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Monday, July 15, 2013

Sunday Night Movie Corner #0

Welcome to Sunday Night Movie Corner. This column is an attempt to force myself back into regular film writing, with capsule reviews of every movie that the G Man has seen within the past seven days. If the spirit inspires me enough to write a longer, more detailed review, it will be featured at one of my other blogs, Unreeling in the Dark or TV Movies of the Week. Enjoy!

ABOVE: The Dave Clark 5 in Get Yourself a College Girl 

This week: Casa G-Man unspooled some teen and-or counterculture films from the 1960's. I've always had a soft spot for these kinds of pictures: even if they are square, egregiously squeaky-clean or outdated, I love them anyway. At the very least they are fascinating time capsules of a youth that we didn't have, and that probably didn't exist, but that we romanticize about anyway.


The Girls on the Beach
(1965, William Witney)
All one really demands of a beach party movie are some cute girls and boys frolicking on the beach, some dumb jokes, some musical numbers (incidental to the plot or otherwise), and maybe, just maybe, some basic film grammar or storytelling? The familiar premise, featuring the girls of Alpha Beta needing to raise ten grand in two weeks to save their fraternity, is serviceable enough, but the heavy subplot, where some preppy twerps pretend that they know the Beatles in order to make it with the girls, becomes its major undoing. This astonishingly cruel joke takes its toll, as the girls plan a fundraising concert with The Fab Four as headliners! In the meantime, Lesley Gore sings -no, lipsyncs- three numbers ("Leave Me Alone," "It's Gotta Be You," "I Don't Want to Be a Loser"), The Beach Boys feature "Girls on the Beach", "Lonely Sea" and "Little Honda", including a sequence on the beach with crummy day for night. The okay cast (including the ubiquitous blond beach movie beefcake Aron Kincaid) benefits from amusing cameos by Dick Miller as a smartass waiter, and Bruno VeSota as a telegraph officer. Director William Witney has made dozens of B-movies and serials, and knows how to tell a story with little means, but one senses that his creative input ended once the film was in the can, and less experienced hands assembled it. The movie feels unfinished as the impending Beatles lawsuit is shrugged off, and lacks a satisfying climax where the boys get kicked in the nuts (or in those more wholesome times, slapped on the cheek), and its comic timing is awry, as in the scene where the girls wonder aloud if they're being spied on is followed by a shot of someone ogling them with a telescope not one, but three shots later. With the girls so active in raising money through beauty pageants, crossword contests and bake-offs, one wonders how these dorky boys ever thought they'd have the time to make it with them.

Beach Ball
(1965, Lennie Weinrib)
Edd ("Kookie") Byrnes must keep the instruments of his band The Wrigglers from being repossessed, so he tugs at the heartstrings of finance committee member Chris Noel to obtain a loan. That plan backfires once she discovers it's to keep his evil rock and roll band afloat, and he must wheel and deal to keep ahead of the repo man before their big gig at a car show. This amusing fluff has a pretty good joke at its core, which is to make squares cool: Chris and the other equally prim and proper girls on the finance committee who nonetheless decide to tag along with the boys to learn how to be hip, and even the uptight bespectacled collection agent gets, uh, liberated by Edd's randy beach bunnies. This mild good time also features The Hondells ("My Buddy Seat"), The Four Seasons ("Dawn") and the Righteous Brothers ("Baby What You Want Me To Do"), and The Supremes, just before they hit the big time, entertaining at the car show with "Come To The Beach Ball With Me" and "Surfer Boy". Chris Noel (whose career of beach movies and biker epics epitomized the light and dark aspects of the 1960s) is appealing in a role requiring her to be both bookishly reserved and a hip happening chick. The cast includes Aron Kincaid (again!) and Don Edmonds (later the director of Ilsa movies!) among Byrne's friends.  Best of all is Anna Lavelle as one of Kookie's beach girls: she was a natural talent whose career never took off- this was her only substantial role. Dick Miller is one of the two cops who show up repeatedly, and chase The Wrigglers all over the car show before their big act. This movie is two for two this week where guys have to go in drag to get out of a tight spot. Director Lennie Weinrib was a former comic who later became the voice of Scrappy Doo, Fred Flinstone, Yogi Bear and many cartoon characters. As a director he's no auteur (as seen in the overemphasis on running chase scenes in silent film speed), but did make two other teen pics that warrant investigation: Wild Wild Winter (featuring much of this film's cast), and Out of Sight.

Get Yourself A College Girl
(1964, Sidney Miller)
Here's another film that should've ended with the girl kicking the guy in the groin. The ravishing former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley makes an appealing film debut in this innocuous comedy of manners, as Theresa, who pays for her college tuition as a songwriter of randy rock and roll lyrics that upset the geriatric board of directors at Wyndham Girl's College. In order to keep her academic good standing and save the college's ultra-conservative reputation, she agrees to avoid any further scandal while in Sun Valley with her girlfriends during the Christmas break. But that's so hard when her publicist Chad Everett tries to get her noticed, resulting in a silly scandal with the senator, who is the grandson of the Wyndham lineage. This Sam Katzman quickie was made to cash in on the Watusi craze, but when the fad died out even before the ever reliable "Jungle Sam" managed to rush this into theaters for a quick buck, its original Watusi-themed title was dropped, and the dance-themed angle was largely brushed over, save for one scene where the senator happens onto some gyrating Watusi-ing college kids at a dance, and his reaction shots are intercut with stock footage of African tribal dance. On the surface, this sequence is tasteless, but it precisely sums up the xenophobia of the white family unit who felt the influence of black-oriented music was a threat to their children. This is a film made by and about old fogeys who didn't understand the young generation. There is some fun to be had with Ms. Mobley's female co-stars: Chris Noel is a college ballet instructor who puts on a rock and roll 45 as soon as the board member leaves her class; Nancy Sinatra spends most of their winter getaway in bed with her husband (lucky guy). Of all these square 60s movies attempting to be hip, this film probably has the most eclectic musical lineup. First-billed (over the actors!) Dave Clark Five ("Whenever You're Around"; "Thinking Of You Baby"), The Standells ("Bony Maronie", "The Swim") and The Animals ("Blue Feeling", "Around and Around") perform some great rock numbers; Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto do their bossa nova hit "The Girl From Ipanema"; and the Jimmy Smith Trio contributes some great R&B jazz with "Comin' Home Johnny" and "The Sermon". This flick isn't a lost classic, but it's good fun, with better production values than one usually associates with this genre.

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