The Bad Movie Report


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.)

After trashing 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 Richard Pryorcasting) 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.

Besides being 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.

Max Frost for President!Thousands 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".

And that's where things get interesting.

Sally LeRoy.....Senator LeRoy, 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 Disturbing...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.

Christopher 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 ..she's old enough for congress, boy.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 (!).

Shelley acting.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."

It's art, baby!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.

Then again, I'd also be first in line at the water coolers in Max's little paradise camps.



A whole lot better than you'd expect.

- November 23, 1997