Is LADY STREET FIGHTER The Worst Movie Ever Made? (American General 1981)

In all my years of watching movies, I’ve seen more than my share of stinkers. But nothing quite prepared me for the total ineptitude that is LADY STREET FIGHTER, starring the immortal Renee Harmon. This wretchedly made film features an incoherent script, horrific cinematography, murky sound, no direction, really bad acting, and an ersatz synth theme ripped off from Morricone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY . Let’s put it this way… when Jody McCrea (Bonehead of the Beach Party series) takes your film’s best acting honors, you KNOW you’re in for trouble!!

This senseless excuse for a movie finds Renee out to avenge the death of her sister at the hands of a gang called Assassins Incorporated, or something like that. I’m really not too sure, as the convoluted plot isn’t well defined. The movie starts off promising for Grindhouse fans with a gruesome torture scene (including a beating with a Kendo stick ala WWE!), but descends into something truly bad. I don’t mean so-bad-it’s-good… I mean downright BAD. I’d say it looks like something out of a high school film class, but that would be an insult to high school film classes across the country. The only redeeming quality I could find in LADY STREET FIGHTER was that it finally ended.

Miss Harmon herself was of German origin, and immigrated to Texas with her Army colonel husband after WWII. Renee was always interested in acting, and after the couple moved to California she began producing, writing, and starring in her own low-budget films. She reminded me of the love child between Bela Lugosi and Marlene Dietrich (if one can imagine!) – trouble is, she couldn’t act her way out of the proverbial paper bag. And her martial arts “skills” are as bad as her acting. Her thick German accent (“Let’s zay at the goo-goo club”, she drones, meaning go-go club) is almost indecipherable, though I gotta admit the 50ish  Renee looks pretty good nekkid, and she can do some really amazing things with a stalk of celery!

At the end of this totally incompetent movie, there was a scrawl that read…

Watch for THE RETURN OF LADY STREET FIGHTER…

coming this Fall!

What?? You mean there was a sequel?? Must’ve been rated “For Masochists Only”!!

Drive-In Saturday Night 2: BIKINI BEACH (AIP 1964) & PAJAMA PARTY (AIP 1964)

Welcome back to Drive-In Saturday Night! Summer’s here, and the time is right for a double dose of American-International teen flicks, so pull in, pull up a speaker to hang on your car window, and enjoy our first feature, 1964’s BIKINI BEACH, starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello:

BIKINI BEACH is the third of AIP’s ‘Beach Party’ movies, and this one’s a typical hodgepodge of music, comedy, and the usual teenage shenanigans. The gang’s all here, heading to the beach on spring break for surfing and swinging. This time around, there’s a newcomer on the sand, British rock star The Potato Bug, with Frankie playing a dual role. Potato Bug is an obvious spoof of the big Beatlemania fever sweeping the country, with all the beach chicks (or “birds”, as he calls ’em) screaming whenever PB starts singing one of his songs, complete with Lennon/McCartney-esque “Wooos” and “Yeah, yeah, yeahs”. Avalon has a good time in a wig and Granny glasses (and a Terry-Thomas like accent) poking fun at the latest teen fad, and in typical low-budget AIP fashion, scenes with Frankie and Mr. Bug together have Beach regular Ronnie Dayton doubling for Potato Bug.

The villain of the piece is Keenan Wynn as Harvey Huntington Honeywagon III, who wants to get rid of the surfers so he can expand his old folks home. To prove his theory that the teens are nothing but Neanderthals “with an abnormal preoccupation with sex”, he has his simian sidekick Clyde (Janos Prohaska, The Bear from Andy Williams’s 60’s variety show) ape them by surfing, driving hot rods, and dancing. Martha Hyer is schoolteacher Vivien Clements, who stands up against Harvey for the kids, and guess who sides with him? That’s right, Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck ) and his Rats, who hates the surfers even more than Harvey!

Frankie and Annette argue (because of course they do), and she takes up with Potato Bug to make him jealous. Since Bug is a drag racing buff, Frankie decides to take up the sport and challenge him to a grudge race. Don Rickles Don Rickles returns as Big Drag (the former Jack Fanny), proprietor of Big Drag’s Pit Stop, the surfer’s hangout, and he’s funny as ever. There’s plenty of tunes and musical guests, including Little Stevie Wonder (singing “Dance and Shout”), The Pyramids, and The Exciters Band (who worked with the shimmying sensation Candy Johnson). There’s also plenty of padding, with lots of stock footage of surfing and racing, and though it’s an incredibly silly romp, it still manages to entertain if you like these sort of things (and I do!). Oh, and that mysterious art collector who keeps popping in and out of the film is none other than everyone’s favorite monster…

Boris Karloff  in a cameo! Now let’s go to the concession stand and load up on burgers and hot dogs during Intermission:

Our second feature is PAJAMA PARTY, also released in 1964:

Considered by aficionados as the fourth in the series, besides the fact it shares Annette, Jody McCrea, Eric Von Zipper and his Rats, and other regulars (Luree Holmes, Candy Johnson, Donna Loren, Michael Nader, Ronnie Rondell, Salli Sachse), it bears no relationship to the usual ‘Beach Party’ movies. In fact, PAJAMA PARTY is even goofier than normal – if you can imagine – a surreal, almost plotless piece of escapism with self-knowing winks to the audience! It may not be ‘Beach Party’ canon, but the film knows it’s goofy and revels in it.

Martians (yes, Martians!) send their biggest goof-up, an outer space teen named Go-Go (Tommy Kirk ) to infiltrate Earth and pave the way for their upcoming invasion. Don Rickles plays a Martian on the spaceship, and it’s not a spoiler to reveal Frankie Avalon is the alien chief – you’ll recognize his voice instantly. Go-Go lands in the backyard of dotty Aunt Wendy (Elsa Lanchester ), who renames him George and introduces him to her teenage borders, including Connie (Annette) and her dumb jock boyfriend Big Lunk (Jody). Von Zipper and his Rats are around, out to get “them volleyball kids”, and a crook called J. Sinister Hulk (Jesse White) is plotting to steal Aunt Wendy’s millions, left to her by her late husband – in cash! All this takes place amid one slapstick situation after another, until whatever plot ends are neatly tied up.

Among J. Sinister’s henchmen is Buster Keaton , making his first appearance in the series. The Great Stoneface has some funny gags and bits, and could still take a pratfall with the best of ’em! Also making her ‘Beach’ debut is Bobbi Shaw, the “ya, ya” girl, and actor and nightclub comic Ben Lessy rounds out the villainous quartet. Dorothy Lamour guest stars as hostess of a fashion show, and even gets a musical number, “Where Did I Go Wrong”. Sexy Susan Hart gyrates her way through the film without any dialog, which isn’t a bad thing; the wife of AIP co-founder James Nicholson was better at window dressing than acting.

The songs are no great shakes except for Loren’s rocking “Among the Young” and Annette’s uptempo “Pajama Party”, but there’s some real energetic 60’s dancing going on (see if you can spot Teri Garr and Toni Basil movin’ and groovin’ in the crowd). The Nooney Rickets 4 provide a few instrumentals for the kids to boogie to, and the soft drink Dr. Pepper pops up everywhere (Loren was the Dr. Pepper Girl for years in 1960’s TV ads). Both BIKINI BEACH and PAJAMA PARTY are products of a bygone era, and both are still a lot of fun. A perfect double feature to watch on a hot summer night, with some popcorn and a cold Dr. Pepper!

KOWABUNGA!

Fun in the Sun: BEACH BLANKET BINGO (AIP 1965)

You’d think by the fourth entry in American-International’s ‘Beach Party’ series, 1965’s BEACH BLANKET BINGO, the formula would be wearing a bit thin. Frankie and Annette are still trying to make each other jealous, Eric Von Zipper and his Rats are still comic menaces, and the gang’s into yet another new kick (skydiving this time around). But thanks to a top-notch supporting cast of characters, a sweet subplot involving a mermaid, and the genius of comedy legend Buster Keaton , BEACH BLANKET BINGO is loads of fun!

Aspiring singer Sugar Kane skydives from a plan into the middle of the ocean and is “rescued” by surfer Frankie. But not really… it’s all been a publicity stunt by her PR agent ‘Bullets’. Sugar is played by lovely Linda Evans, right before she landed on TV’s THE BIG VALLEY, and ‘Bullets’ is none other than the fantastically sarcastic Paul Lynde. But wait… Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his motley crew have spied Sugar, and the Head Rat immediately declares she’s “nifty”, and Sugar replaces his idol, “Marlo Brandon”.

Frankie wants to try skydiving, and so does Dee Dee (our girl Annette, for those unfamiliar with the series), but macho Frank thinks a woman’s place is in the kitchen. The gang heads to Big Drop’s Skydiving school, run by ‘Mr. Warmth’, the late, great Don Rickles . Instructors Steve and Bonnie (real-life husband and wife John Ashley and the delectable Deborah Walley ) cause romantic complications for Frankie and Dee Dee, because that’s just the way things go in these films. Meanwhile, big goofy Bonehead ( Jody McCrea ) opts out of the skydiving scene, and winds up meeting and falling in love with Lorelei the mermaid, played by marvy Marta Kristen (LOST IN SPACE’s Judy Robinson).

Things get real (or about as real as they can in a drive-in flick) when Von Zipper kidnaps Sugar, only to be snatched from him by his no-goodnik pool hall pal South Dakota Slim (the one and only Timothy Carey !). Slim takes her to his “bubby” house (he calls everyone “bubby”) and ties her to a buzzsaw, resulting in a silent-film style slapstick ending straight outta THE PERILS OF PAULINE. That ending, along with other comic bits, was devised by Keaton, who’s Big Drop’s “assistant”, and it’s obviously the comedy master’s handiwork. Buster has some wonderful sight gags spread throughout the film, like having troubles casting his fishing line in the surf, chasing (and chased by) Bobbi Shaw along the seascape, doing his own crazy version of the watusi, and hanging from a tree limb during the sped-up race to Slim’s sawmill. Buster Keaton still did his own stunts here at age 69, and his dedication to his comic craft, even in a low-budget teen movie like this, is a testament to his considerable talents.

Lynde and Rickles each get to showcase their own comic personas, with Rickles doing some of his stand-up insult comedy while emceeing Sugar’s singing performance, and it’s one of the movie’s comic highlights (Don to Frankie: “You’re 43, Frank! You’re old!”). Donna Loren returns to sing “It Only Hurts When I Cry”, surf rockers The Hondells appear, and even Lembeck and his Rats get a musical number, “Follow Your Leader”. Famed (at the time) columnist Earl Wilson plays himself, 1964’s Playmate of the Year Donna Michelle is one of the surfer girls, and Michael Nader (later Evans’ costar on DYNASTY) is Frankie’s pal Butch. BEACH BLANKET BINGO is perfect for a hot summer night when you’re looking for some mindless laughs, with a bevy of beauties, harmless musical interludes, and some fine comedy from Lynde, Rickles, and especially Buster Keaton. Kowabunga!

 

Back to the Beach: MUSCLE BEACH PARTY (AIP 1964)

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The “Beach Party ” gang’s back and so’s the familiar formula in MUSCLE BEACH PARTY, second in the American-International series. It’s Easter vacation and Frankie Avalon is still horny, Annette Funicello’s still waiting for marriage, and a beautiful foreign woman is again coming between them. This time it’s Lucianna Paluzzi as Countess Julie, a rich heiress who wants to make Frankie a singing star and her personal property.

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Eric Von Zipper and his Rats aren’t around this time, replaced by a bunch of bodybuilders led by trainer Jack Fanny (the inimitable Don Rickles). Julie first sets her sights on “Mr. Galaxy” Flex Martian, but dumps him when she spies Frankie. This leads to war between the surfers and the musclemen, with the inevitable slapstick melee. Flex is played by Rock Stevens, a real-life bodybuilder who muscled his way through a few Italian peplum films before reverting to his real name of Peter Lupus and co-starring in the long-running TV series MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.

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The gang’s all here: John Ashley, Jody McCrea, Candy Johnson, Valora Noland, and Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. Alberta Nelson, usually one of Von Zipper’s Mice, is cast as one of the muscle girls. Newcomer Donna Loren makes her series debut singing “Muscle Bustle” with Dale and company. Miss Loren was spokesperson for Dr. Pepper soda, and the soft drink is prominently featured in some scenes… coincidence? I think not!

Rickles made his first of four series appearances as Fanny, although always in different roles. He’s Big Drag in BIKINI BEACH, Big Bang in PAJAMA PARTY, and Big Drop in BEACH BLANKET BINGO. Morey Amsterdam returns as Cappy, owner of the gang’s hangout. Comic Buddy Hackett is Julie’s business manager S.Z., and Peter Turgeon, primarily a stage actor who once played Dr. Woodward on DARK SHADOWS, is her hapless lawyer Theodore. 13-year-old Stevie Wonder makes his film debut jamming with Dick Dale and the Del-Tones on “Happy Street”:

There’s some fun with Frankie Avalon constantly breaking the Forth Wall, California surf artist Michael Dormer’s opening cartoon credits, and plenty of cool surfing footage. Beach Boy Brian Wilson co-wrote six of the tunes to add some authenticity. The most fun for film buffs is undoubtably the surprise cameo by Peter Lorre as Mr. Strangdour,  the silent partner of Jack Fanny’s  bodybuilders (“he bends things”), at the movie’s conclusion. A tag line at the end touts Lorre’s next appearance in BIKINI BEACH, but alas it wasn’t to be. After making Jerry Lewis’ THE PATSY, Lorre died on March 23, 1964, ending a great screen career.

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MUSCLE BEACH PARTY isn’t as good as BEACH PARTY, but sequels rarely top the originals. The formula was already in place for the series, and would continue right up to GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, the final film. While certainly not high cinematic art, the “Beach Party” series are goofball drive-in flicks designed for viewers to shut off their brains for an hour and a half and enjoy a few summertime laughs. And honestly, what more can you ask for out of a drive-in flick than that?

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!