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HOT RODS TO HELL ((a.k.a.: 52 Miles to Midnight) (director: John Brahm; screenwriters: from the story by Alex Gaby/Robert E. Kent; cinematographer: Lloyd Ahern; editor: Ben Lewis; music: Fred Karger/Ben Weisman-songs; cast: Dana Andrews (Tom Phillips), Jeanne Crain (Peg Phillips), Mimsy Farmer (Gloria), Laurie Mock (Tina Phillips), Paul Bertoya (Duke), Gene Kirkwood (Ernie), Tim Stafford (Jamie Phillips), George Ives (Lank Dailey), Harry Hickox (Bill Phillips), Paul Genge (Policeman), Charles P. Thompson (Charley,service station proprietor); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Katzman; MGM; 1967)
“Your usual sleazy teenage questionable family value campy B-film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This schlock JD exploitation film is taken from a 1956 Saturday Evening Post story. The premise is worse than what results: your usual sleazy teenage questionable family value campy B-film. It was originally made as a TV movie. The producer is Sam Katzman, a sharp operator of cheesy films whose cheapie films always turned a profit. Longtime TV director and respected movie director from the 1940s John Brahm (“The Lodger”/”The Locket”/”The Brasher Doubloon”) helms this action family drama without distinction. It’s the fourth and last film that teamed Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain (“State Fair”-45/”Duel in the Jungle”-54/”Madison Avenue”-62). The action is crass, the characters are either squares are slimeballs, and the dialogue is so putrid it smells worse than a gasoline spill.

Travelling salesman Tom Phillips (Dana Andrews) gets into a car accident on a foggy Christmas-eve caused by a drunk driver and ends up with a bad back injury. Unable to work at the same job and needing a warm climate, Tom has his family move from sophisticated Boston to the culturally-deprived desert in Mayville, California, to start a new life. Tom’s older brother Bill, who lives in California, hooked him up with a reasonably priced motel-restaurant called Dailey’s. The family, that includes loyal wife Peg (Jeanne Crain), 16-year-old boy crazy daughter Tina (Laurie Mock) and chipper adolescent son Jamie (Tim Stafford), travel there in their older model station wagon. Dad not only has physical problems, but his mental health is suffering from depression and loss of nerve. Peg drives since Tom is still feeling under the weather. As they are on a desert road, some 52 miles from their destination, they are harassed on the vacant desert road by three thrill-seeking punky teens in a souped-up red Corvette–Duke (Paul Bertoya), Ernie (Gene Kirkwood) and Gloria (Mimsy Farmer). They try to knock them off the road, the hellion gal throws a beer can at Jamie’s head and Duke drives by them with great speed frightening them while creepy Ernie taunts them.

The Phillips family eventually reach their new motel, only to find it’s a hangout for the creepy teens they had to deal with on the road and that Dailey is selling cheap to get away from these mindless teens and the orgies they hold in the motel. The last straw for Tom is when on their first night, Duke almost seduces a wide-eyed Tina. Tom threatens Dailey with calling off the deal and tells his brother that he is leaving that night to go the eighty miles to stay with him. But on the deserted night road, Duke and Ernie are dead set to prevent Tom from contacting the police and intimidate the family again with their Corvette. It ends with Tom regaining his nerve and outsmarting the teens by leaving his parked car in the middle of the road with the brights on. This causes the teens to swerve off the road and crash, and now the scared punks vow to turn over a new leaf as Tom has to repress his anger from beating them with a lead pipe and to tell the police. With these troublesome teens reformed, Tom confidently tells his family that they will stay and make the motel a wholesome place to live.

It was as shallow and trashy and stupidly preachy as one would expect of an exploitation film that cunningly knows how to pull the strings to get its audience.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”