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NO MORE EXCUSES (1968).

Following the 1966 underground success of CHAFED ELBOWS, and before his (comparatively) mainstream trio of PUTNEY SWOPE, POUND and GREASER'S PALACE, director Robert Downey [a prince] and ELBOWS-editor Robert Soukis concocted this 46-minute cinematic goulash, which finally emerged from decades of obscurity thanks to The Criterion Collection, with a newly-restored print struck from the film's only remaining 16mm copy. Like most of Downey's early, most personal efforts, it's a deliriously irreverent blend of politics, sex, humor, and assorted weirdness that bounces crazily from one segment to another. Opening with a reverse-chronological montage of American warfare -- from (then-current) Vietnam back to the Civil War -- the filmmakers visit Manhattan singles bars for impromptu conversations with their horny clientele (both male and female) about one-night-stands and the modern-day preference for sex over love; there's crude reenactment of (a bald) President James Garfield's assassination by Charles Guiteau, plus professional hoaxer Alan Abel portrays the uptight spokesman for the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (S.I.N.A.), whose goal is to make all animals wear clothes and spouts absurdities like "Who should [a dog] be denied the right to walk down the street in a tuxedo at night?" [Note: Abel created this faux-organization back in 1959, with then-unknown Buck Henry as its spokesperson, and managed to prank several news outlets including THE TODAY SHOW and THE CBS EVENING NEWS. Some of the most amusing moments involve a wounded Union soldier, Private Thompson (played by Downey himself), who escapes from the battlefield and suddenly finds himself in 20th Century New York City -- confused and wandering the crowded city streets in his old-timey uniform (complete with rifle!), checking out the subway, getting picked up by a biker, and finally getting tossed out of Yankee Stadium after wandering onto the field, in the middle of an actual game! And for more prurient thrills, a lecherous stalker (mustached Don Calfa, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) comically busts into a fat chick's apartment, strips her on the floor and they make love -- only to end up interviewed (mid-coitus) for the 6 o'clock news, and with Calfa rudely kicked out of bed in favor of a randy chimp, along with (unlicensed?) use of THE MONKEES theme song. Plus in the most prescient twist, Calfa's pervert turns out to be a Priest! Along with photography by Stan Warnow (another ELBOWS alumnus, who worked as an editor on WOODSTOCK and HAIR) and secondary camerawork by Sheldon Rochlin (future director of indie fare like DOPE and SIGNALS THROUGH THE FLAMES), NO MORE EXCUSES achieves a near-perfect mix for late-'60s underground fare -- it's topical, radical, disjointed, often extremely silly, and also mercifully brief.

© 2013 by Steven Puchalski.