Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

That's the real title ... one of the longest ever appended to a movie not directed by Lina Wertmueller ...

... and the title is positively normal compared to the movie, which is an X-rated Broadway-style musical. The creator, Anthony Newley, was a songwriter and a song-and-dance man whose popular stage successes like Stop the World and Roar of the Greasepaint were basically just musical autobiographies focusing on his career in show business, his satyriasis, and his failure to find love. They were played out with a minimum of characters on a bare stage with few props. As I recall, the same woman plays all the female characters in Stop the World, while Roar of the Greasepaint is essentially a two-character play acted out on a giant game board, the kind of thing Samuel Beckett might have created if he had been into the English Dance Hall scene.

"Singing and Dancing for Godot."

Hieronymus/Humppe tells the same familiar Newley story, but this time in the form of a Fellini movie rather than a Beckett play. Writer/director Newley, who also wrote an original score for the film, made a metaphorical surrealistic film in which Newley plays a filmmaker making a symbolic, surrealistic film about his life.

Sounds good already, eh?

The entire film takes place on stage-like sets constructed on a seaside, where Hieronymus (Newley) performs, has sex, screens his film-within-a-film, etc. Imagine a brass bed planted in the surf, where Newley beds his babes while the waves crash around him. Think of Newley standing in flowing robes on a nearby hilltop, looking down on the beach and singing to what he believes to be a non-existent God. Stir in the usual Fellini elements to the stew in your head: living clown-puppets on strings, top-hatted men on stilts, carousels, pompous movie critics, grotesque chessboards, Death. Now you have the complete sketch.

(Stomp Tokyo did a nice little illustrated summary if you would like more details.)

That picture is inked in a bit by some gimmicky casting. The legendary old-time vaudevillian Georgie Jessel plays the Presence of Death, who spends the film wearing a white suit and telling pointless anecdotes while sipping from a teacup held with white gloves. Jessel's story-telling style is stiff and deadpan, which Death should be, I suppose. As as far as I know there's no such thing as livepan. If there were, it would be exemplified by Hieronymus's mentor, Good Time Eddie Filth, who also seems to be Satan, and is played with hammy aplomb by yet another showbiz legend, Milton Berle. Stubby Kaye, another old time song-and-dance man, is in there somewhere as well. The mother of Hieronymus's children is played by Newley's then-wife Joan Collins, a bit of a legend herself, who hated this film, as well she might have since it basically consists of her husband burying his head in other women's crotches.

I'm a big Newley fan, and actually acted in one of his plays back in my performing days, so I kind of enjoyed this bizarre film back in the day. My college roommate liked the thing so much that he bought the album and played it again and again for years. (Nice guy, but a strange man. Last I heard he had been committed to a public mental institution, which I might have been as well, if I had listened to this album for another 20 years after graduation.) At any rate, I heard that damned album so many times in 1969 and 1970 that I was actually singing the songs along with Newley and his Uncle Limelight when I watched the film today, and I remembered almost all of the words, which is amazing when you consider that Newley himself probably didn't remember these songs five years after he wrote them!

Hieronymus has a low rating at IMDb and is featured on many of the web sites which specialize in bad movies, but that doesn't really create a fair picture. After all, it's not Manos, and my roommate wasn't the only guy who liked it. Roger Ebert awarded this film three stars! It's not really a bad film so much as an overly ambitious one. It's a pretentious prisoner of its time and a vanity project which failed to focus on a potential target audience. The idea of rejigging a Fellini film as an X-rated musical is high in ambition and low in common sense. Think of the audiences in Fellini festivals. Now think of the audiences in Broadway musicals. Now think of the people who went to see X-rated films in 1969. There is some overlap between those groups, but not much, and even the few common people (me, for example) would observe a different dress and behavior code when assuming the three separate audience roles, and would not admit to his friends in each audience that he was also a member of the other groups. Believe me, I know.

By the way, both Newley and Connie Kreski have passed away, Connie of lung cancer in 1995, Newley of renal cancer four years later. Jessel and Berle and the others are long gone, so that makes Joan Collins, who still seems to be working as much as ever, the only survivor left from the film's principal cast.

While it was a commercial and artistic failure, Hieronymus is a must-see for Newley's fans and is an interesting watch for observers of late sixties culture, because it is nostalgic demonstration of the cultural experimentation and exaggeration that then dominated the zeitgeist. It's not a good movie, but it's original and unusual, and I still remembered it vividly after 40 years. How many other pornographic Felliniesque Broadway-style musical films can you name?


It was nominated for an Oscar for cinematography.

3 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
33 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
  Stomp Tokyo did an amusing illustrated summary


3.5 IMDB summary (of 10)




  • Anthony Newley showed his bum far too often in far too good lighting.
  • Connie Kreski was nude in the underwater scene, but I saw no pubic hair.
  • Various other women were seen topless in fleeting sex scenes with Newley.

Although the sex scenes were covered by Playboy in a lengthy pictorial, presumably because the best one involved their current Playmate of the Year, the exposure is generally brief and inexplicit. For my taste, altogether too much of the clear nudity comes from Newley himself. The most memorable scene in the film is the underwater sex scene between Newley and 1969 Playmate of the Year Connie Kreski, who seemed the perfect blond nymphet as the titular Mercy Humppe. This scene stands apart from the rest of the film for two reasons: (1) Although the editing is too coy, it's still a pretty hot sex scene by today's standards, so you can imagine the attention it grabbed in 1969 - in a Broadway-style musical! (2) It takes place underwater, so while Newley still managed to put on a jester's costume, at least he had to stop talking and singing for a few seconds. The silence didn't last long though, because the scene was actually in the film-within-a-film, so Newley/Hieronymus, as the filmmaker, was narrating the action as he screened it for critics and producers, who were commenting on it.

There were times when you would just like to have grabbed Newley and told him to shut the hell up for a few seconds.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


I guess the film is a C-, although its appeal derives more from curiosity than merit.