I must admit
to a bittersweet nostalgic pang while watching Wild in the Streets
for the first time in, oh, about ten years. During the opening credits,
I felt like I was back in the old Rialto theater of my youth, breathing
in the sharp air conditioning, looking up at the incredibly huge screen.
Probably on a double bill with The
Green Slime. (Damn near everything showed up on a double bill
with The Green Slime. The two I can definitely recall were The
Moonshine War and Spinout.)
their house and blowing up Dad's prized Chrysler, Max Fratow, Jr. becomes
multi-millionaire rock star Max Frost (Christopher Jones). His entourage/band
(economical AIP casting) includes Sally LeRoy (Diane
Varsi) "former child star... and acidhead"; Stanley X (then-token
black Richard Pryor) drummer, anthropologist and author of The Aborigine
Cookbook; Billy Cage, 15 year-old graduate of Harvard Business School;
"The Hook"; and Fuji, "Japanese typewriter heiress...
and beach bum". All these folks are introduced to us by the mellifluous
tones of the legendary Paul Frees. Think of them as the Hong Kong Cavaliers
gone terribly, terribly wrong.
convinced that they're not going to live past 30, Max and his droogs....
sorry, his friends... hold certain feelings dear, like "Thirty's
death, man....when you're thirty, the only thing that gets you
high is sending guys to kill other guys." Senate wannabe Jerry
Fergus (Hal Holbrook) asks Max to sing at a rally, as Fergus is running
on an "18 year-olds get the vote" platform (Younger readers
may need to be reminded that at the time, the legal voting age was 21).
Max uses this bully pulpit to demand that the voting age be lowered
to 14, sings a song called "14 or Fight", and calls
for a demonstration on Sunset Strip.
show on the Strip, and Max forges an alliance with Fergus. In the spirit
of political compromise, the California legislature lowers the voting
age to 15, and Max asks the gathered teens to peacefully go home. Fergus
wins in a landslide, but his eldest son defects to Max's camp with the
news that an emergency election must be held to replace a dead 84 year-old
senator. Senators must be at least 25 years old - Sally LeRoy turns
25 the day before the election. Max shifts into overdrive, with a song
containing the immortal chorus, "Sally LeRoy/ She's old enough
for congress, boy".
where things get interesting.
tambourine a-jangling, goes to Washington, and proposes that the age
limit for all elected offices get lowered to 14. Our youthful heroes
dose the water supply of Washington DC with LSD to get the necessary
2/3 vote to amend the Constitution. Max becomes President by a landslide,
(with the "singular and remarkable exception of Hawaii") and
orders everyone over 30 to be placed into "rehabilitation camps",
where they wear dark blue robes and are continually dosed with acid. Hawaii
is also STP'ed into an eternal stupor. By the end of the flick, though,
another dark wind is blowing on the horizon, as an even more youthful
generation looks directly into the camera and states, "We're gonna
put everybody over 10 out of business!"
I am always
surprised by the quality of WitS. Apart from some instances of
sloppy editing and poor lip syncing in a couple of the concert sequences,
the picture is always far, far better than it needed to be as an AIP
youth flick. In fact, it was even nominated for Best Film Editing! AIP's
biggest budget to that time also helped.
Jones is only okay as Max Frost, but he had a very tough row to hoe
with this character, swinging from Voice of A Generation to Earnest
Hitler, and still try to keep the character sympathetic.
Diane Varsi's Sally LeRoy is just plain unnerving - she plays an acidhead
very well. I swear I went to college with this girl. Richard
Pryor, sadly, has very little to do. Old pros like Hal Holbrook and
Ed Begley turn in predictably solid performances. Begley in particular,
as an Old Boy politician, has some unsayable lines about things like
"the mysterious will of the electorate" that he gets through
with aplomb. Also appearing, as themselves: Melvin Belli, Army Archerd,
Dick Clark, and Walter Winchell (!).
Now, let us
for a moment dwell on Shelley Winters. Shelley's taken a number of hits
over the years about her acting. Let us just say that in Wild in
the Streets, she is nothing
short of marvelous. As Max's unthinking mother, Shelley plays a character
that moves constantly with the wind's direction, changing from a faux
hippy during the youth revolution to a Jackie Kennedy clone when Max
hits the White House. Best line: "I'm sure my son has a very good
reason for paralyzing the country."
And my fresh
viewing lead me to another question: whatever did happen to the old
multiple- frames-in-one-screen motif, which was so popular about this
time? I remember it in Woodstock, Charly, and The Andromeda
Strain, and dammit, I kinda miss it.
I'd also be first in line at the water coolers in Max's little paradise