Roger Corman’s Electric Kool-Aid Tangerine Dream: THE TRIP (AIP 1967)

“You are about to be involved in a most unusual motion picture experience. It deals fictionally with the hallucinogenic drug LSD. Today, the extensive use in black market production of this and other so-called ‘mind bending’ chemicals are of great concern to medical and civil authorities…. This picture represents a shocking commentary on a prevalent trend of our time and one that must be of great concern to us all.” – Disclaimer at the beginning of 1967’s THE TRIP

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“Tune in, turn on, drop out”, exhorted 60’s acid guru Timothy Leary. The hippie generation’s fascination with having a psychedelic experience was a craze ripe for exploitation picking, and leave it to Roger Corman to create the first drug movie, THE TRIP. Released during the peak of the Summer of Love, THE TRIP was a box office success. Most critics of the era had no clue what to make of it, but the youth of suburban America flocked to their theaters and drive-ins in droves to find out what all the LSD hubbub was about.

Corman also wanted to know, so he and some friends dropped acid one balmy night and headed to Big Sur to trip. Having had a good experience, Corman sought to translate it into film (and make a buck in the process, no doubt). He solicited his pal Jack Nicholson , who’d experimented with LSD himself, to concoct a screenplay depicting what it was like to do acid. Nicholson came up with an acceptable script, and Roger went to work translating it for the big screen.

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It begins as TV commercial director Peter Fonda, in the midst of a divorce from wife Susan Strasberg , decides he want to try acid to “find out something about myself”. Pal Bruce Dern brings him to drug dealer Dennis Hopper’s pad, they cop and return to Fonda’s place, where he takes a 250 microgram dose, Dern staying straight to act as his guide.

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Dern advises Fonda to “turn off your mind, relax, and just float down the stream” (paraphrasing The Beatles), and soon he’s off on a journey to the center of his mind. THE TRIP then turns into a visual and aural assault on the senses filled with kaleidoscopic imagery, stunning light-show effects, and hallucinogenic nightmare sequences as Fonda gets deeper and deeper into his trip. The plotless structure now becomes pure film, with quotes from Fellini, Bergman, and Corman’s own Poe films. The “Psychedelic Special Effects” credited to Charlatan Productions, bold cinematography by Arch Dalzell (in ‘Psychedelic Color’), rapid-fire editing by Ronald Sinclair, and Corman’s knowing way behind the camera, combine to dazzle the viewer and, if it doesn’t quite truly capture what it’s like to trip, comes pretty damn close.

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The music soundtrack is provided by The Electric Flag, a 60’s San Francisco-via-Chicago band featuring Mike Bloomfield, Buddy Miles, Barry Goldberg, and Nick Gravenites. Their trippy raga-rock sound serves as the perfect backdrop for Corman’s visual feast. They are not the group shown at the club, though; that’s Gram Parson’s International Submarine Band, whose music Corman didn’t feel was  “far-out” enough. Corman regulars Dick Miller (as a bartender), Barboura Morris (hilarious as a woman Fonda meets at a laundromat), Salli Sachse, Luana Anders, and Beach Dickerson all appear, as do (briefly) Angelo Rossitto , Michael Blodgett (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS ), and Tom Signorelli. Look fast for Peter Bogdanovich, Brandon DeWilde, and rock scenemaker Rodney Bingenheimer.

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Fifty years later, THE TRIP remains a film lover’s delight, something that has to be seen to be truly appreciated. AIP honchos Sam Arkoff and James Nicholson tacked on that opening disclaimer, as well as superimposing a “cracked glass” effect over Fonda’s face in the film’s final shot, implying he’d been permanently damaged by the experience. This pissed Corman off, and after they later butchered his 1969 satire GAS-S-S-S!, he struck out on his own and formed New World Pictures, where he and others could enjoy artistic freedom (on a low-budget, of course). Whether you’ve ever tripped or not, this film is worth seeing for its technical mastery and daring concept. Also, it’s downright groovy, man!

   

Rebel Rebel: Paul Newman in COOL HAND LUKE (Warner Brothers 1967)

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The Sixties was the decade of the rebellious anti-hero. The times they were a-changin’ and movies reflected the anti-establishment mood with BONNIE & CLYDE, EASY RIDER, and COOL HAND LUKE. Paul Newman starred as white-trash outsider Luke Jackson, but it was his co-star George Kennedy who took home the Oscar for his role as Dragline, the king of the cons who first despises then idolizes Luke.

War vet Luke gets busted for “malicious destruction of municipal property while drunk”, and sent to a prison farm in Florida. The non-conformist Luke butts heads with both the “bosses” (prison guards aka authority) and Dragline, a near illiterate convict who runs the yard. Dragline and Luke decide to settle their differences in a Saturday boxing match. The hulking Dragline beats the shit out of Luke, but the smaller man keeps getting up for more. Dragline finally walks away, and Luke earns both his and the other con’s respect. Luke gets a visit from his mom Arletta (Oscar winner Jo Van Fleet of EAST OF EDEN), who’s dying and wants to see him one more time. This poignant scene is one of the best as Luke and Arletta discuss his upbringing, and we can see despite the hardships endured in their lives, there’s a strong loving bond between mother and son. The scene’s done without any maudlin Hollywood bullshit, and well handled by Newman, Van Fleet, and director Stuart Rosenberg.

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Then there’s the memorable egg-eating contest, where Luke bets he can eat fifty hard-boiled eggs in an hour. Dragline backs his play, and the prisoners all put up their money as Luke devours egg after egg, winning the bet in a funny scene. The shot of him lying on the table, surrounded by eggshells, in a crucifixion pose is one of many Christ-like tableaux featuring Luke throughout the film. It gets a little heavy-handed, but it works in this case. Luke gets word his mother has died, and he’s not allowed to attend the funeral. He’s put in “The Box” (a sweltering shed the size of an outhouse) so he doesn’t get “rabbit blood” and try to escape. This only triggers his thirst for freedom, and he attempts a series of escapes, each time getting caught. The punishments get brutaler and brutaler but Luke’s indomitable spirit keeps him going until the tragic end.

Newman and Kennedy head up a great cast,with Strother Martin (“What we have here is failure to communicate”) as The Captain leading guards Morgan Woodward, Luke Askew, and Robert Donner. The cons are played by J.D. Cannon, Wayne Rogers, Dennis Hopper, Ralph Waite, Harry Dean Stanton, and Joe Don Baker, among others. Then there’s Joy Harmon in a brief bit as a local lass washing her car on a hot Florida afternoon. She knows the men on the road gang are watching her, and she’s obviously getting off on turning them on:

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Thank you, Joy!

Stuart Rosenberg began his directing career in the 50’s with the syndicated series DECOY, starring Beverly Garland as a female cop. He moved on to THE NAKED CITY, THE UNTOUCHABLES, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, and THE TWILIGHT ZONE before COOL HAND LUKE, his first feature. Rosenberg was a talented director who wasn’t very prolific, but the films he did make were well done. He worked with Newman in three more movies (WUSA, POCKET MONEY, THE DROWNING POOL) and also did LOVE & BULLETS (with Charles Bronson), THE (original) AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE, and another prison drama, BRUBAKER, starring Newman’s pal Robert Redford.

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As for Oscar winner Kennedy, COOL HAND LUKE made him a star after years of hard work in small roles. Kennedy was featured in all the AIRPORT and NAKED GUN movies, and had roles in THE DIRTY DOZEN, BANDOLERO!, FOOL’S PARADE, CAHILL US MARSHAL, and THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT. He starred in the TV police dramas PRIEST and THE BLUE KNIGHT, and the first four seasons of DALLAS. George Kennedy is still with us at age 91, semi-retired but popping up as recently as 2014’s THE GAMBLER with Mark Wahlberg. COOL HAND LUKE is a must-see for fans of 60’s cinema, with another fine Newman performance and a star-making turn for George Kennedy. Put it on your watch list!

Say goodnight, Joy!

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Uneasy Riders: Dennis Hopper in THE GLORY STOMPERS (AIP, 1967)

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I love biker flicks!! I sat through just about everyone of them in their late 60s/early 70s heyday during double (sometimes triple) features at the local movie palaces….which may explain my warped worldview. THE GLORY STOMPERS was a favorite, and TCM ran it late last night. Naturally, I had to DVR it and give it another look. THE GLORY STOMPERS is a simple chase/revenge movie, with Glory Stomper Daryl (Jody McCrae) jumped by rival gang the Black Souls. Thinking they’ve “wasted” Daryl, head Soul Chino (Dennis Hopper) abducts Daryl’s girl Chris (Chris Noel), with a plan to sell her to white slavers in Mexico. But Daryl’s not dead, and he hunts down the gang, joined on the road by ex-Stomper Smiley (Jock Mahoney). The chase is on, with plenty of (PG) sex and violence along the way.

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Much like a B-Western, the story doesn’t stray too far from the formula. What makes THE GLORY STOMPERS stand out is Hopper’s pre-EASY RIDER turn as Chino. He’s maniacal as the Black Soul’s leader, a psychopath with no regard for anyone, except little brother Clean Cut (Jim Reader), who plays a major role in the conclusion. Hopper is a blast to watch, and a drinking game could probably be made out of how many times he says “man” in the film.

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Some of the cast and crew’s backstories are more interesting than the movie!! First, there’s Jody McCrea as Daryl. He’ll forever be immortalized as Deadhead (sometimes known as Bonehead) in AIP’s “Beach Party” movies. The son of 30s/40s stars Joel McCrea and Frances Dee, Jody made a handful of films after THE GLORY STOMPERS, then retired to a quiet life as a rancher. Chris Noel was the All-American 60s blonde who once starred with Elvis (GIRL HAPPY) and in a couple Beach Party knockoffs (BEACH BALL, WILD WILD WINTER) before devoting her time with the USO during the Vietnam War. Suffering from PTSD, Miss Noel left Hollywood and devoted her life to helping veterans.

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Jock Mahoney (Smiley) was Hollywood all the way. Beginning as a stuntman, he started acting in Three Stooges shorts, became a minor Western star in movies (SHOWDOWN AT ABILENE, SLIM CARTER) and television (THE RANGE RIDER, YANCY DERRINGER). Jock also played Tarzan twice (TARZAN GOES TO INDIA, TARZAN’S THREE CHALLENGES), but may be better known today as the stepfather of Sally Field. Robert Tessier (Magoo) was a legitimate tough guy, having won the Purple Heart and Silver Star during the Korean War. A veteran of biker flicks (BORN LOSERS, RUN ANGEL RUN, THE HARD RIDE), Tessier also appears in Walter Hill’s HARD TIMES, and was once TV commercial icon Mr. Clean!! Other cast members include Casey Kasem (yes, THAT Casey Kasem), Lindsay (son of Bing) Crosby, and Sandra Gayle (ANGELS FROM HELL).

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Behind the scenes, director Anthony M. Lanza got his start as an editor of Arch Hall epics like WILD GUITAR and THE SADIST. He also directed the cult classic THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT, with the incredible Bruce Dern! Those beautiful shots of Harleys rolling down scenic highways were by cinematographer Mario Tosi, who later did CARRIE and THE STUNT MAN. The music score, full of fuzz-tone psychedelic guitars, is credited to “Sidewalk Productions”, but was really Davie Allen (of Davie Allen and the Arrows) and music impresario Mike Curb, who did a ton of these low-budget biker movies, and later became Lt. Governor of California! THE GLORY STOMPERS is a time capsule look at the rebellious, sometimes dangerous, side of the 60s counterculture. No peace’n’love here, but plenty of action for lovers of the biker genre. Just watch it, man, you’ll dig it!

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