One of American-International Pictures first winners was this movie, released as a double feature with Rock All Night. It has Fay Spain in the title role, in a story that would pretty much be recycled as Motorcycle Gang along with cast members John Ashley (this was his first movie) and Steve Terrell.
Ashley had never acted before but went with his girlfriend on her audition. He got a contract with AIP and she didn’t. He’s a total winner in this, the perfect jerk who doesn’t care that his love for speed keeps getting people killed.
Meanwhile, Spain’s Louise Blake character must choose between the rich Ashley — who impresses mom — and the resourceful mechanic Terrell — who dad likes. It doesn’t help when a game of chicken — which I think only happened in movies until impressionable youth watched AIP films — leads to more death.
One of the reviewers of the day claimed that this movie was, “a depressing and irresponsible film… glorifying the defiance of law and order, lax morals and the discardance of civilised behaviour.” When I read things like that, it’s hard not to contain my glee.
This is one of the many filmes Edward L. Cahn did for AIP. There’s nothing flashy, but he’s dependable and unafraid to be sensationalistic. You can also check out It! The Terror from Beyond Space; Shake, Rattle and Rock and Runaway Daughters, which is one of the best titles of all time.
Charles S. Dubin was blacklisted but still ended up being a TV director of some reknown five years afterward. He’d go on to direct 44 episodes of M*A*S*H*, as well as TV movies like The Deadly Triangle and the 1979 remake of Topper.
Here, he’s putting together a jukebox musical featuring Mr. Rock and Roll himself, Alan Freed, playing himself.
This is the story of how Freed helped discover rock and roll, yet it doesn’t shy away from the roots of the form in gospel, jazz and the blues. You get to see it performed by many of the eearliest stars, including Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Clyde McPhatter, The Moonglows, Little Richard, Ferlin Husky (attention all fans of Hillbillys In a Haunted House and by that, I’m talking to myself) and Chuck Berry.
Teddy Randazzo plays himself and his love story with Carole (Lois O’Brien) is the central part of the story. She’s a reporter whose boss believes that rock and roll is going to ruin society. Those kids loving this music would grow up to hate hippies and feel the very same way.
Rocky Marciano also shows up for romantic advice in between the twenty some odd songs, making this nearly a 90-minute music video. No complaints. It’s a time capsule worth your time.
An unofficial remake of Cat People, this Alfred Shaughnessy-directed (he wrote Upstairs Downstairs) film is all about Leonora Johnson (Barbara Shelley, perhaps Hammer’s best-known female actress with roles in Dracula, Prince of Darkness; The Gorgon; Rasputin, The Mad Monk and Quatermass and the Pit), who may have inherited a family curse — when angered, she transforms into a murderous cat — along with an ancestral estate and lots of money.
Somehow, Dr. Brian Marlowe is still Leonora’s psychologist, despite them dating years before. I have no idea how he’s able to serve in this role, which feels like a violation of ethics, nor stay married to his wife Dorothy when Leonora continually is either trying to sleep with him or transform into a wolf and kill her. Dorothy is either a saint or a moron, as she keeps forgiving and helping.
If you were at the drive-in in 1957, you probably could have caught this on a double bill with another American-International Pictures release, The Amazing Colossal Man. Shelly would also star in another cat-themed horror movie, The Shadow of the Cat.
Stanley Donen has one hell of a directorial resume: On the Town, Singin’ In the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Damn Yankees and so many more. Here, he’s working from a 1945 Luther Davis play that was in turn based on the Frederic Wakeman Sr. novel Shore Leave.
Wakeman had worked in advertising until the war and as he healed up in a hospital, he wrote his first novel about a fellow crew member but called him Andy Crewson instead of his true name. Critics tore this movie apart and the studio punished its stars. Actually, it mainly punished Jayne Mansfield.
It’s all about three Navy pilots — Lieutenant McCann (Ray Walston, in his film debut), Mississip (Larry Blyden, a Broadway star who would become a game show host) and Commander Andy Crewson (Grant), who is a master grifter — who are enjoying the spoils of war while trying to adjust to what the world will be afterward.
A ship company owner named Eddie Turnbill (Leif Erickson) wants the men to give speeches to his workers to keep them on the job, but they’re all burnt out, despite the fact that Turnbill offers to set them up for life.
While all the men are on the make, Crewson only has eyes for Turnbill’s fiancee (Suzy Parker, who is in the Twilight Zone episode “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” and married Bradford Dillman later in her life), which makes sense when you see the scene where she removes her nylons. Actually, it’s a wonder anyone can look at any other woman in this film when Mansfield is firing on all cylinders, delivering sly comedy while making her way through nearly every male member of the cast.
Look for Werner Klemperer (Col. Klink from Hogan’s Heroes) as Lieutenant Walter Wallace, Kathleen Freeman (Mother Mary Stigmata!), Harry Carey, Jr. and Frank Nelson, who starred in The Malibu Bikini Shop right before he died.
Siouxie and the Banshees recorded the song “Kiss Them for Me” in 1991, not only referencing the way she said “divoon” but also discussing her heart-shaped swimming pool and the tragic way she died. To wit:
“It’s divoon, oh, it’s serene In the fountain’s pink champagne. Someone carving their devotion In the heart-shaped pool of fame, oh.”
Jayne Mansfield and Joan Collins in the same movie? My dreams do come true.
Joan is Alice Chicoy, the owner of a restaurant that likes her booze. Her husband Johnny (Rick Jason, The Witch Who Came from the Sea) owns a bus that is falling to pieces. She’s unhappy with life, so she determines that she needs to leave her husband.
Meanwhile, Camille Oakes (Mansfield) is a stripper on her way to Mexico and falling for a salesman (Dan Dailey, who most often worked in musicals).
All of their lives — and others — will come together on that falling apart bus as it makes its way through the California mountains. Dolores Michaels plays a passenger that makes a pass at Johnny in a scene that eclipses the sexiness of the two female leads, but this movie really showcases Mansfield’s ability as any actress.
Actually that scene was so hot — some compared it to Jane Russell’s The Outlaw — that two different versions were shot by director Victor Vicas, who was trying to make a high brow film — this is based on the John Steinbeck novel — but for shredded by critics.
This is kind of, sort of Jayne’s version of Bus Stop, which her rival Marilyn Monroe made a year before. The difference is that 20th Century Fox spent $3 million on Monroe and made her film in color. This was a $1.5 million black and white film that barely made its money back, while Monroe’s film went on to be a major success.
With a $90,000 budget, a noir sensibility and no small amount of grit, some have seen this film as the last b-movie made by Columbia Pictures. It’s all about professional burglar Nat Harbin (character actor Dan Duryea) trying to justify his life and how it keeps involving his adoptive daughter Gladden (Jane Mansfield).
Directed by Paul Wendko, whose career was mostly in TV (Secrets, Good Against Evil, The Legend of Lizzie Borden, The Death of Richie, Haunts of the Very Rich, The Brotherhood of the Bell) with some films (three Gidget movies and The Mephisto Waltz, strange bedfellows if there ever were) mixed in.
Mansfield was cast after producer Louis W. Kellman saw the crew lose their minds over her during the making of Pete Kelly’s Blues. She cast into a world here where everyone has their own angle, even their mark, a fake spirtualist.
This was remade as The Burglars with Omar Sharrif and Dyan Cannon in 1971.
Frank Tashlin wrote, produced and directed this film, taking only the title and the character of Rita Marlowe from the successful Broadway play Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? He also made the smart move of hiring Jayne Mansfield to reprise her role as Rita. It’s an anarchic movie for a big studio film, taking shots at television, popular fan culture, Hollywood hype and advertising.
Much like The Girl Can’t Help It, the movie begins with its lead — Tony Randall — talking about the movie we’re about to see, pretty much talking down on much of it. He plays the 20th Century Fox theme, saying it was in his contract to do so, before forgetting the name of the movie that he is in.
That’s followed by a series of fake TV commercials that obviously fall short of their promises. This opening is different for today. I can only imagine how strange it seemed in 1957.
Rockwell P. Hunter (Tony Randall) is trying to move up at the La Salle agency. He gets a brainstorm to save the agency’s biggest account, Stay-Put Lipstick, by getting sex bomb Rita Marlowe (Mansfield) to be the spokeswoman.
She only has one clause. In order to do the job, he has to pretend to be her man, all to make her TV Tarzan boytoy (Mansfield’s real-life husband, Mickey Hargitay, jealous. Now the tabloids know Rock Hunter as the Lover Boy. Rita has no idea who she really loves, but we all do — it’s the man who discovered her, George Schmidlap (Groucho Marx!).
To take the love triangle — it has way more sides than that — Hunter already has a girlfriend, Jenny Wells (Betty Drake, the third wife of Cary Grant). And oh yeah — Hunter’s secretary Violet wants to teach Rita a lesson about using her sex for power (which is ironic, as she’s played by Joan Blondell, who constantly ran afoul of the Hayes Code in her youth).
Plus, a young Barabara Eden is in here, as is Dubois, PA native Ann McCrea (Midge from The Donna Reed Show). And look for Majel Barrett (Nurse Chappell from Star Trek) in one of the TV ads in the beginning.
This movie is a delight. I loved The Girl Can’t Help It and this feels like the natural evolution of Tashlin’s themes from that movie.
Thank the celluloid gods of the analog netherworlds for giving Sam the idea to commemorate the Fast & Furious franchise, thus granting the opportunity to go ’50s hot roddin’ rock n’ roll crazy with this week’s Drive-In Friday tribute.
Tonight’s show takes me back to the days when AMC was still known as “American Movie Classics” and aired actual “classic movies,” most importantly, their American Pop! programming block that ran Saturday Nights from 10:00 p.m to midnight from 1998 to 2003.
To say American Pop! carried a USA Network’s Night Flight* aroma is an understatement, courtesy of its programming roster that featured 1950s and 1960s rock n’ roll-oriented films augmented with classic trailers, music videos cut form period musicals, drive-in movie ads, and old drive-in snipes urging you to “visit the snack bar.” The purpose of the programming block was to ramp an AMC-affiliated 24-hour cable channel . . . that never came to fruition.
Ugh. Heart broken by progress, once again.
Oh, and you can thank — or blame — screenwriter Stewart Stern and director Nicolas Ray for these F&F precursors, for each aspire to emulate the film that started it all: the 1955 juvenile delinquency classic, Rebel Without a Cause. But if you’re looking for social commentaries about clueless parents battling the moral decay of American youth, you best go watch a copy of Richard Brooks’s Blackboard Jungle (1955), instead. And if you’re having Marlon Brando flashbacks ala The Wild One (1953) . . . and if all the “teens” look like 30 year olds, they probably are.
So, alright, gang! Let’s get fast n’ furious, crazy baby! Let’s rock to that hot rockin’ beat, daddy-o!
Movie 1: Hot Rod Girl (1956)
“CHICKEN-RACE . . . ROCK ‘N ROLL . . . YOUTH ON THE LOOSE! . . . ARE THESE OUR CHILDREN? . . . Teen-age terrorists tearing up the streets!”
Now if that fine slice-o-copywritin’ doesn’t inspire you to pony up to the cracklin’ speaker and firin’ up that ol’ bug coil, then nothing will.
As with the plot of most of the Fast & Furious knockoffs of century 21: After his kid brother dies in an illegal street race, a champion drag-racer quits racing. When a new hotshot racer comes to town, he’s forced back into racing to retain his title.
Way to splash that testosterone, guys.
The “Natalie Wood” bad-girl, aka the Hot Rod Girl, who plays the two drag racin’ dopes against each other, is Lori Nelson (co-star of the 1957 rock n’ delinquency flick Untamed Youth with Mamie Van Doren), and the cop on the case is . . . Chuck Connors from Tourist Trap? And one of the “teen” thugs is a 23-year-old Frank Gorshin, aka The Joker of TV’s Batman fame, in his acting debut.
“DRAG STRIP SHOCKS! PISTON-HARD DRAMA! ROCK ‘N ROLL LOVE! . . . A scorching story of the slick chicks who fire up the Big Wheels!”
Hey, dad! It’s more rival car clubs and vehicular homicide via illegal street racing with a poor, misunderstood youth being set up for murder. Oh, and there’s always a heart-toying bad-girl adding to the hot rod drama, in this case, (hubba-hubba) actress Leigh Snowden who — by name alone — makes me feel funny, you know like when you take a Garth Algar-climb up the rope in gym class. Leigh’s other claim to fame: the third Gill-man/Black Lagoon movie that no one cares about: 1956’s The Creature Walks Among Us.
“Young love and teenage kiss . . . hot rods and hot tempers.”
As you can see, the copywriters were having a bad day marketing this James Dean-light knockoff. And you’d think cloning the epitome of teen juvies would lead to bigger roles . . . but not for Chuck Courtney: by the turn of the ’60s he was down to background work as a soldier on Spartacusand as a crewmember on TV’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
He stars as the misunderstood and motherless (typical 27 year old playing an 18-year-old) Johnnie Simpson who lives with his every-criticizing father (see Jim Backus’s in his role as Jim Stark) and Aunt Martha (because aunts are always named “Martha” in the movies). Of course, Johnnie’s family is poor and he can’t afford a fancy hot rod . . . or even a rat rod. But Maurie Weston (hey, that’s Robert Fuller from TV’s Emergency! and Walker, Texas Ranger!), the local town bully-cum-rich kid, has as a set of smokin’ wheels . . . and Jim’s waitress-girlfriend (Melinda Bryon; appeared in 1948’s Kiss the Blood Off My Hands with Burt Lancaster) notices. Yep, Jim’s gotta race for the girl.
Johnnie, my advice: there’s other babes to score at the sock hop. You’ll never win with girls who like the bad-boy. Never. Even when they look like Leigh Snowden.
Now you’re talkin’ Mr. Copywriter. And yes, Mr. Art Director: illegal street racing jousts between Corvettes and Triumph motorcycles is exactly what we want on a poster!
This one has it all: In addition to bike vs. car battles, we have a climatic fishing spear fight scene on the beach, we have (hubba-hubba alert) an on-the-way-up Connie Stevens (of the rockin’ juvie potboilers Young and Dangerous, Eighteen and Anxious, and The Party Crashers issued in ’57 and ’58), and an on-the-way down Fay Wray (do we have to mention her iconic role; she was also in ’56s Rock, Pretty Baby!).
The teen tempers boil when the cleancut members of a sportscar club (complete with sweaters and slacks, natch) runs afoul of a motorcycle gang and it results in the death of one of the instigating bikers. And now they’re out for revenge.
The double hubba-hubba alert comes courtesy of the resident bad-boy chasing femme fatale played by Yvonne Lime, who’s traveled the rockin’ asphalt before in High School Hellcats, Speed Crazy (also a hot rod flick), and Untamed Youth.
“She’s hell on wheels . . . and up for any thrill!”
Seems Mr. Screenwriter dipped the pen into the Shakespearian ink; for this is Othello with hot rods.
Duke (Richard Bakalyan; you’ve seen him across his 150 TV credits into the early ’90s) and Freddie (John Brinkley, who’s traveled this rockin’ road before in Hot Rod Rumble, Teenage Doll, and T-Bird Gang) finance their hot roddin’ lifestyle by stealin’ cars n’ strippin’ auto parts for a fence. When they, along with Duke’s girl, Peg (June Kenney, also of Teenage Doll, but also of 1959’sAttack of the Puppet People and Roger Corman’s Sorority Girl), are goaded into a road race by the resident bad-girl, Janice (Jana Lund, also of High School Hellcats with Yvonne Lime, Elvis Presley’s Loving You, and the rock flick classic, Don’t Knock the Rock . . . but since this B&S About Movies: it’s all about Frankenstein 1970 for our Lundness), a motorcycle cop dies. Let the frames and double crosses, blackmailing and betrayals begin, Desdemona.
Oh, almost forgot: Bruno VeSota is in this as Joe Dobbie (seriously). What ’50s and ’60s film wasn’t the Big V in? Yep, there he is in Attack of the Giant Leeches, A Bucket of Blood, and The Wasp Woman . . . but also of the early rock flicks Daddy-O, Rock All Night, and Carnival Rock. It is actors like you that gives our lives at B&S meaning, Mr. VeSota. We bow to you, sir.
“Crazy kids . . . living to a wild rock n’ roll beat!”
But the “beat” is sung by John Ashley and Gene Vincent???
The ’32 Ford Roadsters as speedin’ fast n’ furious in this tale regarding the trials and tribulations of John Abernathy III, a poor little rich kid who jeopardizes inheriting his father’s wealth with his on-the-down-low, second-rate Elvis crooning with his buddy, Gene Vincent, and his illegal hot roddin’ career. The bad-girl who screws it all up for John is the devilish Lois Cavendish (Jody Fair, best remembered for 1958’s The Brain Eaters, but did the juvie-rock flicks Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow, Girls Town, High School Confidential, and The Young Savages with Burt Lancaster).
And those breasts! Yikes. They’d impale a frail lad like me. No, really.
Hey, those foil hot dog and burger wrappers don’t pick up themselves. And we’ll see you Sunday under the tent for the sock hop! It’ll be a crazy time, dad! (And Leigh Snowden will break my heart, as she goes off with the leather-jacketed and pot smoking Johnny . . . who subsequently abandons her on a bus bench in the middle of nowhere. Guess who comes to her rescue? The heart wants what the heart wants . . . and it’s always bad.)
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
* We previously paid tribute to the USA Network’s Night Flight with a recent, four-movie Drive-In Friday featurette.
A British rock and roll movie? Sure, why not. Tough gang leader and wannabee rock star Dave Wyman (“Mr. Moonlight” Frankie Vaughan) escapes the Liverpool slums — five years before The Beatles would release “Love Me Do” — for military service. Somehow, someway, it turns out that the army life is the life for him. But we wouldn’t have a movie if things didn’t take a turn.
The camp bully kills Dave’s best friend, which means that according to the law of the street, Dave needs to take revenge. He’s also in love with his singing partner, which complicates his need for vengeance.
Look for Hammer star Michael Ripper, as well as David McCallum in his first role. But yeah, for a week of movies all about music, this barely qualifies. You have my apologies.
Based on a 25-minute television episode of The Jane Wyman Theatre from 1955 called “Little Guy” and part of a double bill with Drag Strip Girl, this is a Roger Corman attempt at capturing the feeling of rock and roll for the big screen.
In that version, Dane Clark starred. It was one of the first roles he took after a major incident in his life. During a performance of The Shrike at Los Angeles’ Carthay Circle Theater, co-star Isabel Bonner died in his arms, struck down by brain hemorrhage. Born Bernard Zanville, he was never comfortable with his new name.
Here, his role of Shorty is played by Corman regular Dick Miller. Lee Marvin’s role of Jigger is instead essayed by Russell Johnson seven years before he’d become a fixture in living rooms on Gilligan’s Island.
In order to make the story his, Corman gave it to Charles B. Griffith, who added characters like Sir Bop, who was intended for Lord Buckley. There was one instruction. Make it like Rock Around the Clock.
Songwriter and manager Buck Ram offered The Platters, The Blockbusters and Nora Hayes to AIP in return for having the sole rights for the soundtrack. Corman shot the bands on a separate set and then gave the rest of the production five days to finish.
This tale of a bar, a singer (Abby Dalton, who would later work with the aforementioned Wyman on Falcon Crest), some thugs and Dick Miller being Dick Miller is a favorite of Quentin Tarantino. The poster for the double bill of this film is what inspired Robert Rodriguez to make Grindhouse together with the director.