Preparing to film a certain scene in Bunker Bean (1936), Louise Latimer told a passing reporter, ‘You’re just in time to witness a Roman holiday. They’re going to turn a poor, defenseless girl over to the lions.’ She pointed to her co-star, Owen Davis, Jr: ‘That lion in particular!’
‘You see, I’m to play “she who gets spanked” in this scene. There’s one thing sure about evening gowns – they leave no room for padding!’
Now, I can’t claim to be an expert on 1930s evening gowns, but I also can’t see what she meant by ‘no room for padding’. Here she is being spanked:
All things considered, that is quite a loose gown: her frenzied kicking causes it to ride up, daringly, to just above the knee, and, looking higher still, it’s not nearly as tight around the hips as a fan magazine artist made it in a contemporary drawing of the scene.
No room for padding? Phooey! Which in no way invalidates the later press story that, with retake after retake after retake of what was in any event one of the longer screen spankings of the 1930s, Miss Latimer had trouble sitting down afterwards.
In truth, there was plenty room for padding under the gown, along with all the other underpinnings that are hinted at in that spicier depiction. But that’s not to say that there actually was any padding, because, as we’ve previously had occasion to observe, golden age Hollywood didn’t generally go in for that kind of actress protection: most spanking scenes had some level of authenticity to them, and one early review of Bunker Bean in particular describes ‘slaps given with fervor and received with indignant tears’. So, yes, Miss Latimer was spanked, and spanked hard, through the gown and petticoat and whatever else she had on underneath in the ordinary way of things, which in all likelihood meant her panties, and perhaps also a girdle.
She could count her lucky stars she wasn’t making the scene in the Sixties, especially in the liberated cultural environment of Continental Europe, which continued to make movies with spanking scenes long after they more or less dried up in Hollywood. Let’s take as our examples the experiences of Hanne Borchsenius in the Danish comedy Martha (1967), the story of which is briefly outlined here,
and of Geraldine Chaplin in the Spanish art movie Stress es Tres, Tres (Three’s a Crowd; 1968), in which her character, Teresa, flirts on the beach with her husband’s best friend, and pays the penalty:
Oh yes, those lovely Europeans carried on doing swimwear spankings a decade after that brief and spectacular Hollywood example in The Female Animal. And if Miss Louise Latimer wants to know what ‘no room for padding’ really looks like, she might usefully pay attention to the following:
No gown, no girdle, no petticoat, no padding…
Just a skimpy bathing suit with, quite obviously, nothing underneath!
There is another side to this, however. As I’ve already mentioned, the spanking in Bunker Bean is on the long side for the movies; to be precise, it runs for eleven seconds, with seventeen smacks delivered in vision, plus another seven during a cutaway shot (and therefore, potentially, Foley work rather than sound recorded on set). The duration and intensity of cinematic spankings is a subject that calls for systematic coverage another time; for now, all we need to observe is that movie spankings only last as long as they need to in order to fulfill their narrative and dramatic purpose. It is therefore relevant that one early review of Bunker Bean praised Louise Latimer for doing such ‘a masterful job of making herself completely unlikeable as the badly spoiled daughter of an air company magnate that the audience wants to spank her’. And that accounts for why it goes on uncommonly long when eventually she is spanked: it’s a satisfying moment of payoff as well as a staging point in the ongoing story.
But there are limits to what you can ask even a professional actress to undergo, and those limits are more obvious, and therefore tend to be narrower, when she’s wearing a swimsuit and there really is ‘no room for padding’. The otherwise terrific spanking in The Female Animal, for instance, amounts to three seconds and three smacks, while in Martha the tally is five smacks in vision, plus cutaway. In fact, most of the eighteen-second Martha scene is done in cutaway, with another fourteen hearty smacks and yelps that we hear but don’t see. And that’s completely understandable when you consider that what we do see is a very energetic, high-handed, bottom-bouncing spanking! (The scene can be viewed here.)
Anyone who ever feels a generalization coming on should always check out alternative examples, and that’s where it becomes relevant to look at what happens to Geraldine Chaplin in Stress es Tres, Tres. Although both are swimsuit spankings, this couldn’t be a more different piece of movie-making from the Martha scene: director Carlos Saura shoots the whole thing in a single shot with no cutaways, meaning she gets thirteen smacks in vision. One reason may have been to make it possible, if they were lucky, to polish off the whole spanking in a single take; and of course it may also be that the actress’s tolerances were different. (She was spanked again in La Madriguera the following year, also for Saura, this time with a ruler on her panties.) But the real difference is in the performance.
What we see of the spanking in Martha is in a relatively long shot, tying in with the cutaways that establish how everyone aboard the ship is watching their not altogether welcome passenger get her comeuppance. In consequence, the visual action is big and vigorous, and a lot of the impact is also conveyed by sound – from both ends of Hanne Borchsenius! In contrast, the one other person present in the Stress scene seems barely interested, and Saura’s cinematographer, Luis Cuadrado, places the camera much closer to the action.
That means that Fernando Cebrián doesn’t need to spank on such a large scale as Morten Grunwald in Martha, because he’s not trying to be seen at a distance. He’s leaning forward as he sits, and he never raises his arm above shoulder height, so he only gives it half the swing:
In consequence, a lot more of the scene’s impact comes from Geraldine Chaplin’s reactions.
So that’s another way to make a swimsuit spanking easier on the actress, if she’s up to it: less full-on spanking, more full-on acting!
But there is a third option, which we can illustrate from the same year, but half a world away in the farthest flung of the United States.
What became the movie Kona Coast was originally conceived as Bimini Girl, a TV pilot for Robert Mitchum set in the Bahamas. Then the production company changed hands, so plans for a TV series were dropped, the setting shifted to Hawaii and the star became Richard Boone, who just happened to be based in Hawaii at the time. He plays Sam Moran, a grizzled charter boat captain seeking revenge on the playboy who murdered his illegitimate daughter. The villain’s counter-plot involves trying to entrap him with a girl named Mim Lowry, played by Gina Villines.
Will he be tempted to his doom?
Fortunately for Sam, he gets wise to the plot. Unfortunately for Mim, he decides to exact retribution on the seat of her bikini bottoms:
But fortunately for both Mim and Gina who plays her, and unfortunately for us, he is stopped before he can put it into action.
‘Damn you,’ says another lady friend, ‘you think you can solve every problem with a punch, a grab or a shove!’ But not, alas, with a spanking!
And that’s the third way, and the least satisfying, of looking after an actress whose costume leaves her lacking in the usual rear defenses that Louise Latimer had at her disposal!