Of all Russ Meyer’s films, Mondo Topless is perhaps the most representative of a director who must, at the very least, function as a “filmmaker” in the simplest capacity, that being someone who makes films. To Meyer, these are products meant for mass consumption, quite like any household object assembled in a factory. In Big Bosoms and Square Jaws, biographer Jimmy McDonough describes it as “Meyer at his most threadbare and pure. Hard to endure straight through…Mondo Topless is best savored in short, concentrated blasts that allow you to linger on the chrome-plated, neon-lit nuttiness of it all…. (181)” In this respect, it’s somewhat easier to justify the existence of Mondo Topless. Meyer needed money to make the films he wanted. He made this. This made money. That’s the point.
It’s hard not to accept Meyer’s defiance towards being labeled an auteur after viewing this film, but in this case his “like I give a fuck” approach to the material is what makes Mondo Topless even worth mentioning. Anyone who considered Mondo Topless a difficult viewing experience should imagine what it’d be like as the product of artistic pretense. That would be a depressing slog. Instead, the resulting hour of breasts in constant motion amounts to little more than tedium while functioning as a prime example of Meyer’s egoistic impulse to film whatever caught his eye and trust his audience would be on board.
Still, at the very least, the viewer might appreciate the nakedly essential elements with which Meyer constructs his product here. There are no veiled intentions, no serious overstatements. In short, no shame. Meyer takes his aggressive adoration of the nude female figure and (aside from the somewhat baffling San Francisco tour opening) bombards the audience with it, no story attached, not even something akin to the wandering pervert with a concealed camera from Europe in the Raw. Hell, even when he recycles footage from that film it feels like less of an affront to the viewer’s intelligence and more like a wholly rational decision. That film “examines” a European scene, while this one allegedly does the same with American dancers. The focus of both films is so narrow, so intentionally ill-defined, it just makes sense that an efficiency expert like Meyer would smash them together in a bid for cohesiveness.
The same might be said of Meyer’s decision to include footage of Lorna Maitland’s screen test for Lorna. Again, Meyer acts out of practicality, doing whatever it takes to extend the scant runtime. In the process, he gets to show off his breast-obsessed brand. Mondo Topless becomes less its own film and more like a strange, bare-bones primer for the director’s filmography. Devoid of any narrative trapping or thesis, Mondo Topless subjects the viewer to the basic, motivating force behind Meyer’s career: the opportunity to put not just a naked woman onscreen but whatever immediately grabs him. More often than not this translates to sex and/or violence, but Meyer doesn’t place any unnecessary weight behind his content. He strives for shots that land like a wad of spit in your face.
Obviously Mondo Topless speaks to this plan of attack, and yet as far as the director’s films go it’s relatively bland. Sitting through it approximates what it might feel like to overdose on an individual’s personality, were such a thing possible. Despite all its promises of visceral thrills, the viewer is left with little more than numbness at the film’s conclusion. Fortunately, the undeniable talents on display in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! would resurface along with the money this film earned, so in one way, Mondo Topless is a resounding success.