Judge P.S. Colbert once tried introducing a dance called "The Snit Fit," and it got him grounded.
Here come the Cool Ones, they set the pace around here!
Just six months after belting out The Cool Ones title song before a throng of screaming girls on a top-rated TV show, teen idol Cliff Donner (Gil Peterson) has become (in his own words), "an overnight has-been at twenty four." With only a snappy little white roadster to his name, Donner speeds his way towards LA, where he has a job waiting for him, working "for the record company I used to own." Along the way, he stops for a drink at a little Palm Springs hideaway, where The Leaves are playing, just six months after their lone Top 40 success with "Hey Joe" (a song that would later be forever associated with Jimi Hendrix).
Meanwhile, it's been six months since she belted out The Cool Ones title song before the producers of the top-rated TV show Whizbam, and teen-aged Hallie Rodgers (Debbie Watson), one of the show's featured dancers, gets so tired of waiting for her big break to arrive she decides to bust out of her cage (literally) and steal the lead singer's microphone, in order to show the world what it's been missing. A tussle ensues between the cage dancer and the displaced lead singer (Glen Campbell), and Hallie's contortions are mistaken for a new dance—"The Tantrum"—which gets the teenaged studio audience going wild…and also gets Hallie fired.
Looking to cheer up their unemployed friend, six of the Whizbam dancers kidnap Hallie and spirit her away for a carefree Palm Springs weekend. Once in town, they stop off for a soda and some dancing at a little hideaway, where Cliff Donner is singing, backed by The Leaves, just six months after their lone—-- Wait!!!
Three guys and four girls are heading off for an unchaperoned weekend together?! Don't worry. These guys are professional TV dancers, so the girls couldn't be safer.
Meanwhile, back at the hideaway, sparks fly between Cliff and Hallie, who really seem to dig each other/can't stand one another. Enter Terry Krum (Roddy McDowall, Cleopatra), both the world's "youngest living tycoon" and its top purveyor of scene-making hit makers for screaming teen audiences. Klum's got this crazy idea about putting Cliff and Hallie together (as a sort of junior Sonny and Cher) and turning the nation onto that sensational new dance, "The Tantrum."
There's just one problem: Cliff and Hallie can't seem to stand each other/really dig each other, and like that, back and forth…
Welcome to kitsch heaven.
"A rock'n' roll comedy, so-called," sneered preeminent NY Times critic Bosley Crowther, in a review published on 11 May 1967, when The Cool Ones made its big screen debut. "I venture to guess this will disgust even the kids."
Crowther was probably correct about the contemporaneous kids who actually attempted to watch this already hopelessly out of date "Now!" flick. Its sub-Elvis movie plot was co-written and directed by Gene Nelson, who'd previously helmed two films (Kissin' Cousins, Harum Scarum) for The King.
Forty five years removed, however, The Cool Ones—while every bit as implausible and easy to laugh at as ever—does contain a veritable trove of treasures for '60s fetishists, myself included.
First, there's Roddy McDowall, then thirty nine, but still boyish enough to pass for someone this side of adolescence. The character of Terry Krum, obviously modeled on pop music wunderkind Phil Spector, is wrung for every last drop of foppish, purple-velvet clad eccentricity, with McDowall skillfully modulating his performance between swinging arcs of coquettish behavior and menacing glee.
Nita Talbot (That Funny Feeling) is likewise perfectly cast (and obviously having a ball) as Dee Dee Howitzer, Klum's seductive henchwoman. How Talbot, masterful in comic and serious roles alike, with her exotic beauty and husky voice (this gal could wipe the floor with Demi Moore without breaking a sweat) never became a star remains a mystery.
Gil Peterson, who'd go from The Cool Ones to an (uncredited) role in Valley of the Dolls later that same year, actually possessed a helluva good singing voice, virile good looks, and a decidedly pre-Beatle era hairstyle. Sadly, acting was not his, ummm…bag.
Debbie Watson (who played cousin Marilyn in the 1966 feature film Munster, Go Home) must've had a hex put on her. Despite being impossibly cute and charming, the talented young actress had previously bombed in the title roles of two TV sitcoms (Karen and Tammy) before turning up here, near the end of an extremely abbreviated showbiz career.
Behind the scenes, songwriter Lee Hazlewood ("These Boots Are Made For Walking," "Some Velvet Morning,") contributed a clutch of original songs, mostly laughable in their aim to rally the young and hip, but containing one true classic, "This Town," subsequently recorded by both Frank and Nancy Sinatra. The movie version (sung by Watson) had no right being snubbed by radio, save for that hex.
The good news is how well The Cool Ones looks in this Made-On-Demand (MOD) release from the Warner Archive Collection. The standard definition 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is surprisingly crisp and clear, well preserving art director Leroy Deane's appropriately Pop Art color schemes. The Dolby 2.0 Mono mix delivers clear dialogue and does justice to the musical score. There are no subtitles or extras.
Warner Archive suggests that you "look for an uncredited Terri Garr" (Young Frankenstein), but I suggest a greater challenge: try and miss this coltish, stunningly beautiful Whizbang dancer, who qualifies as the one cast member that achieved the cinematic success she deserved, including an Oscar nomination for her performance in Tootsie.
The kids may indeed be disgusted, Mr. Crowther, but us aging kitsch connoisseurs dig The Cool Ones, man!
Not guilty in this judge's court!
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