November 11th, 2008

FRENZY (1972) ***

The depraved “Necktie Killer” (Barry Foster) is loose in London, raping women and strangling them with his necktie.  He knows the cops are looking for him so he frames his good friend Dick (Jon Finch), an unemployed bartender, for his crimes.  With most of London’s police force searching for him, Dick sets out to clear his name. 


Frenzy was Alfred Hitchcock’s first and only R rated film (and his first movie filmed on his native British soil in over two decades) and you can tell he had a blast loading the film with such previously taboo subject matter as naked women and graphically realistic violence.  The rape scenes are fairly brutal and unnerving, with Foster going totally bonkers while nailing his victims and screaming “Lovely!” at the top of his lungs. 


The film has a lot of Hitchcock’s signature themes (an innocent man wrongly accused, a deranged killer who loves his mother, etc.) and Hitch’s style is evident throughout.  There’s more black comedy than usual and some of the gallows humor is laugh out loud funny; the funniest being the barrister’s off-color remarks to a female bartender.  Sometimes though, Hitchcock gets a little carried away with the humor and it seriously disrupts the flow of the film.  (Like the completely gratuitous scenes involving the policeman’s wife who is a terrible cook.)


If Frenzy has an Achilles Heel, it’s that most of the performers are all stuffed shirt British types.  Foster is OK but his character is thoroughly despicable.  Finch doesn’t fare much better and his lack of charisma makes it difficult for the viewer to really root for him.  Maybe if Frenzy had some star power behind it, the characters may have been more interesting.  That’s okay though because the film works as a purely stylistic exercise in Hitchcockian suspense and I guess that’s all that really matters.


Producer Sam Katzman was at the forefront when it came to exploiting the rock n’ roll craze of the mid 50’s.  Katzman’s Don’t Knock the Rock, along with its predecessor Rock Around the Clock had minimal plot and maximum rock n’ roll.  Both films featured Bill Haley and the Comets as well as rock music impresario Alan Freed playing himself.  The movies themselves were nothing special, but if anything they serve as excellent time capsules of a more innocent time. 


Alan Dale stars as a top music star whose strings are pulled by his omnipotent manager (Freed).  Dale takes a break from his busy touring schedule and heads back to his hometown for some R & R.  He gets an icy reception from the town elders who think rock n’ roll is “depraved” and forbid Alan and his band from playing inside the town limits.  Naturally, Alan gets a bunch of bands together (including Little Richard) and they play their gig anyway.  (Otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie.)   


Don’t Knock the Rock isn’t nearly as good as Rock Around the Clock because most of the music just isn’t all that great.  A flick like this depends on the musical acts and for the most part, they’re all forgettable.  While Dale is pretty awful in the singing department (he’s one of those wannabe Sinatra crooners) he does makes for a competent leading man.  Haley gets the most numbers, but none of them are nearly as good as “Rock Around the Clock”.  At least Little Richard kicks all kinds of ass while playing “Tutti Fruitti” and “Long Tall Sally”.  Don’t Knock the Rock maybe be ho-hum in just about every respect, but Little Richard’s brief appearance alone is worth the price of admission.


Director Fred F. Sears also helmed such not-so-classics as The Giant Claw for Katzman.


Chubby Checker stars in this follow-up to Twist Around the Clock from producer Sam (The Werewolf) Katzman.  The formula is almost exactly the same as nearly every single other rock n’ roll movie from the 50’s and 60’s.  A green television exec is told he’s got to find acts for a live televised “Twisting Spectacular”.  He hooks up with Chubby Checker who helps him line up a bunch of performers for the show.  Of course, his fiancée gets hella jealous when he starts flirting with a cute dancer and she does everything she can to thwart the program.


Well, the title suggests that I shouldn’t knock the twist, but I just can’t help it.  The flick isn’t very good and the music is pretty lame.  It also doesn’t help when the film is mercilessly padded with tons and tons of scenes of idiot teeners twisting like there’s no tomorrow.  Thank God the “Twisting” craze died out when it did. 


Chubby ain’t much of an actor.  His banter on stage seems genuine enough but he looks uncomfortable in the scenes that actually require him to spout “dialogue”.  It won’t matter to you if you’re a fan of his because you’ll enjoy seeing him perform several numbers (all of which revolves around Twisting).  


Although the songs come fast and furious, most of them aren’t especially memorable or even “good”.   (That dude who sang that “Little Altar Boy” song stops the flick dead in its tracks.)  The only tune that is downright awesome is Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl”, but you don’t have to sit through this flick just to hear that song.  I mean you can get that shit off of itunes anytime.


Katzman returned with Hootenanny Hoot! the next year.


AKA:  Let’s Twist Again.


A beautiful European princess (Jo Morrow) goes to New York to do some shopping and gets caught up in the swinging rock n’ roll craze.  She falls in love with teenager Jack Jones, whose father (Brian Donlevy) is a down on his luck Broadway producer.  Predictably, her over-protective mother (Frieda Inescort) is constantly meddling in her affairs and aims to break the happy couple up and sabotage Donlevy’s latest show.


The “plot” of this rock n’ roll musical is much better than most of the junk that producer Sam (Don’t Knock the Rock) Katzman was churning out around the same time.  The stuff involving the princess is a nice change of pace from the usual fare and makes the film stand out from the rest of the pack.  The performances are also top notch as Jones and Morrow make for a likable pair and Donlevy is also quite good. 


In a movie like this though, it’s the music that really matters and unfortunately, the music in this flick sucks hairy donkey nuts.  Unlike the other films in Katzman’s repertoire, there aren’t any big “name” stars like Chubby Checker, Bill Haley or Little Richard who can anchor the film.  I’m not even sure if you could classify the music as “rock n’ roll” as it seems more like swing or big band crap.  (And don’t even get me started on all those dopey dance numbers either.)  As a result, the film flounders.  Honestly, when the “movie” part of your rock n’ roll movie is better than the actual “rock n’ roll”, you got serious problems.

RING-A-DING RHYTHM! (1962) ** ½

Director Richard Lester brings the same kind of flair he brought to A Hard Day’s Night with this snazzy jazzy musical.  The teenage population of a small English town is thrown into a tizzy when the asshole mayor bans rock n’ roll and jazz.  Two plucky teens join forces to bring together a bunch of bands to play at a big concert to convince the locals that jazz isn’t the devil’s music after all.


The music in the film is mostly a mixture of ragtime, Dixieland and traditional jazz, but there is some good old fashioned rock n’ roll in there too.  Gene Vincent does a snappy number called “Space Ship to Mars” and famous faces Gary “U.S.” Bonds, Del Shannon and Chubby Checker also appear.  The songs come at the audience at such a frantic pace that you will hardly notice that they’re pretty much doing inferior material.  Some of the music is a little confounding (there’s an instrumental version of “O Christmas Tree” in there for some damn reason) and doldrums eventually set in after awhile as the film just doesn’t know when to quit.


While the music isn’t great, Lester does film the performances with a lot more pizzazz than usually found in flicks like these.  He creatively stages the numbers and manages to keep even the most mundane of acts seem kinda interesting.  Often, Lester will break the fourth wall (the omnipotent narrator helps out via a film break) and the film is full of tongue-in-cheek humor and clever sight gags that work more often than not.


Screenwriter Milton Subotsky later switched gears from rock n’ roll to horror and went on to write such flicks as Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. 


AKA:  It’s Trad, Dad!