Isn’t it oh so impressive when you run across those filmmakers who secure the big three credits on a film…starring, written by, and directed by. Few artists have pulled it off. The members of this club include the likes of Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen…oh, and then there’s Tommy Noonan. What you’ve never heard of the auteur Tommy Noonan? Well, we’re not exactly in “Citizen Kane” territory here with Noonan’s magnum opus, perhaps one of the most horribly titled films ever made, 1964’s ”3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt.”
The film opens in color with Mamie Van Doren playing a former stipper named Saxie Symbol singing a song over the credits about how she used to dance in sleazy clubs. This sultry opening will probably have your brain wandering beyond the realm of PG-13 as you imagine what the nuts and bolts mentioned in the title refer to. But after the credits roll, the film suddenly switched to black and white and we find out we are all guilty of having dirty minds.
The story begins with out-of-work actor Tommy (Noonan) being turned away from the unemployment office. But while there he meets Saxie, who is immediately drawn to his claims of being a method actor of sorts. She brings him back to her large home and quickly strips down to a bikini. Things are looking good for Tommy, that is until he meets Saxie’s two roommates. It turns out that she shares the place with a male model (John Cronin) and a car salesman (Paul Gilbert). None of them could afford the joint on their own, but together they make it work. It seems that all three also have some psychological issues, as well. They are desperate to become patients of noted psychiatrist Dr Myra Von (Ziva Rodann), but they can’t afford her. However, they hit on the idea of getting an actor to act as them during appointments with the doctor…essentially getting three patients for the price of one. Tommy agrees to the job and begins spending time with the “3 Nuts” (see, not what you thought) so he can act the part when he meets with the doctor.
When Tommy goes to his first appointment, he has carefully planned on allowing a certain amount of time to play each of his three employers so they each get equal time with the doctor. But, to the doctor, this all comes across as one patient who is suffering from multiple personalities. She, and her nosey male secretary Henry (female impersonator T.C. Jones), are both intrigued and quickly set up a second appointment, at no charge.
The three nuts are thrilled to get extra time, and Tommy is excited by the acting challenges. But the good doctor has plans to make a name for herself with this unique patient. She quickly sets up a closed-circuit broadcast of her next session with Tommy so that other notable doctors can observe. However, a problem at the relay station causes the broadcast to go out over every television station in the country. Of course, Tommy becomes a huge hit and the entertainment industry begins clamoring for movie and TV rights.
Despite the film’s unfortunate title, the premise of the film does have some solid comedic potential. There certainly are some funny moments, but I definitely can’t call the film consistently funny. Noonan’s performance is hit and miss, with his best moments coming when he is assuming the three different personalities during his appointments with the doctor. T.C. Jones also has some funny moments as Dr. Von’s secretary, though some viewers may be a bit bothered by the extreme gay stereotype he employs in the role. I should also mention that Green Acres’ own Alvy Moore puts in a short appearance as the doctor’s lawyer.
Of course, the centerpiece of the film is Mamie Van Doren, and though she does a solid job, this is probably the weakest performance I’ve seen from her so far. I still say Mamie’s acting chops far exceeded many of the other blonde bombshells, such as Jayne Mansfield, this just isn’t her strongest moment. Though Mamie’s physical qualities are never put to waste in her other films, this is really the first film I’ve seen her in where it felt like she was being exploited. Perhaps this is punctuated by the fact that the majority of the film is in black and white, except for a handful of color sequences where Mamie’s body is highlighted. These include the opening and closing songs where she wears an extremely low-cut gown, a strip tease number, and a bath scene where the soap suds fall short of adequately covering her. This was not a studio production, so Noonan was able to sneak through some nudity. That Noonan spent money on color film for the girlie footage while the rest of the film is in B&W does kind of show where his artistic priorities were focused.
Ultimately, you gotta figure that story really didn’t matter a whole bunch with this film. Noonan’s main concern was giving the audience lots of Miss Van Doren. Still, he managed to create an intriguing comedic premise that is executed with moderate success.