Friday, January 26, 2018

Unashamed: A Romance

Unashamed: A Romance
Allen Stuart

Although movies flaunting the benefits of nudist camps would really blossom in the 1960s, thanks to increasingly relaxed obscenity laws, there were a few early outliers. In general, these films served to showcase plenty of nude bodies under the guise of preaching about the benefits of naturalism. From my limited experience of these movies, most nudist camps consist of volleyball, naps, and monster attacks. There are no monsters to be found in Unashamed unless you count suicide and an undertone of racism. Not exactly elements I expected to encounter in this normally cheery subgenre.

Rae (Rae Kidd) worries that her boss Robert (Robert Lawton) is too stressed. She convinces him to visit a nudist camp where she is a member. Her invitation holds another motive as she uses this as an opportunity to get close to him. Despite her doctor’s protest that the relationship will never work because she isn’t white, she tries anyway. Robert takes to the lifestyle after a little trepidation and it seems to do him a lot of good. He and Rae grow closer, and things are going along swimmingly until a beautiful blonde criminal on the run ends up at the camp too…

Don't ask.
A nudist camp movie has one primary job and that is to deliver some nudity. Unashamed is no slouch there and the fact that it was created 1938 makes it a trailblazer of sorts. The film was banned throughout the country and could only have been seen in private and illegal showings for some time. Of course, it’s all pretty tame by today’s standards but that is to be expected.

What is unexpected is the attempt at a serious drama that emerges from all the frolicking and light romance. It is tough to watch Rae’s efforts to romance Robert slowly crumble away as he takes a liking to Barbara (Lucille Shearer). It feels unfair that Rae’s doctor is proved right and that Rae is cast aside because she is not white. It feels like Robert doesn’t even consider a serious romance a possibility. He never explicitly says that, but his actions prove otherwise. Things take a surprisingly grim turn in final moments (still all nude of course).

I'm no archer, but this seems potentially painful.
The acting is what you would expect from a production that had to rely on performers who were both cheap enough to hire and willing to get naked in front of the camera. Nobody is exactly terrible here, and in fact, Rae Kidd comes across as quite earnest and charming, but no one lights up the screen with a brilliant performance either. I get the impression that everyone involved did try and treat the material with some level of respect.

Unashamed: A Romance is an unusual entry in a tiny subgenre. It aspires to be a serious drama and a showcase for naked bodies but is only marginally successful at both. I never expected to see a maudlin nudist camp movie, yet here one exists.

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