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50 Years Ago Today…

The Mini-Skirt Mob opened starring Diane McBain as a leader of a gang of motorcycle mamas described as “hog straddling female animals on the prowl.” A baby doll blonde whose big screen career began during the days of Sandra Dee, Tuesday Weld, Carol Lynley, Connie Stevens, and Yvette Mimieux, Diane McBain immediately stood out from the pack. While some of them were typed as the viriginal ingenue or pristine girl next door, Diane excelled as the bad girl from a man-eating slut in Claudelle Inglish, to a boozy rich bitch in Parrish, to a uppity socialite in Mary, Mary, to a haughty Easterner in A Distant Trumpet, and not surprisingly Diane rarely got her man. Though some of her contemporaries complained and could not break free of the good girl roles, Diane wished she could play one. She said in my book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema“These roles typed me almost forever as the bad girl. I wanted to play the ingenue. I could never understand why everyone wanted to play the bitch. Because when you go into society people view you as they see you on the screen. It’s horrible to be thought of as this messy, horrible person when you’re not!”

 

Though Diane McBain would seem to be perfectly cast as a beauty queen, she was excellent as the vicious leader of The Mini-Skirt Mob, the ultimate sixties drive-in movie.  It was directed by Maury Dexter and was an exciting variation on the typical biker films released in the late sixties. It was beautifully shot on location in the Arizona desert by cinematographer Arch R. Dalzell and features a winning musical score by Les Baxter. Spurned by her former boyfriend (Ross Hagen), McBain seeks revenge against him and his new bride (Sherry Jackson). She enlists her fellow cyclists to make life hell for the newlyweds. Their idyllic honeymoon is turned into a wild, beer-swilling melee after The Mini-Skirts crash it. The brawl ends with a wild motorcycle chase with Rondell swerving off a cliff. Later the gang causes the death of McCormack who, tiring of McBain’s sadistic ruthlessness tries to help the newlyweds escape. The film climaxes with McBain and Slate catching up with the fleeing couple. While Slate tries to run down Hagen, the women scuffle.  McBain ends up hanging over the side of a cliff with one hand held by Jackson. As Hagen goes to get help from the police, Jackson delivers her own brand of justice and lets McBain fall to her death.

Diane McBain recalled:

“I wasn’t an obvious choice to play this part. I think I was just the person with the recognizable name. That’s what the producers were looking for. After I agreed to do this movie I went out and learned how to ride a motorcycle.  A big motorcycle. When I arrived on the set they gave us these tiny scooters. It was the silliest bike you ever saw. I thought it was ridiculous to have this Mini-Skirt Mob on these small bikes. I knew then I was in trouble.”

“What attracted me to do this film was the role of Shayne. I thought it would be fun to play such a sadistic killer because women don’t usually get to play these sort of roles. The part also required me to do my own stunts. I rode my own motorcycle. I actually hung off the mountain attached to a cable. And I did the fight scenes with Sherry. We had been roommates at one time so we were fairly friendly. We had no problems doing those scenes. Actually, all the actors got along nicely which was great because we shot it on location. Patty McCormack was very nice. Jeremy Slate was friendly and professional with me but we didn’t get close or anything. He often plays the tough guy because he has those distinct features. Harry Dean Stanton was such a character, very intense with a spark in his eye. It always looked like he was keeping some funny little secret.”

 

54 Years Ago….

Viva Las Vegas opened starring Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret. Some feel (not me) this is the King’s best sixties movie and a lot of the credit went to sex kitten Ann-Margret who more than held her own singing and dancing opposite him. Their chemistry lit up the screen and continued once the cameras stopped rolling as Elvis famously romanced the redhead throughout the entire shoot only to fade out once production wrapped.

Elvis played Lucky Jackson a racecar driver in town to compete in the Vegas Grand Prix. Lucky is immediately attracted to Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret) a red-headed stunner who wiggles her way into his garage with car trouble. Lucky’s racing rival Count Elmo Mancini (Cesare Danova) also flips for her charms. Guess who wins the big race and the girl?

Christopher Riordan recalled making the movie in my book Talking Sixties Drive-In Movies:

“Elvis was delightful—right from the very beginning. He was the kind of man that if he saw that you had some kind of talent or had dedication or what have you, he’d zero in on that immediately…Ann-Margret is shy, but a sweet, sweet lady and not at all pretentious. She was having a grand time on Viva Las Vegas even though she worked really hard on this. I wound up working with Ann-Margret two more times.”

 

57 Years Ago Yesterday…

Parrish opened starring everybody ‘s wet dream Troy Donahue with not 1 but 3 leading ladies – Connie Stevens as a gold digging slut, Diane McBain as booze-swilling rich bitch, and Sharon Hugueny as the (yawn) good girl. All set in the tobacco fields of Connecticut!?!

After their success with  (1959), star reunited with director Delmer Daves for Parrish. The Golden Boy (who stepped in after reportedly Warren Beatty turned the part down) plays Parrish who reunites with his mother Claudette Colbert working as a governess for rich tobacco grower Dean Jagger in Connecticut’s Tobacco Valley. For me, Parrish is the most entertaining of Warner Bros.’ early Sixties romances (Susan Slade, Claudelle Inglish, , etc.) that they released featuring their contract players. Donahue was one handsome man and never looked better though he seems so out of place in a tobacco field. He is paired with Warner Bros.’ top two starlets both going over-the-top with their melodramatic roles though under stated as compared to the hammy Karl Malden as the meanest richest tobacco grower in the valley making Parrish a camp tour-de-force.

Connie Stevens beat out Tuesday Weld to play a slutty farm girl who wears false eyelashes and makeup while toiling in the steaming tobacco fields of Connecticut in the dog days of August. While new boy in town Troy Donahue is attracted to her, she spends her nights with rich married Hampton Fancher. After she gets knocked up, her popularity plummets as Fancher deserts her and Troy only wants to be friends leaving poor Connie to raise her baby alone.

In contrast, Diane McBain played tobacco farmer Dean Jagger’s spoiled, willful daughter who dumps teen dream Troy Donahue when he refuses an offer to work for wealthy tycoon Karl Malden. McBain marries the rich man’s younger weak-willed son and their dysfunctional unhappy marriage causes her to drink and sleep around. Realizing money can buy lots of Jack Daniels but can’t buy you happiness, she makes a desperate pathetic attempt to reunite with Troy who rejects her and chooses Malden’s much nicer rebellious daughter Sharon Hugueny.

Commenting on making Parrish in my book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema, Diane McBain said:

“I like Parrish.  It was fun to do. I played my first movie bad girl in this film and it typed me almost forever. Troy Donahue was a star at that time and that’s what they wanted. Troy and I got along very well. He’s a good guy. Perhaps Connie Stevens and I should have been rivals but we were friendly.

This was Claudette Colbert’s swan song in the film business. I’m sure she wanted to make a good impression. I was a novice actress. Even though I had done some things in television, I still was quite green. I didn’t sleep a wink the night before the first day of shooting. When it came time for me to say my lines I just froze. I couldn’t remember any of the lines I learned. In all honesty, I ruined the scene. It was pure terror for me. Colbert and the director got very upset with me. I think she looked upon me with some sort of disdain. I was very aware that she was not happy and she had every right to be unhappy. I swore that I would never let that happen again. And I haven’t.  It was the only time.”

 

49 Years Ago Today…

the violent biker film The Cycle Savages opened starring Bruce Dern and Melody Patterson of F Troop fame. Most fans don’t know that after playing Wrangler Jane, Melody had a brief drive-in movie career also appearing in druggie/hippie/biker flick The Angry Breed and the horror film Blood and Lace.

In The Cycle Savages, Patterson gives a convincing performance as Lea a troubled young woman trying to go straight while keeping her distance from her former biker gang. An artist and neighbor named Romko (Chris Robinson) gets on the bad side of crazed gang leader Keeg (an intense Dern) for sketching him and his outlaw bikers as they terrorized the patrons of a hamburger drive-in. Keeg is determined to retrieve Romko’s sketches because they could incriminate him and his renegade roughnecks in a white slavery operation they run. They slash Romko’s midsection and Lea is forced to keep him away from his apartment. To stall Romko, Lea allows the artist to draw her nude while the gang ransacks his pad looking for his drawings. Lea falls for Romko and they make love but when the police come to investigate his attack they reveal that Lea was a decoy for the gang and was pressured to distract him. The bikers capture Romko and torture him by squeezing his hand in a vise. A pistol-packing Lea arrives to save him but she lacks the courage to shoot anyone. As the police close in, the gun is grabbed by biker chick Sandy (Maray Ayres), who chases a fleeing Keeg and shoots him dead.

Recalling the movie in my book Drive-In Dream Girls, the late Melody Patterson remarked,

“Bruce Dern was wonderful and an absolutely an exciting actor. Chris Robinson and I had the same manager so we knew each other pretty well. I loved the director [Bill Brame] because he was an editor and knew what he was doing.

I had a better experience working on The Cycle Savages than The Angry Breed though I can’t say it was a better movie. I was in the midst of my Method acting period and it seemed like everybody was taking long pauses before saying their lines. I didn’t like doing nudity but I agreed to do a back shot and a love scene. That is when I found out that I had a curvature of the spine. My mother was on the set to make sure everything was on the up and up. It was done with the utmost care and on a closed set. What I found amusing the most was that the sketch of me drawn by Chris’ character was a lot bustier than I was.”

 

 

51 Years Ago Today…

the late-in-the cycle beach movie Catalina Caper opened. Scuba diving college students led by Tommy Kirk on summer break get involved with art forgers (Sue Casey and Del Moore), Greek mobsters (Lyle Waggoner), and a stolen priceless Chinese artifact. Sticking to formula there are the bikini-clad beauties (Venita Wolf), barechested beach boys (Michael Blodgett and Brian Cutler), musical guest stars (Little Richard, Cascades, and Carol Connors), and inane comedy bits. Plus Ulla Stromstedt from the Flipper TV series hidden under an unflattering dark wig definitively lives up to the nickname “Creepy Girl” bestowed upon her by the gang at Mystery Science TheaterCatalina Caper gets credit for trying to infuse the beach-party formula with more of a plot but the execution of it coupled with adult actors who are not funny in the least makes this one of the genre’s biggest stinkers.

Cinematographer Ted V. Mikels commented in my book Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies:

“The actors were wonderful.  I had known Tommy Kirk because I shot a movie at his parent’s place for my dear friend Rafael Campos. Del Moore was a really nice man—very congenial and easy to work with. I don’t remember very much about Sue Casey but I do recall that Venita Wolf was a pretty little girl. At the end of the day, when the sun was gone and we had to retire to the hotel we’d all have dinner together. It was a very enjoyable experience for me.  I came back to Catalina a few years later to shoot The Doll Squad [starring Francine York and Anthony Eisley]”

Sue Casey did not recall much about her co-stars in Catalina Caper and jokingly remarked in my book Drive-In Dream Girls:

“Lyle Waggoner was so nice to work with and my children really liked him. But I don’t remember a thing about the young kids in this.”

 

49 Years Ago Today…

If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium opened. One of a very few movies starring Suzanne Pleshette that I like (others being Rome Adventure and The Birds). Heard that she thought herself a bigger and more importnat movie star than she actually was. Inspired by a New Yorker cartoon and a television documentary, the amusing film directed by Mel Stuart starred Ian McShane as a charming womanizing tour guide who shuffles a group of wacky American tourists (Pleshette, Mildred Natwick, Michael Constantine, Sandy Baron, Norman, Fell, Reva Rose, etc.) around Europe.  Drive-In Dream Girl Hilarie Thompson was cast as the perky Shelly Ferguson (described by Thompson as being “a silly little girl trying to be hip”). Her parents played by Murray Hamilton and Peggy Cass bring Shelly along on their vacation to keep her from having sex with her boyfriend back home. But to their chagrin, Shelly falls for a young hippie named Bo (Luke Halpin) in Amsterdam.

Recalling making the movie, Hilarie Thompson said in Drive-In Dream Girls:

“This was complete magic but Mel Stuart was a tough director. He was very hard on poor Luke Halpin. I felt badly for Luke who was a sweet guy. I never had any trouble with tyrants so Mel and I got along fine. To be fair to Mel, he must have been going crazy traveling across Europe with a troupe of actors. Stan Margulies was the producer and he was a wonderful man.

Making If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium was incredible because we filmed throughout Europe for three months. I was nineteen at the time and had not moved out of my parents’ home yet. They flew me to England all by myself. We started there and went to Amsterdam, Brussels, Luxembourg, Venice, and Rome. It was first class all the way and an unbelievable experience. Everybody was delightful to work with. I hung out mostly with the younger cast members but I did enjoy the older actors as well. I was particularly friendly with Sandy Baron. He was very serious and intense about his work. Marty Ingels was just having a good old time and Michael Constantine was a darling man—I loved him.”

 

51 Years Ago Today…

It’s a Bikini World opened. One of the last of the 60s Hollywood beach movies, it starred Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley, Bobby “Boris” Pickett, and Suzie Kaye. It is noted for being directed by a woman, Stephanie Rothman, and features an interesting premise, a great lineup of musical talent, and a spirited cast but the extremely low budget production values hamper the movie. There’s a new beach babe (Walley) on the shore and when she rebukes the advances of the local Casanova (Kirk) he masquerades as his nerdy brother to get even with her. Meanwhile he competes against her as his real persona in a serious of athletic competitions. It was very novel then to feature in a film aimed at teenagers a determined independent-thinking heroine. This was years before the Women’s Liberation movement and this Feminist slant shows that Stephanie Rothman was a director and screenwriter ahead of her time.

Deborah Walley who by the mid-sixties matured into a shapely young woman plays the determined Delilah with spunk and vigor while Tommy Kirk makes for a good conceited foe in their battle-of-the-sexes.  However, Kirk’s Casanova persona surrounded by bikini-clad beach babes quickly turns laughable every time he takes off his shirt.  He is by far one of the skinniest runts on the beach, especially compared with blonde hunk Jim Begg, and should have been mandated to pump some iron at the gym before filming began. Bob Pickett plays the Jody McCrea/Deadhead best friend role with a big grin and a droll touch. Bikini-clad Suzie Kaye now sporting blonde hair delivers some amusing lines with flair.

As with most of the later beach movies the musical acts make this worth while viewing. The groups all perform their own hit records. Standing out are Eric Burdon with The Animals in their post-Alan Price lineup doing “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” which became an anthem for Vietnam War protestors, and garage rock band The Castaways, looking all of sixteen, singing their lone hit, “Liar, Liar.” The Gentrys, sounding like Paul Revere and the Raiders, sing “Spread It on Thick,” which should have been a big hit but it never cracked the Top 40.

Interviewed for my book Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies, the late Bobby Pickett and late Suzie Kaye recalled what it was like working for a female director a rarity during the sixties.

Pickett: “Stephanie was very pleasant, easy to get along with and very smart. She was just a pleasure to work with. Everybody towed the line with her. She wore riding pants a lot and looked like a female Cecil B. DeMille. Stephanie took bikini beach movies to a higher level with Deborah Walley’s character trying to best her male antagonist in a series of events.”

Kaye: “It was nice being directed by a woman. I felt more comfortable. I was awe struck because to me it was magical to have a female director. The film was still exploitation but Rothman did it in a more wholesome form—I didn’t do anything embarrassing. She would let the scene play.”

 

 

 

 

49 Years Ago Today…

the sleeper hit biker movie Run, Angel, Run! opened. After selling his story about his former biker gang to a magazine for $10,000, burly William Smith hits the highway with his motorcycle mama Valerie Starrett in tow and his biker gang in hot pursuit. In an interesting footnote, Starrett was the co-author of the screenplay and it was directed by her ex-husband actor-turned-director Jack Starrett. The low budget movie, from a new company called Fanfare founded by producer Joe Solomon, shocked Hollywood when it grossed close to $13 million in 1969.

Speaking in length about making Run, Angel, Run! in my book Talking Sixties Drive-In Movies, Valerie Starrett attributed the film’s success to her estranged husband Jack Starrett:

“Jack was quite amazing and had to be innovative working with such a low budget. Everything was one take and then he’d say, ‘Move on, move on.’ It was shot so cheaply that though there are references to the Russian River of Northern California it was all shot in Malibu Canyon. Those endless shots of us on the Pacific Coast Highway were all in Malibu. The actual filming was extremely painful and I hated all of it. It is one thing to envision a rape and another to be the active person in it. [Actor and friend] Gene Cornelius is bursting through a window and it was so laughable to me. That scene was hard to do. There was another scene at the railroad station—which was actually a great action piece—where as I am running I accidentally fell and banged up my knee. For most of the rest of the filming I was in excruciating pain…” You can read more in my book.

 

48 Years Ago Today…

 

Haunted House of Horror aka Horror House opened in the U.S.  This British thriller starred Beach Party cast-off Frankie Avalon and Jill Haworth fresh off her 2 1/2 year run on Broadway as Sally Bowles in the iconic musical Cabaret.

Mini-skirted Jill and perennial teenager Frankie are part of a bunch of young swingers who hold a séance in a supposedly haunted house. One of them turns up murdered and the survivors begin suspecting each other. When Scotland Yard begins snooping, the teens return to the scene of the crime to flush out the killer. 

Commenting on making this in my book Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema, the late Haworth exclaimed:

“My agents at ICM thought this would be a good career move. It wasn’t!  Frankie didn’t want to do this film either but he was under contract to the studio [AIP]. But we just made the best of the situation and had a fabulous time working together. He has a great sense of humor. And you needed one doing this film. They housed us with the crew in this old, supposedly haunted hotel in Southport, England. The conditions were horrible. There weren’t any private bathrooms and you even had to take your own toilet paper to use the john! Frankie and I just kept laughing. Sometimes you need to laugh to get through unpleasant things.”

 

53 Years Ago…

the Frankie Avalon & Annette Funicello iconic fun-in-the-sun frolic Beach Blanket Bingo and the hit Elvis Presley spring break musical Girl Happy opened.

In the immortal words of Eric Von Zipper, Beach Blanket Bingo is “nifty.” It is the best, the zaniest, the quirkiest, and most fondly remembered of the Frankie and Annette epics. Admittedly, the busy story centering around Annette’s Dee Dee proving to Frankie that girls can skydive while trying to keep him away from an amorous instructor (Deborah Walley), Bonehead (Jody McCrea) falling in love with a mermaid (Marta Kristen from TV’s Lost in Space), and a beautiful singer (Linda Evans subbing for Nancy Sinatra who dropped out of the film) kidnapped by Erik Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his biker gang is far-fetched. But it contains some very funny moments mostly delivered by Buster Keaton and his va-va-voom foil Bobbi Shaw, Don Rickles as Big Drop, and Paul Lynde as an acid-tongued press agent whose verbal sparring with Avalon is one of the movie’s highlights. All your AIP favorite stars are here (including John Ashley, Donna Loren, Mike Nader, Salli Sachse, Mary Hughes, Patti Chandler, Ed Garner, Luree Holmes, Johnny Fain, Linda Opie, Alberta Nelson, Myrna Ross, Andy Romano, etc.) enhancing the action.

Another big plus for Beach Blanket Bingo is the music score. The songs are some of the best from the series beginning with the title song—the grandest opening number of all the beach-party movies. The up tempo tune is sung in such a light and bouncy manner by Frankie and Annette that you can’t but help want to jump to your feet and dance along.  They also do well with their second duet, the popular “I Think, You Think.” Pretty Donna Loren turns up early to expertly belt out the heart wrenching “It Only Hurts When I Cry.” Jackie Ward delivers the Linda Evans lip-synced songs in fine style but it is The Hondells who standout with “The Cycle Set.”

Recalling the shoot, Jody McCrea said in my book Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies, “The scenes with Marta Kristen were actually filmed in the ocean. Marta nearly turned blue one day because the second unit guy took a lot longer than he should have to set up the shot. We all had to pretend how warm it was and it really wasn’t. Since I surfed during the winter because the waves were bigger it didn’t bother me as much.”

Bobbi Shaw was a bit disappointed with her role on this and remarked in my book Talking Sixties Drive-In Movies, “Buster and I were part of Beach Blanket Bingo from the beginning, but I really feel that they did not use us the way they should have. Look at his genius talent and they just had us running around.”

 

Frankie and Annette and the beach party gang had stiff competition at the box office from Elvis and Girl Happy. Produced by Joe Pasternak for MGM and directed by Boris Sagal, Girl Happy was a combination of the studio’s Where the Boys Are and AIP’s Beach Party setting in on the shores of Fort Lauderdale during spring break. Since this was a film about the college crowd, MGM surrounded Elvis and leading lady Shelley Fabares with a talented bunch of good looking young people offering wonderful support.

Elvis played Rusty Wells leader singer of a successful combo (consisting of Gary Crosby, Joby Baker, and Jimmy Hawkins) drawing sell-out crowds at a night spot owned by tough-talking Mr. Frank (Harold J. Stone) in snowy Chicago. He renews their contract for another six weeks shuttling their plans to head to balmy Florida. Overhearing their boss arguing with his daughter Valerie (Fabares) about going on spring break with her college friends (Chris Noel and Lyn Edgington) to Fort Lauderdale, Rusty offers to be her secret chaperone. Soon he and the boys are off to the Sunshine State. Thinking Valerie has hooked up with a bookworm named Brentwood (Peter Brooks) Rusty concentrates on sexy Deena (Mary Ann Mobley) while the guys find their own bikini babes (Pamela Curran, Gail Gerber, and Rusty Allen). But Valerie rejects Brentwood and is attracted to Italian playboy Romano (Fabrizio Mioni) so every time Rusty and his boys get cozy with their gals, Valerie winds up in some sort of predicament and they have to rush to her rescue. Rusty then decides to romance her to keep her away from Romano and in the interim falls for the coed. However, she discovers he is being paid to watch over her. Hurt, she winds up drunk performing a striptease in a nightclub. After being broken out of jail by a contrite Rusty, she forgives him and they wind up happily ever after…maybe.

Recalling the movie in my book Talking Sixties Drive-In Movies Shelley Fabares remarked,

“I was a fan of his [Elvis] but I was not a rabid fan. I remember—and always will remember—the first day that I met him on the set. We were getting ready to rehearse our first scene and all of a sudden he was walking across the soundstage and I suddenly thought, ‘Oh my God.  It’s Elvis Presley!’ You’re always nervous when starting a film but until I saw him that’s when I really got nervous…”