Tuesday, May 15, 2018


If this film is known at all nowadays, it’s because of the brief appearance of The Chocolate Watchband (they also appeared in another Sam Katzman-produced psych-sploitation film from 1967, RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP, which would make the perfect double-feature partner with THE LOVE-INS), who certainly look and sound great here. I remember seeing this for the first-time in the middle of the night on some local TV station back in perhaps the early 80’s. I may have been coming in late from my job at a restaurant/bar in Stillwater, OK. They had a policy where employees could get two drinks after their shift (can you imagine anyone having a policy like that today!), and I always took a double-scotch with a splash of soda and a twist of lime on the rocks. I’d pound that down at maybe 1:30 or so (we closed at 1 on weeknights) and head home on foot walking through the sleepy college-town neighborhoods where most houses were darkened except for a few insomniacs whose living rooms were lit by the flickering artificial light of TV screens and a few weeknight-partiers from whose houses you could hear a subdued thumping of whatever music they were playing. If there was much cable TV back then, I certainly did not have it, so I relied on the old circular UHF antenna on my B&W portable TV to pull in the low-power UHF stations from Oklahoma City or Tulsa. There was always a bit of drift and snow to the picture, but it was what you could get back then and I was fine with it. I’d rather have quality vintage B-movies and European genre films at 2:30 a.m. with a snowy B&W picture than today’s crap in sparkling HD.

I knew that this film existed and that the Watchband were in it, but that was about it, and I also was not expecting the film. I had no idea what was being shown that night—I just turned on the TV at the time the late late movie came on and hoped for the best.

Sam Katzman’s roots as a producer go back to the early 1930’s (the 1933 John Wayne romantic comedy HIS PRIVATE SECRETARY, once a bargain-bin public domain staple in the early days of VHS, is the earliest Katzman project I can remember seeing), and beginning in the mid-1950s he cashed in on various rock and roll trends with two Bill Haley vehicles, then in the early 60’s two Chubby Checker vehicles, then a Hootenanny film in 1963, then a few Elvis films in the King’s waning days such as Kissin’ Cousins, and then two features cashing in on hippies and protest and psychedelia etc., RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP (released by AIP) and THE LOVE-INS (released by Columbia). We at BTC love him for his great film series such as The East Side Kids, the Bela Lugosi films at Monogram, and the Jungle Jim films with Johnny Weissmuller, as well as the lean crime programmers he made at Columbia in the late 40’s and early 50’s and the oddball serials he made at Columbia from the late 40’s through the end of the serial era (such as the outrageous 1948 Sir Galahad serial with George Reeves!). Someone like Katzman saw the mid-60’s music and culture trends as just another screwy fad that could be cashed in on by getting an exploitatively titled feature film in the theaters as quickly as possible.

When I stumbled across this film in snowy B&W in the Oklahoma of the early 80’s, what I got—no doubt helped by my fuzzed-out doublescotch-seared brain after working two jobs and going to two college classes between them that day—was something that played like a feature-length DRAGNET 1967 drug episode.

The film begins with the publishers of an “underground newspaper” called TOMORROW’S TIMES at what looks to be some kind of old-line private college in some affluent green-shrubbed suburb of Los Angeles, getting suspended from their college as they refuse to stop publishing their paper. These radicals are played by James MacArthur (later of HAWAII FIVE-O fame) and Susan Oliver (who’d worked for Katzman previously in the Hank Williams bio-pic YOUR CHEATIN’ HEART, where George Hamilton played Hank! Ms. Oliver played Hank’s wife Audrey—as Audrey herself is credited with being “technical adviser” on the film (the same credit Col. Parker got on many Elvis films!), one would assume the depiction of Audrey is somewhat sanitized), who look like they just stumbled out of an Up With People rally or a deodorant commercial. Their free-thinking English Lit professor, Dr. Barnett, played by British actor Richard Todd, is up in arms about their being expelled and decides to quit his job at the college in protest. He then becomes a hero to the students at the college and that acclaim seems to go to his head. His next step is to become an Alan Watts-style psychedelic prophet, advocating LSD, open relationships, and the like, and even wearing a white robe as he makes his pronouncements. What’s most interesting about the film—other than the Watchband, of course—is that Todd, a fine British actor who’d once played Robin Hood and who’d been in such prestige films as THE VIRGIN QUEEN with Bette Davis and Otto Preminger’s version of G.B. Shaw’s SAINT JOAN (with a screenplay by Graham Greene!), takes his role totally seriously, as if he’s playing Richard III or Hamlet. He probably read up on Alan Watts and Timothy Leary and maybe attended a Watts lecture as background research for the role (a serious actor like Todd does his research), which gives the film a kind of odd feel----it’s as if you had some classically trained stage actor shoe-horned into a DRAGNET drug episode, and not given the usual flat line-reading directions by Jack Webb, but allowed to SOAR….while everyone else is doing their TV-movie-level hippie portrayals. Susan Oliver had been in PEYTON PLACE earlier, and there is also a kind of soap opera-ish feel to these proceedings.

One scene in the film which will wake up the dozing (who were watching this in the middle of the night on UHF TV as I was) is where the psychedelic guru Dr. Barnett appears on the JOE PYNE TV show. Pyne’s show was not carried in my area when I was growing up, so I only knew him second-hand during his 1960’s reign, but he was an originator of the bullying talk-show host style later popularized by Morton Downey Jr. and most recently by Bill O’Reilly, who would opine on the issues of the day with a pseudo-populist persona. He attempts to rip Dr. Barnett a new one on-air by baiting him with questions about free-love and free drug use, which Barnett gives sincere and thoughtful answers to, in the best tradition of the liberal Unitarian ministers of the 1960’s and 1970’s who sought to “understand” youth sub-cultures.

The Chocolate Watchband are first seen/heard in the film at the 9:30 point where a tour bus is taking gawking small-town tourists through some psychedelic neighborhood (presumably based on Haight-Ashbury) and the tour guide says “and now we take you to an authentic hippie love-in”….and we cut to the Watchband lip-syncing to their classic ARE YOU GONNA BE THERE (AT THE LOVE-IN) (EDITOR'S NOTE---the ultimate PUNK ROCK song if you ask me!). Some of you will know the facts about this better than I, but it seems as though this is a slightly different mix of the song, with Dave Aguilar’s vocal clearer and more up-front (the instruments are lower in the mix), but it would seem to be the same performance. In any event, it sounds GREAT. You see a lot more of Richard Todd’s reaction shots as he walks around the love-in and of the Hollywood-extra “hippies” in the audience than you see of the Watchband, but at least they are there pounding it out and giving SOME authenticity to this strange faux love-in. At around the 30 minute mark, we hear an instrumental version of “No Way Out” being performed during a street party, and then in a club scene at about the 34 minute mark we see/hear them doing an instrumental version of “Are You Gonna Be There,” which sounds hot. It’s satisfying to hear the trippy song while couples are making out with colored strobe lights projected onto them (reminding me of the “petting party” makeout sequences in 30’s drug and social disease exploitation films, but in psychedelic color!), and the psychedelic prophet Todd is wearing his white robe and sitting on what seems like a throne. Now THAT’S entertainment! Soon after that, we are treated to Susan Oliver’s “Alice In Wonderland” LSD freakout sequence, which is a classic as those 60’s kitsch freakout sequences go.

The rest of the film, to my knowledge, has no more Watchband music (please correct me if I’m wrong….I fast-forwarded through a DVD-R of the film to refresh my memory). The second half of the film follows Dr. Barnett’s rise to New Messiah levels of fame and also how his movement falls apart and how hypocrisy permeates everything (no surprise there!), and during the final climactic scene in a stadium where Barnett/Todd is giving a speech to a massive crowd, there is an outrageous melodramatic ending that ties up things VERY quickly.

THE LOVE-INS is not as over-the-top as WILD IN THE STREETS, and I can’t really recommend that you buy a copy, but if it’s on cable TV some time (I taped it off cable a few years back), it’s worth checking out if you enjoy 60’s psych-sploitation films. RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP is more entertaining overall as a film, but at least we’ve got Richard Todd (fresh off of starring in two back-to-back Harry Alan Towers-produced Edgar Wallace adventure films in 63-64, SANDERS and COAST OF SKELETONS, both of which I highly recommend) giving this his best, as if he’s NOT in a Sam Katzman film where serious acting was not priority one….and it’s great to hear the Chocolate Watchband anywhere….let’s hope that some people in the hinterlands who saw the film when it was at their local drive-in noted the name of the band and picked up their Tower LP NO WAY OUT. Then you could say that something truly good came out of this film.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Revolution mockumentary available in good condition on YT is well worth an hour of viewing.

Hippies and hippie elite 'tell it like it is'.