.com/Filmofile1

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