Friday, 9 October 2015

Cherry, Harry and Raquel (5 Stars)

"Whereas science has not yet proved the harmful effects of marijuana on the human body, there is little question concerning the corrupting influence on its users and purveyors".

This is the 13th film in the Russ Meyer Collection, made in 1969. It's another tale of morality. Russ had too many ideas for one film. It's like he was bursting to tell us what was on his mind. The film itself can be divided into four sections.

1. Russ Meyer lectures us on the importance of freedom of opinion.
2. Russ Meyer lectures us on the evil of marijuana (or rather, the evil of the marijuana trade).
3. The film itself.
4. Russ Meyer analyses the moral culpability of the film's main characters.

The film's central character is Harry, the deputy sheriff of San Luis, Arizona. He's played by Charles Napier, in my opinion the most underrated actor ever. He died in 2011 without ever achieving the big Hollywood breakthrough that he deserved. Harry has been making money on the side by helping a politician called Franklin smuggle drugs into the USA. Harry used the income from the drugs smuggling to buy the luxurious mansion pictured below. Maybe the drugs trade doesn't pay so well after all?

Franklin is getting old and has decided to quit the drugs trade. Harry grudgingly agrees, but another of Franklin's employees, an Apache Indian called Geronimo, wants to continue smuggling drugs by himself. Franklin is worried that things might go wrong, bringing bad publicity for himself, so he asks Harry to kill Geronimo, aided by a Mexican immigrant called Enrique.

So who are Cherry and Raquel? Cherry is Harry's wife, and Raquel is a prostitute who regularly visits Franklin. They naively build a lesbian relationship with one another while the violent struggle with Geronimo is going on around them. In typical Russ Meyer style, the final scene shows alternating cuts of Harry and Geronino fighting to the death while Cherry and Raquel's bodies are writhing in passion. In a ballet of existentialist absurdity the motions of the two fighters and the two lovers are almost identical.

This is possibly Russ Meyer's most surreal film. The controlling force in the film is an all-powerful Goddess called Soul. In herself she's invisible, but she frequently co-exists with the main characters. It's not that she occupies the body of a character to control him, she simply takes the place of that person, visible to us, the viewers, but unseen within the film. For instance, whenever we see a close up of Geronimo in the early scenes he's a naked woman, Soul. Does that make sense? Not really. It's like a crazy dream.

In the moral summing up all the men are guilty, all the women are innocent. Harry is a man "no different from anyone else", not thankful for what he has. Enrique is a greedy young man looking to make a quick buck. Geronimo is a native American who has given up his pride for the sake of money. Franklin is the ringmaster of evil, tempting everyone around him to sin. Only Cherry and Raquel are innocents, living for love. But who will judge us? Soul is the all-powerful Goddess who will reward the women and punish the men.

There's one thing I've failed to mention in my previous reviews of the Russ Meyer Collection. In almost all of his films Russ Meyer appears briefly in a cameo. In "Cherry, Harry and Raquel" we see him in a swimming pool with Soul. How does Soul judge Russ? He created her, but that doesn't earn him any special favours. More importantly, she's looking directly at us, the viewers, observing us, judging us mercilessly.

Are those Soul's words, or Russ's own words? It doesn't matter. Think about it.


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