WILD IN THE STREETS
(director: Barry Shear; screenwriter: Robert Thom/based on Mr. Thom’s short story The Day It All Happened, Baby; cinematographer: Richard Moore; editors: Fred R. Feitshans Jr./Eve Newman; music: Les Baxter; cast: Christopher Jones (Max Frost), Hal Holbrook (Congressman Johnny Fergus), Shelley Winters (Mrs Flatow), Diane Varsi (Sally LeRoy), Kevin Coughlin (Billy Cage), Richard Pryor (Stanley X), Michael Margotta (Jimmy Fergus), Ed Begley (Senator Amos Albright), Larry Bishop (Abraham ‘The Hook’ Saltine), Millie Perkins (Mrs Fergus), Bert Freed (Max Flatow Sr), May Ishihara (Fuji Elly), Paul Frees (Narrator), Barry Williams (Young Max); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Samuel Z. Arkoff & James H. Nicholson; MGM Home Entertainment; 1968)
“Tasteless cult teen classic about counterculture youths beating down the establishment to elect one of their own as a 24-year-old president.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Tasteless cult teen classic about counterculture youths beating down the establishment to elect one of their own as a 24-year-old president. An uneven exploitation spoof from schlocky AIP producers Samuel Z. Arkoff & James H. Nicholson, that played the Midnight Movie circuit during the 1960s and received the stamp of approval from the heads who attended those weed puffing screenings. It’s based on Robert Thom’s short story The Day It All Happened. Veteran TV director Barry Shear (“The Karate Killers”/”The Todd Killings”/”Across 110th Street”) is the filmmaker responsible for this crude low-brow dark comedy on youth power, that has some entertainment value if you get past its stupidity. The satire, marked by crass humor with an underlying sinister chill, succeeds mostly in making the rebelling youth look as sleazy and superficial as their elders, but nevertheless manages to hit its establishment target a few times.
Disturbed teenager Max Flatow (Barry Williams) trashes the house of his domineering mother from hell (Shelley Winters) and passive moronic father (Bert Freed) and then blows up dad’s prized Chrysler, to only run away from home to Beverly Hills living as a 24-year-old multi-millionaire rock star/drug pusher renamed Max Frost (Christopher Jones). His groovy entourage/band includes Sally LeRoy (Diane Varsi), a former child star, vegetarian and acidhead; Stanley X (Richard Pryor) drummer, anthropologist and author of The Aborigine Cookbook; Billy Cage (Kevin Coughlin), 15-year-old Ivy League grad with an 186 IQ and Max’s guitarist and business manager; the stoned-out horn player named “The Hook” (Larry Bishop); and, lastly, Fuji (May Ishihara), Japanese typewriter heiress… and beach bum.
Senate wannabe, the Kennedy-like 37-year-old California Congressman Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook), invites Max to sing at his rally to promote his platform to get the vote for the 18- year-olds (the legal voting age was 21 at the time). Max uses this opportunity to demand that the voting age be lowered to 14, and sings a song called “14 or Fight” which becomes an instant hit. Max then calls for a demonstration on Sunset Strip of the younger generation, who turn out in huge numbers. After a meeting with Max, powerful California Senator Allbright (Ed Begley) rejects Max as a dangerous wacko. But smoothy Fergus thinks he needs the youth vote to win and tries to manipulate Max. But Max only compromises by raising his voting age demand to 15 and coming up with a new slogan “15 and Ready.” Max gets the country to change the voting laws by dropping LSD into the water supply of Washington DC and thereby getting the necessary 2/3 vote to amend the Constitution, and then drunk with power runs for president as a 24-year-old. He’s swept into office by getting the overwhelming youth vote. In office Max proposes mandatory retirement at 30 and all those who reach 35 are to report to “mercy stations” to receive force-fed LSD treatments, wear blue robes with a peace patch and listen to rock music, and has his youthful goon squads enforce these laws. The president’s boisterous, selfish and hateful hysterical mom, hoping to avoid the treatment camp, located behind barbed wire, is dragged out of hiding by the youthful enforcers deaf to her plea that she is a teenager, as she cries out: ‘But I’m Aryan…I mean, I’m young, I’m young.’ It blusters along with this ridiculous storyline of democracy gone amok, and by the end those under ten feel the 24-year-old is too old to be their president and plot to unite all those under fourteen to get the vote and kick out of office their fascist-like older leaders.
Too many rough edges for my taste, as I never understood its initial popularity—it must have been the weed talking. It’s enhanced by actual footage from peace demonstrations against the Vietnam War and the presence of real reporters like Walter Winchell.
REVIEWED ON 5/21/2008 GRADE: C+