Robert H. Rimmer’s 1966 novel, The Harrad Experiment, was a moderate success when first published in hardcover. One year later, Bantam Books published the paperback version, and the book exploded selling over 300,000 copies in one month, eventually selling over three million. Rimmer, who died in in 2001, wrote close to twenty books, both fiction and non-fiction, most, if not all, focusing on unconventional, free love relationships outside the norm of monogamy. The Harrad Experiment was his most successful work spawning a second related nonfiction book called The Harrad Letters to Robert H. Rimmer. Continue reading
Considering the subject matter, it’s amazing that the low budget, Who Killed Teddy Bear was released in 1965. The film is a smorgasbord of Production Code taboos broken one after another: incest, masturbation, homosexuality and more. It all set in the seedy lurid world of 1960’s slime filled Times Square. It’s an oddity for sure, and a definite bump up above the typical sexploitation movies that decorated the deuce and Times Square back in the day, if for no other reason than the cast includes Sal Mineo, Juliet Prowse, Jan Murray and Elaine Stritch. One other reason to watch is due to the gritty, noirish cinematography provided by Joseph C. Brun (Odds Against Tomorrow, Edge of the City). One word of warning. Though over fifty years old and not as graphic as films today, Who Killed Teddy Bear may still be unsettling for some. Continue reading
In a 1993 interview with The New York Times, Martin Scorsese talks about the influence Murder by Contract had on the then teenager. “It’s an example of an American B-movie that is 100 times better than the film it played with on a double bill.” He then went on to explain, “The film it was playing with when I saw it was ‘The Journey,’ by Anatole Litvak, with Yul Brynner. That film had nice color, but when ‘Murder by Contract’ came on the screen, it was surprising and lean and purposeful, and not like anything my friends and I had seen. Afterward, we talked about it on the street for days. When I saw it again years later, I was overwhelmed by the severity of the style, which was dictated by the budget.” Scorsese later said in the interview how he put a clip from the film in ‘Mean Streets, ‘ but he had to remove it out of the final cut of the film because it was too long. Continue reading
An almost forgotten film from the mid-1980’s, Heaven Help Us is a wonderfully executed coming of age story. While the film will definitely strike a chord with Catholics, I can say honestly it will speak to almost anyone who was once a teenager, and that’s all of us. Continue reading
I have always had an affinity for newspaper themed films. As a kid in Junior High, I had, for a short period, illusions of being a newspaper reporter. I’m not sure what exactly sparked this interest, but while the desire to be a reporter died my love of films with newspapers/reporters has remained strong. Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, Sam Fuller’s Park Row, Alan Pakula’s All the President’s Men, Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday, Alexander MacKendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, Phil Karlson’s Scandal Sheet, Richard Brooks’ Deadline U.S.A. and more recently Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight are just some of my favorites. As you can tell from this small list, newspaper reporting can be an heroic endeavor or it can be down and dirty, even scandalous. Continue reading
One of the earliest films about the American involvement in Vietnam is the little known A Yank in Vietnam (1964). The film was directed by and starred Marshall Thompson. It was made in Vietnam before the escalation, the large buildup of American troops, and the anti-war fever back at home. Produced during these early years of the conflict, the film is free of all the political baggage that came only a few years later. As the American involvement in the war grew and the war became more and more unpopular at home, Hollywood saw Vietnam as a hot potato to be avoided. Continue reading
Private Property is an independent film from 1960 about two young and dangerous drifters who spy on and eventually work their way into the home of a beautiful young married woman. At the time of its release, the film was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency for its lascivious themes and violence. Thought to have been lost for many years, Private Property is a voyeuristic journey into the minds of the morally corrupt. Corey Allen, of Rebel without a Cause fame and later a TV director, and Warren Oates star as the two vicious losers out for a good time at any expense.
The Victors has had a long history. Released in 1963, it was quickly pulled and edited, then released back out to the public. Since then the film has been hard to find and when it has been available, there have been multiple edited versions. It’s been a film I have been wanting to see for many years. Recently, a local cable station showed the film on Memorial Day (I wrote this a few months ago and never published it) giving me the chance. Which version I have no idea, but it did not disappoint. Continue reading
Back in 1968, Wild in the Streets was AIP’s low budget youth generation attempt at political satire. Directed by long time TV director Barry Shear (The Todd Killings) it stars James Dean clone Christopher Jones as twenty-four year old rock star Max Frost. Max is charismatic, and he rallies the American youth with songs like “We’re 52%” and with plans to take over the political process making the rock singer himself President. Not trusting anyone over 30 is their mantra. It’s time for the youth generation to take over country. After all, it was all these “old timers” who got us into every mess since the beginning: war, famine, racial hatred, poverty, etc. Max’s plan is collect all the “old” people and put them into concentration type camps feeding them LSD so they will trip out and not harm anyone or their pitiful older shelves. This even includes Max’s own parents from his trouble childhood. With the “old” folks in storage, Max sees no need for war. It’s all sex, drugs and rock and roll. He disbands the military as well as the FBI and The CIA. If your under 30 the world will be peachy. The unanswered question is what happens to Max and all the others once they reach the despicable age of 30? Continue reading
“American Hot Wax” may not be totally accurate (it’s not) but it does capture the favor, the spirit, the recklessness and the music of the early days of Rock and Roll. It does this through an excellent performance by Tim McIntire and the music by many of the great artists of the day including Frankie Ford, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Kenny Vance, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. The films center is Alan Freed credited incorrectly with coining the phrase rock n roll, a term whose original meaning was a slang term for sexual intercourse and had been used in a few songs going as far back a 1922*. Freed started in Cleveland, put on live shows, moved to New York on 1010 WINS then to WABC Radio before being fired when he refused to sign a statement certifying he never accepted a payola payment. Payola was rampant with DJ’s throughout the U.S. but Freed was one of the main targets, and a symbol of investigators and whose career would suffer the most. After he was fired by WABC, Freed never was able to find work with a major radio station again but like the screen Alan Freed tells the police toward the end of the movie “you can stop me, but you can never stop rock and roll.”
The movie plays loose with the facts, director Floyd Mutrux admits that he took some artistic license with the storyline in the film including changing the sequential order of Freed’s final days as a New York DJ. The screenplay unfortunately lacks any depth only skimming the surface of Freed’s character also making him much more of a saint than he really was. You don’t learn much about him except for his passionate rebellious love for rock and roll, his willingness to play black music along with the fact that he smoked and drank too much. Mutrux does not even touch on Freed’s sharing of songwriting credit as a form of payment. This co-writing credit was not limited to just Freed, it was common practice among top DJ’s and popular singers. Dick Clark was well known for sharing copyright credit. Even Elvis Presley received songwriting credit receiving royalty for songs like Heartbreak Hotel among others early in his career.
The film gives us a glance of Freed’ s days filled with eager young singers hanging outside the radio station attempting to “audition” for their big break as they sing popular songs of the day, or in a recording studio watching Frankie Ford record his one monster hit, “Sea Cruise”, or watching record producer Richard Perry play a fictitious music producer working with a fictitious doo-wop group (The Planotones lead by Kenny Vance former of Jay and the Americans) recording “Come Go With Me”, a real hit by the Del-Vikings in 1957. The Planotones, as mentioned, started out as a fictitious group for the film. Some years later Vance would reform the group and they have been performing around the country singing doo-wop ever since.
The films real strength is in the performances with McIntire doing a splendid job as Freed and a young Fran Drescher who is engaging as Freed’s high pitched girl Friday. Also in the cast are Lorraine Newman as a Carole King songwriter wannabe and Jay Leno as Mookie, Freed’s chauffeur. Most interesting are the performances by the great Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and the other early rock and roll singers who appear along with the recreation of the Brooklyn Paramount Theater. “American Hot Wax” is a highly enjoyable low budget film.