The True Story of Eskimo Nell (1975)

I wonder if this film hasn’t been somewhat misrepresented for years. Umbrella first released it on DVD in their “Sexy Oz Retro” line alongside the likes of the Fantasm films and Pacific Banana, and Not Quite Hollywood kind of sells it as some kind of sex romp by singling out the infamous Abigail nude scene and pointing up the media controversy whipped up by Fred Nile (just like the film’s own trailer does). Hence why it’s kind of curious to actually watch the film and realise, well, it’s not exactly the sex comedy it seems to have always been marketed as. For one thing, there’s not actually a lot of sex or even a great deal of nudity (Abigail’s famous full-frontal happens quite early on in the piece; I wonder how many people went to the film thinking she was meant to be Nell), its connection with the infamous bawdy poem that inspired it is actually pretty loose, and while Richard Franklin might’ve thought he was cashing in on the 70s sex comedy trend, he actually wound up with something else: a buddy movie referencing John Ford, D.W. Griffith, Midnight Cowboy AND Blazing Saddles. The whole thing pretty much turns on Max Gillies as Dead-Eye Dick, a man most kindly described as self-deluding who leads the somewhat doubtful Mexico Pete on a merry quest to find the epic “womper” Eskimo Nell; it’s a terrific performance that gives the film an emotional edge I wasn’t expecting. Serge Lazareff is probably less effective as Pete than Jack Thompson (originally cast in that role) might’ve been and there are pacing problems, but on the whole it’s surprisingly accomplished for a debut feature, looking pretty amazing for a film that cost under $200,000; if it’s not a classic, it probably deserves to be better remembered than it seems to be.

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