Sometimes you just plain fall in love with a movie for no apparent reason, until you really start to think about it and the reasons begin to surface like gas bubbles in a swamp. Watching WILD GUITAR (1962) again for the umpteenth time, courtesy of my beautiful one-dollar Digiview DVD, all those gassy little bubbles are popping in my head and making me pleasantly delirious.
More than anything, it's Arch Hall, Jr.'s film. In fact, it's probably his best non-psycho role (his best and only psycho role being in 1963's THE SADIST). In EEGAH! Arch played a typical teenager caught up in a prehistoric love triangle with his girlfriend and a giant caveman (Richard Kiel) in between buzzing around in his dune buggy and seranading us with his wonderfully awful original songs.
Here, Arch is all of those things again (minus the caveman) only now the story's as meaty as a side of beef slathered in barbecue sauce. As aspiring-but-naive rocker from Hicksville, Bud Eagle, Arch rides into Hollywood on his motorcycle and immediately meets wannabe-actress Vicki, who takes him along when she appears as a dancer on a local rock-and-roll TV show.
What follows is a surprisingly cynical, almost downbeat expose' of the music business. The starstruck Bud is offered the world by a bloated, cigar-chomping bastard named Mike (Arch Hall, Sr. under the pseudonym "William Watters") only to be quickly disillusioned by how manipulative and phony the whole thing turns out to be.
Bud cuts best-selling records and does public appearances but the money all seems to go into money-hungry manager Mike's pockets. Not only that, but his personal life is severely curtailed--he's even forbidden from pursuing budding love interest Vickie while being watched over by Mike's slimy toady, Steak (director Ray Dennis Steckler acting as "Cash Flagg").
The rest of the story plays out in seriocomic fashion with Bud being kidnapped for ransom by three overtly farcical characters and then conspiring with them to turn it all against his tyrannical keepers. The comedy consists of a lot of pleasantly dumb dialogue and mugging, but the film always maintains its serious side--especially when one of Mike's washed-up former stars shows up and clues Bud in on what a disposable property he really is.
Unlike many low, low budgeted films of this nature, WILD GUITAR has no slow spots and no padding since the script (co-written by Arch Hall, Sr. as "Nicholas Merriwether") is packed with incident, moving briskly from one interesting scene to another with barely any time to dawdle.
Bud's come-up includes an eye-opening encounter with teenaged "fan club" presidents who are paid by Mike to like him and a harrowing experience with an overripe sex bomb thrown his way to make him forget Vickie (who, inevitably, catches them together and gets the wrong idea).
With a huge blond ducktail that's like a caricature of itself and that pudgy, utterly guileless face, Arch pretty much becomes happy-go-lucky hick Bud Eagle, an impression made even stronger by the fact that he's performing his own tepid but endearing songs in his own inimitable style.
One of them, "Vickie", is a holdover from EEGAH!, only this time he actually has someone with that name to perform it for. As Vickie Wills, blond semi-cutie Nancy Czar has an equally goofy charm and proves to be a pretty good ice skater when (shades of ROCKY) Vickie and Bud have a skating date in her uncle's deserted ice rink.
And then there's "Cash Flagg" (nee Ray Dennis Steckler) as Steak, sliming things up and giving the film it's nastiest edge. As director, Ray comes through with some nice low-rent noir here and there--even with his limited talents, he could deliver a watchable enough flick back when low-budget movies were a lot harder to make. (He even had future Oscar winner Vilmos "William" Zsigmond as second-unit photographer.)
That said, one of the most charming and enjoyable aspects of WILD GUITAR is the sheer silliness of its musical sequences. The endearingly game Arch Hall, Jr. plucks and croons his way through those priceless schlock-a-billy ditties of his as Steckler's camera flits around giving us silly closeups of the grinning, head-bobbing bandmembers to show us how crazy and way-out it all is.
In the film's big finale, a tuxedo-clad Bud performs to a swimsuited gaggle of overaged kids (and helps invent the music video) on one of the ugliest beaches in film history as Vickie gyrates by his side, love having conquered all.
I love the lack of ironic self-awareness in both Arch Hall, Jr.'s earnest performance and Steckler's direction. Both also lack quite the level of clueless ineptitude one is led to expect by most accounts. While cheap, even slapdash at times, WILD GUITAR is as disarmingly straightforward and sincere as Bud Eagle himself, and, for me, as much fun as any bottom-of-the-bill B-movie that ever played drive-ins in the South or public-domain DVD budget bins at Walmart.
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