What would happen if a rock-singing hippie in his early 20s could run for President? And 14-year-olds could vote for him? And Shelley Winters was his mom?
These and hundreds of other questions are answered in goofy and sometimes scary psychedelic splashes of cinematic wonderfulness in the 1968 American-International classic WILD IN THE STREETS (Olive Films, Blu-ray and DVD).
The film vividly depicts a Hollywoodized view of the 60s counter-culture era with its constant clashes between the younger and older generations--represented by bellbottoms, long hair, groovy lingo, and drug use on one side, and either straitlaced moral rigidity or sad attempts to remain "relevant" to the younger set, despite encroaching age, on the other--and is packed to the gills with knowing satire that skewers them both to the very core at every delightfully hokey turn.
If it seems dumb, it's deliberately so, almost in the same way that the "Batman" TV series with Adam West risked looking stupid to deliver its payload of delicious deadpan humor. (Minus, that is, the more farcical elements of that show and plus a stern voiceover by Paul Frees.)
And yet, it's this quality that allows the story at times to sneak up on the unsuspecting viewer with a powerful emotional wallop which, especially during the film's downbeat climax, turns the improbable fantasy into a too-close-for-comfort Orwellian nightmare.
The film's nominal "hero", Max Frost (James Dean lookalike Christopher Jones), who mass-produces LSD in the basement of his family home, rebels against his conservative father (Bert Freed) and dippy, clinging mother (Shelley Winters at her overpowering, self-deprecating best), leaving them to become a millionaire rock star with a loyal entourage that includes Richard Pryor, Larry Bishop (HELL RIDE, KILL BILL VOL. 2), and Diane Varsi as sexy acid-head "Sally LeRoy."
Ambitious senatorial candidate John Fergus (Hal Holbrook) makes the mistake of enlisting Max and his band to help him court the youth vote, but Max uses it as an opportunity to rouse his frenzied followers into a movement to lower the voting age to fourteen.
When this (improbably) occurs, Max then rides his superstardom all the way to the presidency itself, whereupon he declares thirty to be the new mandatory retirement age. At thirty-five, all citizens are to be interned in concentration camps where they'll be fed LSD to keep them docile and out of the younger generation's way.
Along the way, we're treated to some really great scenes that run the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime. Winters is hilarious in her bull-in-a-china-closet efforts--doomed from the start--to ingratiate herself with her newly-moneyed son and appear young and hip. She's really amazing to watch.
Max's rise to power, taunting disrespect for the establishment, and easy manipulation of the masses are potent fantasy, while seasoned actors such as Hal Holbrook and Ed Begley, Sr. lend needed dramatic weight to their scenes. (Seeing Begley and the rest of Congress tripping out on LSD after Max and his "troops" have spiked Washington, D.C.'s water supply is a trip in itself.)
The songs aren't half bad, either, including the haunting "The Shape of Things to Come" which follows a Kent State-style shooting during a massive protest rally.
Director Barry Shear worked mainly in television and gives WILD IN THE STREETS the look of a gilt-edged TV movie with welcome bursts of color and style. Scripter Robert Thom adds another winner to a body of work that also includes DEATH RACE 2000, BLOODY MAMA, THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE, and ALL THE FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS. Importantly, his "generation gap" screenplay doesn't choose sides--it's a wickedly satirical putdown of both. Composer Les Baxter contributes his usual lively musical score.
The DVD from Olive Films is in 1.85:1 widescreen with 2.0 mono sound and English subtitles. A trailer is the sole extra.
My older sister used to take me to grown-up movies all the time back in the pre-ratings-system days when such films, as does this one, carried a "suggested for mature audiences" disclaimer. (It has since been rated "R" mainly for its depiction of drug use.) I vividly remember watching WILD IN THE STREETS with her in our local movie theater then, and now, 48 years later, I still find it just as disturbing, just as crazy, and just as wildly whacked-out--but a whole lot funnier.
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