Mondo Fever Dream: Doris Wishman's The Prince & The Nature Girl
A movie can often be a magical tool to transport you to a multitude of worlds and alternate realms. Lands with braggadocios knights, golden-eyed monsters, she-devils, and heroic amazons can all be displayed in front of your willing eyes. When you sit down to watch a Doris Wishman film, you're taken to a cinematic universe that is filled with such singular style and filmmaking decisions that will make you start to question your own reality after a few minutes in. Her once-lost film, The Prince & The Nature Girl, will achieve just this. On one hand, it is a simple “nudie cutie” with a loose plot line involving a love triangle with a modern-day prince and two beautiful twin sisters. Yet, on the other hand, it starts feeling like you're watching the above through the tonal gauze of running a high fever. Basically, it possesses all the benefits of having a high thermal temp but minus the aches and pains.
That's not to say that The Prince & The Nature Girl is a great movie or even one of Wishman's best. It's not but it does possess a freshness and sense of whimsy. Fans of Wishman will find key hallmarks that appear throughout most of her career. Characters are clearly dubbed over while their lips are moving...sometimes, there are copious extended shots of B-roll scenery while characters talk off-screen, adding to that glorious haze “Huh?” factor of watching a Doris Wishman film. It also has cheeky (pun intended with many apologies) yet wholly naive sexuality that permeated throughout the nudie cutie subgenre. Think flirty but minus any improper necking or completion.
Like all good fairy tales, The Prince & The Nature Girl frames the beginning with the line, “Once upon a time…” The titular prince decides to enter the working world with the realization that he “...should get a job in case of a revolution!” With nary an info about the despotic homeland of our very American prince, since hey, this is a nudie cutie, not Oscar bait, and thank the lord for that! Our Prince, who barely works in his humble edging into dingy office, is a sun enthusiast. When he’s not half-assing his paperwork or borderline sexually harassing his secretaries, the Prince likes to luxuriate at a nudist camp.
His fellow sun worshippers are a mix of mostly real-life cheesecake models and a smattering of genuine nudists, with Wishman shooting footage at both the Sunny Palms Lodge in Homestead, Florida and the Sunny Heights Lodge in scenic Trenton, New Jersey. (Eagle-eyed Wishman fans will recognize some re-used footage throughout the films from such past titles as 1962’s Blaze Starr Goes Nudist.) Now every proper fairy tale needs a dash of romance for our fair-ish hero. Enter “two beautiful maidens from Ohio” in the form of Eve and Sue Pringle, two twins who can only be differentiated by their hair color. (It helps that they are played by the same actress!) The darling duo start their new lives in the big city by starting a new career in working in the Prince’s office. (Naturally!) The young royal immediately takes a liking to flaxen-haired Eve, while it is Sue who is quietly pining for his stately attention. Meanwhile, the Prince is practically eye-humping Eve, whose work ethic is questionably even worse than his. The narrator at one point actually says, “Eve wasn’t very ambitious. She could get the file some other time.” Maybe these two should be together.
Being a little dense to her more demure twin’s crush, Eve agrees to meet up with the Prince at the nudist camp, since “Where else can you go to REALLY relax?” Hey, go ahead and be a skeptic, but topless volleyball always trumps things like deep tissue back rubs and quiet hikes while wearing enough clothing to ward off any ticks, chiggers, and other mal-intended little bloodsuckers. Eve at first plays it cool, responding to the Prince’s request to call her by her first name with “You may call me Ms. Pringle.” He’s a bit of, how you say, a dork?
There’s a bit of nude boxing, which sounds both dicey and amazing until you realize that the Prince has kept his shorts on for the ENTIRE time. I thought nudist camps had rules about these things. Oh, curses upon the slightly-loosening-yet-still-repressed-morals-of-the-mid-1960s! As the Prince is warming up to Eve more and more, poor Sue has got the lovesick blues bad, proclaiming, “I lost my heart to him!” However, when Eve has to leave for an emergency wedding (!?), Sue is left to do some good-intentioned deception with the aid of a wig. What will become of this intrepid love triangle? Will the Prince discover Sue’s deception? What about Eve and her inevitable return? Will sweet Sue crack under the pressure of living a lie? And the plants? My god, the plants that we see over and over again? Who the hell is watering them? God? Are you there? Who am I? Who is ANYBODY? WISHMANNNNN!!!
All silliness aside, I love Doris Wishman. She has gotten ribbed and derided over the years for creating a number of films that lacked a certain type of technical polish. But how many filmmakers, especially of her era before everyone and their next-door neighbor had access to digital cameras, can you name that got their start feet first? The woman wanted to be a filmmaker and so she just did it, even bypassing such cutting-of-the-teeth routes like creating industrial films and advertisements. She went straight into film and by doing so, carved out her own techniques by taking budget limitations and forging them into helping shape her own style. For those in the know, you just have to hear her name to automatically nod and smile, because you see her one-of-a-kind imprints in your head.
We are quite lucky to have this release of The Prince & the Nature Girl since this title was considered lost until a print mercifully turned up in Germany. It’s frankly bizarre to think of any post-Silent era films being lost, but given that cinema was often viewed as a throwaway art more often than not for decades, it happened more than it ever should. If mainstream films weren’t given the best care back in the day, then the fate of fringe or cult films could be even more dire. Two of Wishman’s titles are still considered lost, including Playgirls International (1963) and Behind the Nudist Curtain (1964), so having The Prince & the Nature Girl out on DVD is great.
With this release from Pop Cinema, we get a handful of terrific supplements, including trailers, three vintage nudist short films, an amazing segment from the Baltimore Public Access show, Atomic TV featuring Doris, John Waters, and writer/Wishman biographer Michael Bowen. Speaking of Bowen, he is also featured on the fun and informative commentary track along with Michael Raso and John Fedele. If the film isn’t enough of a lure to pull you into getting this title, then the extras should absolutely seal the deal.
For you lovers of Doris Wishman, feverish-borderline-static-shot-travelogues, and the truest of the true cult cinema, The Prince & the Nature Girl is a re-discovered gift just for you.