One of the traits of being a cinephile is having masochistic tendencies that seem to never be satisfied. Why else would I sit through torturous atrocities like the Bowery Boys in “Live Wires” or “Bowery Bombshell’, just because they were directed by Phil Karlson? Why would I admit publicly that an unintentional laugh a minute drama like “The Oscar” is a favorite guilty pleasure? Just the other evening I watched an Ann-Margret vehicle called “Kitten with a Whip.” The title itself has celluloid masochism written all over it, a guilty pleasure to be sure. AM had just exploded on movie screens the previous year in the already dated musical “Bye Bye Birdie”, a fictional version of the Elvis going into the army story. In 1964, The Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion were taking over the country, AM meanwhile was teamed with the real Elvis in “Viva Las Vegas”, another in a production line of low budget flicks that sterilized the former King of Rock and Roll, who was pumping them out at the rate of three films a year. The film studios jumped on this success and AM began a series of her own low budget films. “Kitten with a Whip” was her first post Elvis work and her first dramatic role.
The film is impulsively watchable, you sit their asking yourself “why? why? The opening credits hook you right away, maybe the best part of the film. With a jazzy musical score and title designs reminiscent of Saul Bass; the first scenes set you up for high expectations, which the rest of the film cannot unfortunately sustain. The film proper opens up at night in a train yard with Jody Dvorak (Ann-Margret) in a nightgown on the run. This early scene is actually pretty good, dark black and white photography almost noirish in its quality. However, this all soon changes after Jody, a schizoid juvenile detention escapee, enters an empty home only to snuggle up in a bed with a child’s stuffed monkey. When middle-aged square politician David Stratton (John Forsythe) whose family is away, comes home, he discovers Jody sleeping in his daughter’s bed. Jody cries that she is one of these kids who has never gotten a break in her life, coming from a broken family. Feeling sorry for her, David buys her some new clothes and a bus ticket back home. Only problem is when he arrives back at his house, Jody is there wrapped in a towel and not much of anything else. David becomes an easy prey for the crazed delinquent who at one moment is vulnerably childlike, then reveals a sexy seductive side, and then switches again to a cat like, claw scratching she-devil when she does not get her way including threats she will scream rape if David attempts to call the police. Jody spends a lot of time pouting, shaking her bootie, smearing lipstick on a photo of David’s wife and speaking in pseudo Hollywood hip 60’s dialogue (“I feel so shiny good about you, about everything! Like wonderful.”). She is soon joined by some unsavory friends played by Peter Brown (50’s western “Lawman” and movies like “Foxy Brown”) and Skip Ward (Myra Breckenridge, Hombre) who assist in making David’s life a nightmarish trip to hell.
The plot is contrived to say the least, David is an intelligent middle-aged man wronged by a group of JD’s only because he is unwilling to call the police and risk a scandal. Considering that this man is well connected in the community he could have most likely contacted some friends and ended the entire episode without much damage to his political career. David also honorably fights off Jody’s sex teasing wrestling match while he is on the phone talking to his wife. John Forsthye who portrays David is just a dull actor, a blank piece of white bread who seems to react innocuously to whatever threats and sexual come on’s are thrust upon him. Then there is our perky star, Ann-Margret playing seventeen-year-old jailbait. Just the previous year AM played high school teenager Kim McAfee in “Bye Bye Birdie” and looked too old for the part even then. While she looks great, she does not look seventeen and by the way, nearly never is a hair out of place no matter what trauma or gyrations she is going through. With her eyes at times bulging out of her head to display her fierce determination, her sex kittenish looks seductively vampish one minute, then, overly emoting and clawing like a trapped tigress the next, subtlety is not in her performance vocabulary. Simply out of the sheer force of her sexy personality she overshadows the rest of the cast. What is worth noting is how far AM has come as an actress. Only a few years later in Mike Nichols “Carnal Knowledge”, AM gave a stunning and a surprising performance deserving all the accolades she received.
Director Douglas Heyes was primarily a TV director, and his flat style reflects this, probably is best known for some “Twilight Zone” and “Thriller” episodes he directed and as a writer for the miniseries “North and South.” Heyes also wrote the screenplay for “Kitten with a Whip” adapted from a novel by William Miller and Robert Wade written under the name Wade Miller released by Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks in 1959.
Over the years the film has gained a bit of a cult status mainly due to AM’s sexy snarling performance and bad dialogue. The film has been selected as one of “The 100 Most Amusing Bad Films Ever Made” in the “The Official Razzie Movie Guide.” Finally, there are rumors going around that Lindsay Lohan may be interested in doing a remake. Oh, the horror, the horror!