Rockin’ in the Film World #16: Herman’s Hermits in HOLD ON! (MGM 1966)

In yesterday’s  ‘One Hit Wonders’ post on the Blues Magoos, I told you Dear Readers my first concert was headlined by Herman’s Hermits, five non-threatening teens from Manchester, UK – Karl Greene, Barry Whitwam, Derek ‘Lek’ Leckenby, Keith Hopwood, and lead singer Peter Blair Denis Bernard Noone, known as Herman for his slight resemblance to cartoon character Sherman (of “Mr. Peabody and…’ fame). Their infectious, peppy pop rock and Herman’s toothy grin made the teenyboppers scream with delight, with hits like “I’m Into Something Good”, “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”, and “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am”. Even parents liked The Hermits, and they seemed destined to follow in the cinematic footsteps of The Beatles. MGM, who released their records stateside, concocted a ball of fluff for Herman and the lads called HOLD ON!, and any resemblance between that title and The Fab Four’s HELP! is strictly not coincidental!

It’s your basic Sam Katzman production, who’d been cranking out teen oriented rock flicks since 1956’s ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK . Like most (okay, all) Katzman movies, the budget is decidedly on the low side, aided and abetted by some clever camerawork and plenty o’stock footage, not to mention veteran director Arthur Lubin, who’d been around since the 1930’s, directed the first five Abbott & Costello films, the Francis the Talking Mule series, and created the TV sitcom MR. ED. He wasn’t outstanding, but very competent, especially when it came to comedy.

The plot? It’s thin as a cup of weak tea, with Herman’s Hermits going on a big U.S. tour, and NASA astronauts (or rather, their kids) wanting to name their new space capsule after the band, causing an apoplectic State Department official to send a man to follow the boys a “get a full report”! A couple of subplots (yes, there are subplots!) involve a publicity hungry starlet determined to be linked with Herman, and a rich young girl who falls for the singer. There’s some merry mix-ups and slapstick gags along the way, as a charity ball the Hermits play becomes a catastrophe, but by the end everything works out for the best, as these things usually do.

This flimsy story, written by Robert E. Kent (WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS ) under the pseudonym James B. Gordon, serves as an excuse to hold together a plethora of songs by Herman’s Hermits. Besides the title tune, we get hits like “A Must to Avoid” and “Where Were You When I Needed You”, as well as lesser songs “All the Things I Do For You, Baby”, “Got A Feelin'”, and “Wild Love”. There are a couple of fantasy sequences set to “The George and Dragon” and “Leaning on the Lampost”, but again, this is a Sam Katzman production… don’t expect anything fancy!

The supporting cast consists mainly of TV actors. Bernard Fox (BEWITCHED’s Dr. Bombay, HOGAN’S HEROES’ Col. Crittendon) plays the band’s manager, whose job is to keep girls away from Herman (and vice versa!). Shelley Fabares (THE DONNA REED SHOW, COACH) plays Herman’s love interest, and gets the chance to warble “Make Me Happy” (Shelley had a #1 hit of her own in 1962 with “Johnny Angel”). Herbert Anderson (DENNIS THE MENACE’s dad) is the put-upon State Department guy spying on the Hermits, getting constantly doused with water for his troubles. Sue Ane Langdon, a frequent TV gust star who costarred with Elvis in FRANKIE & JOHNNY, is the publicity-mad actress.

I loved this when I saw it in the theater, but then again I was only 8! Times change, and now that I know a little more about films, I can tell you it’s not all that great. If you’re not a fan of the band, you won’t understand what all the hype was about. The songs are good, but you won’t find any thespic talent among Herman and his Hermits. It’s a time capsule movie of a more innocent era, when the group was riding high on the pop charts. As I said, times change, and the harder, more experimental rock sounds of the late 60’s soon left Herman’s Hermits by the wayside. I still like ’em though, and even own a double-CD of their music (and break it out of a couple times a year).  In fact, I’ve heard Peter Noone himself will be playing the Cape Cod Melody Tent later this summer with another 60’s pop rock group, Tommy James & The Shondells. Yeah, you just KNOW I’ll  be there!

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One Hit Wonders #10: “Summertime Blues” by Blue Cheer (Philips Records 1968)

Direct from Haight-Ashbury, psychedelic hard rockers Blue Cheer ushered in the Age of Heavy Metal with “Summertime Blues”, reaching #14 on the Billboard charts in 1968 (Crank It Up LOUD!):

Singer/bassist Dickie Peterson, who lived on San Francisco’s Haight Street during the “Summer of Love” days, originally formed the band as a five-piece group, but stripped down to the power trio model popularized by Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, with Leigh Stephens on guitar and Paul Whaley on drums. Blue Cheer’s hair was longer, and their sound more ear-splitting, than anyone around, and the band’s thundering heavy metal noise made both the single and their debut album “Vincebus Eruptum” into classics of early metal then and collector’s items today.

Blue Cheer’s classic lineup: Dickie Peterson, Leigh Stephens, and Paul Whaley

The band went through numerous personnel changes before breaking up in 1970. Peterson reformed the group in the 80’s and toured Europe, bringing their “cranked up to 11” barrage of sound to a new generation of metal maniacs, who worshipped these hard rock pioneers. Peterson died in 2009 from prostate cancer, bringing an end to what many call the Founding Fathers of Heavy Metal. Any act calling themselves Blue Cheer today simply ISN’T – BC without Peterson is like The Stones without Mick Jagger!

50’s rocker Eddie Cochran

As for “Summertime Blues” itself, the song was first written and recorded by 50’s rocker Eddie Cochran, whose original version hit #8 on the charts. The tune became a staple for every bar band in the land, and has been covered by artists as diverse as The Beach Boys, Dick Dale, Alan Jackson (who hit #1 on the Country charts with it in 1994), Joan Jett, The MC5, Olivia Newton-John, Buck Owens, Rush, James Taylor, T. Rex, The Who (on their seminal “Live at Leeds” LP), and The Ventures. But nobody, not even Cochran himself, rocked “Summertime Blues” as hard as Blue Cheer did fifty years ago!

More “One Hit Wonders” to see and hear:

“The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace

“One Tin Soldier (Theme from BILLY JACK)” by Coven

“Long Lonesome Highway” by Michael Parks

“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam

“DOA” by Bloodrock

“Are You a Boy Or Are You a Girl” by The Barbarians

“Why Can’t We Live Together” by Timmy Thomas

“They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Ha” by Napoleon XIV

“In the Year 2525” by Zager & Evans

Rockin’ in the Film World #14: SKI PARTY (AIP 1965)

American-International Pictures takes the “Beach Party ” concept to the slopes in 1965’s SKI PARTY, an endearingly goofy ball of fluff headlining Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, Deborah Walley , and a pre-‘Batgirl’ Yvonne Craig . It sells itself with a sly wink to the audience that says, “We know the whole thing’s absurd, and we don’t care”! Besides the off-the-wall comedy, the film features above average musical interludes by guests Lesley Gore and the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown.

Frankie and Dwayne play a pair of slightly overage college students (Avalon was 25, Hickman 31!) trying to woo Deborah and Yvonne. The two knuckleheads can’t figure out why they can’t get to first base, while college Romeo Aron Kincaid scores with every babe on campus. When the whole gang (including Beach movie regulars Luree Holmes, Michael Nader, Salli Sachsee , and surfing champ Mickey Dora) go on a skiing vacation during mid-term break, Frankie and Dwayne disguise themselves as British birds “Jane” and “Dora” in an attempt to learn the secret to achieving paradise by the dashboard lights!

Avalon and Hickman make SOME LIKE IT HOT’s Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon look like a couple of Playmates, but that doesn’t stop Kincaid from falling madly in love with “Dora”! ‘Beach’ girl Bobbi Shaw plays a sexy Swedish ski instructor (“Yah, yah”) who Frankie seduces to make Deborah jealous, with  him entering a ski jump contest even though he can’t ski! His brilliant idea is to jump in a helium-inflated suit, with disastrous results. Funnyman Robert Q. Lewis is on hand as the screwball ski lodge director, and a yodeling polar bear keeps popping up for no reason except to add even more surrealism to the story. If you’re wondering where Annette is, she has a cameo in the beginning as a college biology professor (!!), and the ubiquitous Dick Miller appears towards the end as a cab driver.

SKI PARTY was the first feature film for director Alan Rafkin, whose TV resume reads like a Sitcom Hall of Fame. Just a small sampling: MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW (27 episodes), GET SMART, THE ODD COUPLE, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW , THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, SANFORD & SON , M*A*S*H, LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, IT’S GARRY SHANDLING’S SHOW, COACH (87 episodes), and SUDDENLY SUSAN. Rafkin’s also responsible for a pair of Don Knotts movies, THE GHOST & MR. CHICKEN and THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST.

Also making his first movie straight from the TV ranks was screenwriter Robert Kaufman. Kaufman fared better in his film career, writing the DR. GOLDFOOT spy spoofs starring Vincent Price , DIVORCE AMERICAN STYLE, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES TO WASHINGTON, the vampire comedy LOVE AT FIRST BITE, and HOW TO BEAT THE HIGH CO$T OF LIVING. His script finds Avalon and Hickman frequently breaking the Fourth Wall, along with a slew of slapstick hijinks (and you all know how much I love slapstick hijinks!).

As I said before, the music is solid 60’s gold, with Lesley Gore doing her big hit “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows”:

The whole things ends up on the beach (where else?) with The Hondells doing a couple of surf numbers. The four main stars get a few decent rocking tunes to sing, but the highlight comes when James Brown and The Famous Flames, playing the resort’s ski patrol, perform the smash “(I Got You) I Feel Good”. And on that note, take us home, James:

More “Rockin’ in the Film World”:

ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK

THE BLUES ACCORDIN’ TO LIGHTNIN’ HOPKINS

BEACH PARTY

WILD IN THE STREETS

JAILHOUSE ROCK

IT’S A BIKINI WORLD

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS

JIMI HENDRIX: ELECTRIC CHURCH

THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT

HAVING A WILD WEEKEND

HEAD

KID GALAHAD

 

 

Halloween Havoc!: CHRISTINE (Columbia 1983)

Stephen King turned 70 last month, and the Master of Horror’s grip on the American psyche is stronger than ever, thanks to the unprecedented horror hit IT!, now playing at a theater near you. King’s macabre novels have been adapted for the screen since 1976’s CARRIE with  varying degrees of success; some have been unabashed genre classics, others complete bombs, most lie somewhere in the middle.

Top: Stephen King 1983
Bottom: John Carpenter 1983

Director John Carpenter had a string of successes beginning with 1978’s seminal slasher film HALLOWEEN, but his 1982 remake of THE THING, now considered a masterpiece of the genre, was a box office disappointment. Carpenter took on King’s novel CHRISTINE as a work-for-hire project. I recently watched it for the first time, and think not only is it one of the best adaptations of King’s work to hit the screen, it’s one of Carpenter’s best horror outings as well.

Nerdy Arnie Cunningham and his best friend, jock Dennis Guilder are your typical late 70’s high school students, obsessed with cars, sex, rock music, and football. Arnie is the target of school bully Buddy Repperton and his posse of thugs, who get suspended after pulling a switchblade on the poor sap. But things change for Arnie when he’s drawn to a battered old ’57 Plymouth Fury, nicknamed ‘Christine’, which he buys from its creepy owner, elderly George Lemay, who inherited the wreck when his brother committed suicide in it.

Soon a change comes over Arnie, as he spends all his time lovingly restoring “Christine” to her former glory. He starts gaining confidence, and soon is dating the hottest chick in school, Leigh Cabot. His appearance and attitude also begin to change, morphing into a 50’s-style JD greaser, complete with pompadour and leather jacket! Strange things begin to happen when ‘Christine’ is around: Dennis gets injured on the football field, and Leigh is trapped inside the car at a drive-in, choking on her burger! When Buddy and his bullies extract revenge by trashing ‘Christine’, smashing it with sledgehammers and taking a dump on the dash. But ‘Christine’ and Arnie have developed a psychic bond: he tells the auto “Show me”, and Christine herself morphs back to her old self, dead set on revenge…

CHRISTINE is a whole lotta fun, with some marvelous, murderous set pieces devised by Carpenter. King’s material and Carpenter’s style mesh perfectly, aided and abetted by Bill Phillips’ pedal to the metal script and Donald M. Morgan’s crisp photography. ‘Christine’ herself, according to carponents.com , was played by 23 different autos, including a couple of modified Plymouth Belvederes and Savoys, allowing Ted Allen, Roy Arbogast, and the rest of the special effects team to create their “twisted” regeneration scenes. The roaring engine sounds were actually dubbed from a 1970 Ford Mustang!

Carpenter peppers his score with snippets from classic 50’s artists to accentuate the mood, including Johnny Ace (“Pledging My Love”), Danny and the Juniors (“Rock and Roll is Here to Stay”), Dion and the Belmonts (“I Wonder Why”), Thurston Harris (“Little Bitty Pretty One”), Buddy Holly (“Not Fade Away”), Ritchie Valens (“Come On, Let’s Go”), Larry Williams (“Bony Maronie”), and Little Richard (“Keep A-Knockin'”). You’ll also hear ABBA, The Rolling Stones, George Thorogood, and Tanya Tucker on the soundtrack, just not on ‘Christine’s’ radio – she only plays 50’s rock!

The cast was deliberately made up of at-the-time unknowns, chief among them Keith Gordon as the nebbish Arnie. Gordon went behind the cameras as a director of films (MOTHER NIGHT, WAKING THE DEAD) and television (DEXTER, HOMELAND). John Stockwell (Dennis) played in MY SCIENCE PROJECT and TOP GUN; he’s also a director today. Alexandra Paul (Leigh) is best known as Lt. Stephanie Holden on TV’s BAYWATCH. William Ostrander (Buddy), who looks like a cross between Jim Morrison and Vinnie Barbarino, later appeared in RED HEAT and MULLHOLLAND DRIVE. Oh, and speaking of Vinnie Barbarino, Kelly Preston has a role as hot-to-trot cheerleader Rosanne.

The adults in the cast include Robert Prosky as the gruff garage owner where ‘Christine’ is stored, Christine Belford as Arnie’s nagging mother, Roberts Blossom as the weirdo Lemay, and the late, great Harry Dean Stanton as State Police Detective Junkins, who’s investigating all the outlandish murders. CHRISTINE puts Stephen King and John Carpenter together for the first and only time, and it’s a match made in… well, you know! Add it to your Halloween viewing list, kick back, and enjoy the ride.

 

 

Rockin’ in the Film World #12: The Monkees in HEAD (Columbia 1968)

The Monkees (Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith) brought rock’n’roll to TV with their mega-successful 1966-68 musical sitcom. Inspired by The Beatles’ onscreen antics in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and HELP!, producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider cast four fresh-faced youths (Jones was a Tony nominee for OLIVER!, Dolenz had starred in TV’s CIRCUS BOY, Tork and Nesmith were vets of the folk-rock scene), hired some of the era’s top songwriters (Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson) and session musicians (Hal Blaine, James Burton, Glen Campbell  , Carol Kaye), and Monkeemania became a full-fledged teenybop pop phenomenon.

Detractors (and there were many) in the music biz called them ‘The Pre-Fab Four’, looking down their noses at The Monkees while looking up as hits like “I’m a Believer”, “Daydream Believer”, and “Pleasant Valley Sunday” climbed to the top of the charts. But like all fads, Monkeemania quickly died out, and NBC cancelled the show in 1968. Rafelson, Schneider, and the group (who by this time were writing and playing their own music) decided an image makeover was needed, and together with co-screenwriter Jack Nicholson (yes, THAT Jack Nicholson) concocted the psychedelic, surrealistic feature film HEAD.

The movie is a completely plotless, colorful swirl of imagery, blackout skits, and satire focusing on The Monkees’ attempt to be taken seriously. To try and describe this mélange of trippy 60’s bizarreness would be pointless, which features everything from clips of film classics (Bela Lugosi in THE BLACK CAT, Rita Hayworth in GILDA ), footage of Monkee concerts and the Vietnam War, spoofs of movie genres (westerns, boxing epics, war films, musicals, science fiction, AIP/Poe horrors), guest stars ( Victor Mature , Annette Funicello , Sonny Liston, Frank Zappa, Tor Johnson , and a totally insane Timothy Carey !), and songs. Yet somehow, it all works as an entertaining piece of LSD-inspired lunacy that may be jarring to some but is never boring!

Despite this stab at something different, HEAD totally tanked at the box office. The Monkees’ teenybopper fan base didn’t know what to make of it, and the older hippies wouldn’t give them the time of day. As for the adults… fuggetaboutit!! The Monkees gradually disbanded, only to reunite decades later after the ironic crowd rediscovered them via reruns on Nickelodeon and MTV (which Nesmith had a hand in creating). Davy Jones died in 2012 and Nesmith’s now too rich to care, but Dolenz and Tork still carry the Monkee torch, touring as recently as 2016 for the group’s 50th anniversary.

As for the producers, each went on to success. Schneider won an Oscar for the 1974 documentary HEARTS AND MINDS, while Rafelson directed films like FIVE EASY PIECES (1970), STAY HUNGRY (1976), THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1981), BLACK WIDOW (1987), and BLOOD AND WINE (1996). That guy Nicholson did okay for himself, too! HEAD is truly too unconventional for words, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by it, especially if you’re a classic film fan. Just turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream… oops, sorry, wrong band!

More “Rockin’ in the Film World”:

Rockin’ in the Film World #11: HAVING A WILD WEEKEND (Warner Brothers 1965)

For those of you who weren’t around during the heyday of the 60’s British Invasion, The Dave Clark Five were second only to The Beatles in popularity. The group came hot on the heels of The Fab Four, appearing on Ed Sullivan for two straight weeks, and had a solid string of hits from 1964 to 1967: “Glad All Over”, “Bits & Pieces”, “Because”, “Any Way You Want It”, “Over & Over”. Yes, they were BIG, folks!  Propelled by Clark’s up-front drumming and lead singer Mike Smith’s growling vocals, The Dave Clark Five had the teenyboppers screaming in the aisles, and since A HARD DAY’S NIGHT was a smashing success, a movie starring the boys was the next logical step.

Director John Boorman

HAVING A WILD WEEKEND begins like it’s going to be a clone of that film, then turns into something completely different thanks to first-time director John Boorman, who would later give us POINT BLANK , DELIVERANCE, EXCALIBUR, and HOPE AND GLORY. Boorman sets the conventional 60’s rock film on its ear with his skewering of social conventions, sexual mores, the advertising world and the price of celebrity. Boorman’s debut is a lot bolder than something like HOLD ON (Herman’s Hermits), or even A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, and though The DC5 have long left the scene, this is a movie that can be enjoyed on its own merit.

The band play a group of “stuntboys” doing commercial work with the face of the day, model Dinah (Barbara Ferris of CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED). She’s the spokesmodel for the meat industry, with her face plastered all over England in a “Meat for Go!” ad campaign. Stuntboy Steve (Clark, a former stuntboy himself) is bored with the whole thing, and he and Dinah take off in a spiffy Jag, heading for the coast of Devon where she’s planning to buy her own personal island to get away from it all, pursued by ad exec Leon’s minions.

Their adventure takes the couple to a deserted village where they meet up with a scraggly bunch of proto-hippies who ask if they’ve got any “spliffs” or “horse”. The village is being used for maneuvers by the British Army, who start bombing the hell out of the place, forcing Steve and Dinah to split the scene on foot. They thumb a ride from a pair of upper-class dilettantes (Yootha Joyce, Robin Bailey), who try separately to seduce the youngsters, than take them to a costume party with a classic film theme, with the attendees dressed as Groucho Marx, Jean Harlow, Frankenstein’s Monster, Charlie Chaplin, and Laurel & Hardy, among others!

Steve and Dinah finally make it to her island paradise, only to discover it no longer remains an island when the tide goes out. Leon is there waiting for them, along with the press, having planted a story of Dinah being kidnapped. Soon she’s swept up in all the publicity and hoopla, and Steve, realizing the journey always far outweighs the destination, takes off with his stuntboy brethren for sunny Spain.

The DC5’s hit “Catch Us If You Can” serves as the theme song, and was the movie’s UK title. Other songs interspersed into the movie are “Having a Wild Weekend”, “Sweet Memories”, “Time”, “On the Move”, “When”, “Ol’ Sol”, “I Can’t Stand It”, and “Move On”. The Dave Clark Five didn’t have the personalities of The Beatles or The Stones, nor did they move forward musically as the decade progressed, but for a three-year span they were on top of the pop world, and HAVING A WILD WEEKEND is a true 60’s time capsule of Swingin’ London. Even if you’re not familiar with them, the film’s worth watching for Boorman’s neo-realistic take on pop culture. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, and rightly so. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite DC5 songs, “Because”, from a 1964 Ed Sullivan appearance:

In Memory of Gregg Allman

The music world lost another giant yesterday when Southern rocker Gregg Allman died at age 69. This wasn’t exactly unexpected, as the hard-living Allman suffered from health problems brought on by years of hard partying.

Born in Richmond Hill, GA in 1947, Gregg and his older sibling Duane were more interested in music and girls than school. They formed bands (Hour Glass, Allman Joys), toured the south and Midwest, and did some recordings, without much success. Returning to their Georgia roots, the band signed with Phil Walden’s Macon-based Capricorn Records, a label specializing in the burgeoning Southern Rock movement (Marshall Tucker Band, The Outlaws, Wet Willie, Delbert McClinton, etc). Their third release, the double LP LIVE AT FILLMORE EAST, put them on the map as a major band:

Tragedy struck the band when Duane died in a 1971 motorcycle accident, followed the next year by another crash taking bassist Berry Oakley. Another double release, 1972’s EAT A PEACH, was a hit, featuring the FM radio staples “One Way Out”, “Blue Sky”, and “Melissa”:

 1973 brought triumph with the album BROTHERS & SISTERS, scoring their first #1 single, “Ramblin’ Man”:

The Allman Brothers broke up in 1975, and Gregg pursued a solo career. The wild Southern rocker also got married to Hollywood glamour girl Cher, one of rock’s truly Odd Couples. Gregg again topped the charts with the title track from 1987’s “I’m No Angel”:

The Allman Brothers Band reunited in 1989, touring non-stop and a new generation embraced them as one of the pioneers of the “jam band” scene. I had the privilege of seeing them in the 90’s (I don’t remember the exact year; I was doing some Hard Partying myself back then!), and Gregg’s voice and the band’s musicianship were as strong as ever. They got off the road in 2014 due to Gregg’s health issues (he’d had a liver transplant in 2010, and recurring Hep C), but Allman continued to perform until he was no longer able late last year.

Gregg’s music can speak for itself far better than me, so I’ll leave you with one of my favorite ABB tunes, “Whipping Post”:

Rest in peace, Gregg Allman (1947-2017)