Monday, March 21, 2011

The Naked Flame: Doukhobors Amuck

"Pagan or passion scorching the screen...a drama of our time!"
The Naked Flame (1964) is a sleazy, vile and exploitative film about the Doukobors...and that's why I love it. It's so bad, it's good. "Filmed in the World's Most Rugged Country" and starring the great Dennis O'Keefe, it focuses on the radical Doukhobors of Banff, Alberta. I guess the B.C. Kootenays were too expensive.

O'Keefe plays a lawyer investigating potential trouble in Little Creek for the Dominion Mining Company. Al Ruscio is the nasty Walter Sorkin, a sunflowerseed-sucking Freedomite who might bomb the mine or send his cult of nubile young women bearing torches and breasts to scare business away.

Of course, The Naked Flame is low, B movie trash, all "torches and flesh," and any attempt at a fair representation won't be found in the script. The Douks are portrayed as either witless bumpkins or self-interested savages like Sorkin. It's all in good fun and as someone who is of Doukhobor-Freedomite stock, I can appreciate its campy buffoonery. But at the time, it would have increased hostilities and prevented any understanding of what was really happening. For one thing, most of the nudity involved overweight, middle-aged Russian women with gams like swollen turnips and not the slender young beauties portrayed in this film.

I've done a Masters thesis on my Doukhobor roots and I'm currently finishing a novel based on my uncle who blew himself up in 1962 at age seventeen. For all its obvious and hilarious flaws, the film is an invaluable artifact that helps document a unique period that could only ever happen in Canada. "Beware...of...Doukhobors!"

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