The Phynx (1970)

The Warner Archive is the gift that keeps on giving, because before it started making burn on demand DVDs, this movie has such a limited release that few people had seen it. I know I’d been hunting for it for years, as it perfectly hits on so many of the things that I adore. It has elements of the Eurospy genre, an overwhelming amount of cameos and as it was a lost film for some time, the feel of being a cult film.

The Phynx are a manufactured band — kind of like The Monkees — made up of A. “Michael” Miller, Ray Chipperway, Dennis Larden and Lonny Stevens. They’re trained in all manner of espionage and rock ‘n roll, including meeting Dick Clark, record industry emissary James Brown and being taught how to have soul by Richard Pryor.

At once an indictment of the system and the product of the very hand that it is biting, The Phynx occupies the same weird space as Skidoo, i.e. big budget Hollywood films trying desperately to reach out to the long-haired hippy audience, yet fairly to understand them on a near monumental level. Much like that film — or the beach films of just a half-decade hence, which seems like several lifetimes ago — this stars plenty of Old Hollywood former A-listers. Why this would reach “the kids” is beyond me, but this film has more of them than any movie this side of Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood.

All of those celebs of the past have been kidnapped by the Albanian government to make some kind of message to capitalist swine. Amongst their number, you’ll discover Patty of the Andrews Sisters (one wonders where Laverne and Maxene were), Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller and his Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan), Cheyenne star Clint Walker (who we love for Killdozer!Scream of the Wolf and Snowbeast), Rudy Vallee, gossip queen Rona Barett, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Busby Berkeley, Xavier Cugat (with chihuahua), Cass Daley, Roy Rogers’ sidekick Andy, Devine Fritz Feld (whose claim to fame was the popping sound he could make with his mouth; he also shows up in the aforementioned Michael Winner canine opus), Leo Gorcey, John Hart (who replaced Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger, here in character) and Jay Silverheels (also in Tonto character), Huntz Hall, Louis Hayward, George Jessel, Ruby Keeler, Patsy Kelly (one of Hollywood’s first out lesbians), Dorothy Lamour, Guy Lombardo, Trini “If I Had a Hammer” Lopez, boxer Joe Louis, Marilyn Maxwell (who “dated” Rock Hudson), Butterfly McQueen (Prissy from Gone with the Wind), Pat O’Brien and Colonel Sanders (!).

Harold “Oddjob” Sakata is also on hand, as well as Lou Antonio (Cool Hand Luke), Mike Kellin (Mel from Sleepaway Camp), Michael Ansara (It’s Alive), George Tobias (Abner from Bewitched), Joan Blondell, Martha Raye, Pat McCormick (Big Enos from Smokey and the Bandit), Warhol superstar Ultra Violet, Susan Bernard (December 1966 Playboy Playmate of the Month and one of the stars of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!; she’s also the mother of Near Dark‘s Joshua John Miller), Sally Struthers as the band’s number one fan and Rich Little as the voice of Richard Nixon.

Lee H. Katzin (who mostly worked in TV, including the made for TV film What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?) directed this, working with Robert McKimson for the animated portions. It was written by Bob Booker (who produced and wrote The Paul Lynde Halloween Special) and George Foster with a screenplay by Stan Cornyn. It’s the only script he’d ever write, as he was better known as the head of the Creative Services department of Warner Brothers Records, where he wrote Grammy-winning liner notes (for two Sinatra albums, “Strangers In the Night” and “Sinatra at the Sands”; he also wrote the song “The Meaning of Christmas” and was an innovator when it comes to what would one day be known as the DVD format).

This is the only film where Johnny Weismiller says, “Me Tarzan; You Jane.” So there’s some more trivia for you, which is — sadly — more interesting than this film. Yet it’s worth a watch to see the transition between the La-La Land of old and the new movement of art that would last just a few years before the blockbuster made itself known. I know someone that brought up to me how fortunate we were that Star Wars kicked all these old Catskills and vaudeville-era people out of films and into TV, because what they made was so hacky. The gall of this person upset me to a degree where it has since colored every interaction that I have had with them. I have a warm place in my heart for these bloated failures as the Man tried to reach the youth culture. They may be a mess, but they’re my mess.

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