Sunday, September 18, 2016

Wild in the Streets

So over the weekend I've had the opportunity to watch Wild in the Streets off the DVR, having recorded it when it was part of the TCM salute to American International Pictures back in May. It's available from the TCM Shop, which I'm assuming means it's in print on both DVD and Blu-Ray; with that in mind I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on the movie. The movie is certainly an odd one.

Max Flatow (Christopher Jones) is the son of overbearing mother Daphney (Shelley Winters) and henpecked Max Sr. (Bert Freed). As we see in a series of brief vignettes at the beginning of the movie, it leaves Max wanting to rebel, which he does by learning chemistry and then forming a rock band. The rock band becomes successful, and Max Jr., having changed his name to Max Frost, is living the wealthy life in Beverly Hills with the rest of his band. Watch for Diane Varsi as Max's girlfriend, and a young Richard Pryor as the band's drummer.

This is the late 60s, so there's the whole counter-culture thing. Max's accountant is a boy wonder Billy (Kevin Coughlin) who graduated law school aged 15, so when they hear politicians talking about lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 (the 26th Amendment still hadn't been ratified by this point), Max points out that the majority of the population is under 25 and thus the voting age should be lowered even below 18.

US Rep. Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook) is running for Senate, in part on a campaign of lowering the voting age. He more or less teams up with Max to get the youth vote on his side, ultimately winning the election. But that's not the end of it for Max and company. The election campaign resulted in getting tens of thousands of young people out on the streets, and that bloc, of which Max is the de facto leader, can be used for further political reform. Max ultimately comes up with the idea of amending the Constitution to lower the age of eligibility to become President, and then coming up with such wacky ideas as putting all old people in camps and drugging them on LSD to keep them docile! Needless to say, things hit a snag.

As I said that the beginning, Wild in the Streets is one strange movie. The plot, of course, strains credulity, but I don't think that's really a problem for the movie. I can't help but think the movie wasn't taking itself any more seriously than the beach movies American International was releasing in the first half of the decade. Times had changed and with the disintegration of the Production Code, more daring things could be tried. There are a bunch of "generation gap" movies from that era where I think the filmmakers and big stars were seriously trying to appeal to the youth and failing spectacularly. Here, I think several of the older stars -- especially Shelley Winters -- are in on the joke, giving over the top performances that fit with the bizarre nature of the movie. Using Paul Frees as the narrator and having a bunch of cameos also adds to the surreality

That doesn't mean Wild in the Streets is a particularly good movie in the typical sense. The acting is poor, especially from the younger actors, and the musical scenes are tedious. The acid trips are, well, interesting if a bit wacky. And it all has a bit of a cheap vibe to it. The result is a movie that's a bit hard to rate. It's not in the "so bad it's good" category; it's not in the "so bad it's terrible" category; and it's certainly not terribly good. It's an overall strange experience.

Watch Wild in the Streets for yourself. I think you'll have an interesting experience.

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