The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kitten with a Whip

Each Friday night, TCM Underground continues to impress me with its off the wall, cult favorites and guilty pleasures that the time slot airs.  These are movies that are typically pretty bad, but in the way that bad movies are entertaining because they embrace their badness.  The latest example, 1964's Kitten With a Whip, a doozy of a movie that is a nice window into how much society and teenagers were changing, even early in the decade.

By the time 'Kitten' was released in 1964, star Ann-Margret had already been in four legitimate movies, including most recently teaming up with Elvis in Viva Las Vegas.  I bring this up only because Margret was an up and coming star, and this is anything but a safe bet.  An impressive performance for sure, but not exactly one the average American household would probably embrace.  It's a role that plays on her sex kitten reputation and then throws in some crazy teenage characteristics with a naive and scared young woman.  Quite a mess for one personality, but it all clicks.

With his wife and daughter on vacation, David Stratton (John Forsythe) returns home one night to find a young woman sleeping in his daughter's room.  The girl's name is Jody (Margret), and she says she was running from an abusive boyfriend and sought shelter in the first place she could find.  David is somewhat wary of her explanation, but offers to help her on her way, buying her some new clothes and providing some bus fare.  David thinks nothing of it, only to find out that Jody escaped from a juvenile detention center, stabbing a matron in the process.  He returns home and finds that Jody has come back too, but this time she's got friends along, peace-loving but intimidating Ron (Peter Brown), thuggish Buck (Skip Ward), and ditzy blonde Midge (Diane Sayer).  With Jody threatening to blackmail if he tries anything funny, David is left to sit back and wait until an opportunity presents itself.

This is one of those stories where things go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.  At first, Forsythe's David is just helping an innocent-looking teenage girl in her nightgown out of a jam.  It escalates quickly and before David can figure out what to do, he finds himself kidnapped and driving this crazy group of teenagers across the border to Tijuana.  I'll add the link later, but doesn't it make sense that Mystery Science Theater 3000 would choose this movie for their show?  Making it all that much more perfect, Stratton is about to run for the state senate and doesn't need any sort of bad publicity so he basically has to go along with whatever he's told to do.  Too perfect if you ask me.

The movie rises and falls with Ann-Margret and Forsythe's performances, although the supporting players are pretty good too.  The 23-year old Margret oozes sex appeal with her part as Jody, an innocent teen with a history of being abused one minute and a manipulative, highly intelligent young woman the next.  She always was and is a beautiful woman -- and the movie does try to work the censors some with Margret in nightgowns, lingerie, low-cut dresses -- but she shows what a good actress she can be as Jody too.  If ever there was a poster child for being a little schizo, Margret pulls it off here.  Forsythe is the straight man here, an unwilling accomplice to all sort of teen hijinks who still finds it within himself to want to help this young girl.  She may be nuts, but dammit, he's going to help her!

Peter Brown and Skip Ward ham it up as Ron and Buck, two of Jody's friends who see a chance for some craziness.  Ron is college-educated and is always spouting off philosophy and peace in the most condescending way possible.  Buck is more the muscle of the duo, not the brightest guy around, and one who would rather resort to violence and intimidation to get things done.  The movie also stars Richard Anderson and Patricia Barry as a married couple and close friends of the Strattons who always seem to pop up at the worst possible time, usually when Jody is all over David.

This was certainly a weird one from beginning to end.  As the blackmail turns into kidnapping and then a road trip across the border to Tijuana, the story just got more and more surreal in a way that only a B-movie could pull off.  It's bizarre, way out there, and never dull.  For that reason, I'll say it's worth a watch along with memorable performances from stars Ann-Margret and John Forsythe.  The MST3000 show is viewable at Youtube, starting HERE with the movie starting late in the first clip.

Kitten With a Whip (1964): ** 1/2 /****

No comments:

Post a Comment