I Saw a Film!

There’s this space between Elvis and the British Invasion, a kind of netherworld of youth hanging on to a fashion of suits and pompadours and Cary Grants, as well as beehives and just boxy dresses patterned like space suits (Sue Ann Langdon as Tess sports one in this feature while singing an absurd old Gershwin tune about wanting to be roughed up (more about this later)). . . anyway, this period, this age of . . . not Aquarius, this no man’s land of my parents becoming a couple and renting an apartment and giving birth to me. A time when Kennedy was shot by a geek with a fetish for Russia and being a martyr. When Sputnik scared the shit out of the West and spawned a rocket program. This period had some weird goddamned movies.

You can argue that Connie Francis is cute, petite and can belt out a tune kinda like a tchotchke version Wanda Jackson that sits on a shelf with a bunch of Beanie Babies. Both items are true. You might argue that the mix of Gershwin, giant stage dance number productions, Satchmo and Herman’s Hermits all mixed up together are a perfectly acceptable facsimile of youth culture of 1964, but I think you’d be wrong.

I pulled this up because it mentioned the rock and roll aspects, I mean Sam the Sham is in it, just at the beginning lip-syncing for a stage show that has a bunch of men in ladies’ showgirl outfits dancing around. I suppose this looked hysterical in 1964 or 65. But the idea was this was all taking place at a small all men’s college. Women are trucked in at the last second to save the production, but this causes unrest as the lady bodies gyrating all over in showgirl outfits was unseemly at the boy’s college . . . it’s frankly far too difficult for me to even attempt to fathom. Were we in some form of sexual denial for adults in the early sixties? In which case by the time the ladies are burning their bras and using the pill to own their own reproductive rights I can see how that would have caused a calamity of overthrowing the Taliban level of cultural upheaval. To us now it all seems rather dull and, honestly, fake. This whole film feels entirely false. As if even the prospective audience this film was made for could not possibly have existed. The comedy is so aged as to be unrecognizable. Exhibit A is a goofball interview with a “boxer” who has no reason to be there, makes no sense in accent or habit, and behaves so weirdly it’s difficult to parse as a routine. The audience laughs but it’s clear that such is only staged laughter. Did this pass as humor in the age?

I’m not going to tell you much about the actors or the characters (you can look them up!). Though I always love seeing the old man from Dobie Gillis, here he’s playing Connie’s Dad (he never faces the camera and says “I gotta kill that girl, I just gotta.”). A gambler in debt to some greasy cowboy hat wearing suits who want him to sell his ranch to them. The lead played by lean and tall Harve Presnell arrives on the scene, endangers the life of Connie who on horseback delivering mail (somehow she’s a USPS employee) is run ragged and thrown in mud. This of course provides our two leads the opportunity to become acquainted! Leading to love! Wicked.

Central to this film is this ideal of outsmarting the gambling debt through a bigger debt of going into a massive capitalist enterprise. Basically a resort for bachelors who want to hang around a “ranch”. Though little sign of anything ranch-like goes on. There are some hilarious sequences obviously shot on sound stage with Connie’s outsized voice echoing around the painted walls.

A sprawling and over-long golden-age orchestra dance number takes up a big block of the runtime of this thing. The tedious colors of the shirts and skirts, kicking about and jumping over each other to big band music mixed with Latin beats and a variety of other musical proposals all stirred up, have the kids (who are they all supposed to be?) hanging all over the 2×4 framework of something that they aren’t building that is symmetrical with two stairways leading up to nothing–but providing lots of levels for “dancing”. This is stage show-dancing which looks more like cheer-leading. There’s no rock n roll going on in this big sequence. Though Herman’s Hermits do arrive at one point on the back of a truck singing a sappy tune. Peter Noone looks as goofy as realty in his ten-gallon hat.

Somehow, after a montage, we have a finished product a big flashy hotel with comical characters arriving and the gambling debt being due, and finally a big car chase ending in our little Connie falling off her horse again (and of course catching her new beau with an old flame) is very upset. But the debtors were only chasing them to tell them good news!

OK the character who returns, the old flame, Tess, who you’d forgotten was even in the film despite her singing the “Treat Me Rough” number a couple of times, somehow extorts our protagonist into a kind of sexless romantic moment that causes little Connie to clomp off. Forcing Danny to have to impress upon her the truth, but it comes much easier mixed with the unlikely financial success the story offers up on the platter. What a ridiculous capitalist brainwashing this kind of story force feeds us while Louis Armstrong performs on the steps.

There it is, the American Dream. I won’t keep hammering the pernicious fiction of success following our efforts, when you basically have a rich kid offering to pay off the debts and then build a massive successful business. Instead, I’ll laugh a bit at everyone’s leading goal being marriage. Marriage is the euphemism for serious relationship. Cute Connie is delivering mail to people on horseback and trying to keep her dad free from gambling debt but she’s alone. There is no man in her life. “Good” in these old movies implies “pure” and vise versa. People aren’t supposed to be experienced at all with one another to be good people. But in the real world, aren’t good people just about always in some kind of relationship? Good niches are already filled. Not always by great partners (sometimes they’re parasites!) but just the same these people are always unattached availables who don’t respect anyone who has a past! The father from Dobie Gillis does smile and say a past is OK, just remembering the phone numbers can be an issue! This is the most racy thing said in the film!

This thing costs a few bucks on Prime, and I pulled it up having remembered bits of it from long ago. It’s a hard watch if just for the music choices, but if you’re a fan of the Hermits or Sam the Sham, or Armstrong, you get a little bit of those.

I like to think Rock and Roll killed this sort of spineless teen musical, and considering this was the time when Henry Miller’s novels became available in the West it was a general loosening of the American version of Taliban. We allowed that kind of stinking overbearing religious pressure on even our adult entertainment for too long (and it’s still there!).

People love being offended, and are always ready to exercise their indignation when you break what they think of as important rules. But like an article I was reading recently said, not all things are equal. Some things always will require protection, others can be done away with. We should always treat women with dignity and we should always aver from punching strangers in the face . . . but we don’t need to bow to Victorian era sexual oppression just because it satisfies a few loud mouths who find sex offensive. Hilariously they never seemed to get Liberace and the homoerotic overtones of moments of this film are striking and awfully silly.

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