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This lurid hostage melodrama with sexual overtones must have seemed pretty hot stuff back in 1956 (in fact it was as the UK censors initially refused it a certificate until it was subsequently cut for the most prohibitive X certificate), but like other delinquency dramas of the time BLACKBOARD JUNGLE and THE WILD ONE time has softened many of its harsher elements even if it hasn't quite smoothed of all of its rough edges. Beatnik pianist Kicks Johnson (Nehemiah Persoff yeah, right!) tells us a cautionary tale from the previous year when he was part of the extended rootless network of broken- down ex-football star Tom Kupfen (Anthony Quinn) the "wild party" of the title who was in desperate need of quick cash as well as the easily influenced wayward middle- class teen Honey (Kathryn Grant, the future Mrs Bing Crosby) and suited-up sneering cowardly knife-man Gage (Jay Robinson), who learnt to pass for respectable by hanging out where else but at the movies. One night, Gage persuaded society beauty Erica (Carol Ohmart) and her somewhat reluctant military fiancé Lt. Arthur Mitchell (Arthur Franz) to leave their swanky hotel bar for some "safe excitement" watching jazz pianist Kicks in a downtown cellar bar. Here, the slobbish Tom made the first of a series of brutish plays for Erica (who may not have initially been that reluctant to receive the attention) before a plan took hold to kidnap the upscale "square" couple and extort cash from one of Arthur's connections. Director Harry Horner's most notable works from the period were the earlier RED PLANET MARS, BEWARE MY LOVELY and VICKI (the remake of I WAKE UP SCREAMING) although he enjoyed a near 40 year career as a production designer on the likes of THE HUSTLER, THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY and THE DRIVER and there's something of the latter films' attention to seedy nocturnal detail present here. What Horner served up is another 1950s example of the DESPERATE HOURS middle-class nightmare of the great unwashed fetching up on their doorstep to try and drag them to their doom (a theme that previously surfaced in THE PETRIFIED FOREST but that here seems to foreshadow the likes of LADY IN A CAGE, THE INCIDENT and even THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT). However, this effort suffers from a somewhat wordy script by its source novel's author John McPartland (whose edgy Gold Medal paperback originals are well worth tracking down and whose novel NO DOWN PAYMENT became a key if somewhat elusive late 50s skewering of middle-class ideals) that generally tells rather than allows the film to show and therefore results in a movie which often seems somewhat stagy and static. That said, there's still an often seemingly authentically sleazy atmosphere pervading this long dark night of the soul for the hapless swells and lower depths denizens and if the ending seems rather abrupt and slightly ambiguous as to the fate of one of its principal characters it's nevertheless a punchy and pungent tale (like its 25c paperback origins) and is definitely worth the attention of period genre fans.
"The Wild Party" (1956) is a movie that should be seen by devotees of
noir, those who like its stars, jazz fans, and fans of offbeat
Hollywood curiosities that flopped despite good casts and honest
I like the capable Nehemiah Persoff, but he's miscast as an out-of-work jazz pianist who speaks in imitation-beatnik lingo. He opens the story which is told in flashback. The beatnik angle just doesn't stick when he does it, and that's partly because it's so overdone, so Hollywood-style. This happens in all the Hollywood movies portraying the beatnik ways that I've ever seen, at least according to my personal observations at Club 47 back in those days (on Mt. Auburn Street, Cambridge), with fellow musicians, and with beatnik types.
Kathryn Grant is a spaced-out hanger-on who is turned off of the world but still hung up on Anthony Quinn's character, a former well-known football player ("Tom") who is down on his luck and fortunes and has turned to sponging and preying off of vulnerable people. He's aided by a psychopathic knife-wielding Jay Robinson who looks and acts entirely respectable until the opportune time comes to intimidate the victims.
They all need money badly and a couple becomes their prey. That's a naval officer, Arthur Franz, and his debutante wife-to-be, Carol Omart, who is delaying their marriage. Franz's character is singularly inept for being an armed forces man. We have to accept that he's no physical match against either Robinson's knife or Quinn's size, physicality and brawn.
Jay Robinson is a memorable performer in such crazed parts. Think of his Caligula portrayals in "The Robe" (1953) and "Demetrius and the Gladiators" (1954). Quinn is a powerhouse, an actor of huge intensity, but he's let down here by a script that asks us to believe that he transitions from bitterness and a chip on his shoulder, from memories of past glories, and from petty extortion to both kidnapping and a mad love for Omart, after merely dancing with her and attempting to seduce her clumsily.
The jazz score features Buddy DeFranco on screen with his quartet and a score by Buddy Bregman for a big band that included the top West Coast musicians.
Invasion of the middle class by motorcycle gangs, by wild teenagers, by drugged out beatniks, by hippies, by gangsters, by fugitives and by assorted other types out of the mainstream life of most Americans was a long-running theme in movies. It sold. "Hot Rods to Hell" showed it was still alive in 1967. As is usual in such matters of mass fear and belief, the real attacks and the real undermining of the middle class would come from completely other directions that were totally unanticipated and still not understood by those affected.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A New York Times review of this film when it came out described it as
'stuffed with more sociological dressing than a Christmas goose". Made
to cash in on America's fascination with films like 1953's "The Wild
One" and 1955's "Blackboard Jungle", the picture devolves into a sleazy
romp with Anthony Quinn as a washed up former football star reduced to
conning unsuspecting victims in an attempt to make a buck and keep even
bigger hoods off his back.
There's a scene in the film that really got my attention in it's way of depicting how low one's lot in life can descend. A bum gathers empty wine bottles from garbage cans in a back alley and casually sips the remaining contents of those he comes across before adding them to his collection. The kicker is that he's in a hurry to finish before the 'real' derelicts come calling.
Big Tom Kupfen's (Quinn) next big score involves the virtual kidnapping of a couple who if they had any street smarts at all, would have steered way clear of Tom and his questionable accomplices. In particular, knife wielding Gage Freeposter (Jay Robinson), who looked the part of a crazed lunatic who could do serious bodily harm, nevertheless came across as an incompetent boob who could scarcely manage to get out of his own way when the going got tough. He proved the point when he tried to cross his buddy Tom, and got summarily dumped out of Tom's window into an alley.
There are elements of film-noir here if you consider Kathryn Grant's Honey character as the put upon femme-fatale, as her relationship with Big Tom suffers the old heave-ho whenever the more 'sophisticated' Erica London (Carol Ohmart) is on screen. She and Arthur Mitchell (Arthur Franz) are the victims of Big Tom's extortion scheme, but if you're waiting for a grand finish in the way of a Wild West showdown, you might be disappointed when Honey shifts her car into gear and puts the squeeze on her big bad beau. It's one of the more surreal endings you're apt to see in any film, and one that might have added the extra flavor to the Times' sociological dressing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With a title like this, I had no idea what I was going to get. Was I
surprised! The credits pop up and the cast includes Anthony Quinn,
Carol Ohmart, Arthur Franz, Jay Robinson, Nehemiah Persoff, Paul
Stewart and Kathryn Grant.
The story is about a group of losers who have the ultimate bad night.
We start with Persoff, who is also the film's narrator. He is a hep-kat ivory tickler who needs some cash to get back his union card. Being broke for a living, "just ain't cool for a jazzman".
Quinn is a former pro-football player who has fallen on hard times. He owes money all over town and is down to rolling drunks for a few bucks.
Kathryn Grant is the last hanger-on from Quinn's glory days. She has been around the block so often that she says "I have 40,000 miles on me". She needs cash to pay her rent.
Jay Robinson is a knife happy, small time con-man, who needs cash to get out of town before the Police grab him.
Quinn gathers this group together and they go looking for a score. Robinson cruises an upscale jazz club looking for a mark or two. He overhears a couple talking about jazz and butts into the conversation. Robinson says he knows a great club, THE FAT MAN, where the "real cats swing".
Carol Omart and Arthur Franz, play the couple. They agree to give it a whirl and grab a cab to have a look see at this club.
Waiting for them at the club, is Quinn and his bunch. Quinn gives Omart a couple of twirls around the dance floor, then, hustles her and Franz out to his car. But instead of dropping them at a taxi stand, Quinn and his crew drive the pair to an abandoned building.
A simple roll job has now turned into a kidnapping. Omart offers up her fur and jewels but Quinn wants more. Franz says he can lay his hands on 10 large from a nightclub owner he knows.
Quinn agrees and leaves Robinson and his switchblade to guard Omart. Franz takes Quinn and Persoff to a club where they meet Paul Stewart. Stewart can tell something is funny with this picture and refuses to pony up any cash. He figures Franz lost big gambling and that Quinn is the muscle trying to collect. Stewart pulls a .45 and suggests they leave.
Quinn, Franz and Persoff head back to the hideout, there, a less than happy Quinn decides he will have his way with Omart. Franz tries to defend Omart, but Quinn gives him a nasty beating.
While all this is going on, Persoff and Grant realize Quinn has gone over the edge. They decide to beat the feet and leave before murder is added to the kidnapping beef.
After they leave, Grant, who loves Quinn, talks Persoff into returning to the hideout. She wants to try and get Quinn to give it up and leave town with them.
Quinn is not amused and goes after Persoff with murder in his eyes. Grant finally sees Quinn for the rat he has become. She jumps in the car and drives it into Quinn, crushing him against the building.
Omart and Franz escape while Persoff watches Grant, sitting in the dirt, holding Quinn's hand, as he dies.
Not a bad use of 90 mins in my humble opinion. Quinn is quite good here as the ex-jock who just can't deal with life as a nobody. Same thing with Grant, she is excellent as the world-weary tramp.
The story and screenplay was by John McPartland. He also had a hand in, NO TIME TO BE YOUNG, STREET OF SINNERS and JOHNNY COOL.
The director was Harry Horner. He helmed BEWARE MY LOVELY, VICKI and A LIFE IN THE BALANCE. He also won two Oscars for art direction for THE HEIRESS and THE HUSTLER. He is also the father of composer James Horner.
The d of p was Sam Leavitt. His work included THE THIEF, CRIME IN THE STREETS, TIMELIMIT, THE DEFIANT ONES, THE CRIMSON KIMONO, CAPE FEAR, JOHNNY COOL, ANATOMY OF A MURDER and BRAINSTORM.
For the jazz fan there are several sets by Buddy De Franco and his Quartet. (b/w)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Anthony Quinn's performances are always compelling, especially when he portrays primitives ,(as he does here),whose physical power & aggressive instincts might have made them kings in earlier times, but are merely misfits now. Everyone else does the best they can with the phoney-hipster dialog. Hollywood is well-known for tainting the language & mannerisms of every subculture it touches, but this is the textbook of absurd exaggeration. Even the script itself calls attention to "Honey" being impossible to understand, due to her "hip lingo". The implication is that Lt Mitchell, who mentions it, is too "square" to "get" her. Well then, so am I, for there are at least 3 characters who are so severely hip that they're virtually indecipherable. Perhaps if this was taken a step further into absurdity, & made an out-and-out comedy, it would be quite good. As is it's not authentic & not funny either. 5 stars for Quinn.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Anthony Quinn plays a faded football player in need of some hard cash
and resorts to kidnapping with all sorts of mayhem resulting.
He tries to roll a rich girl and her boyfriend and when that fails, he even tries to force the woman into marrying him. As the film goes along, Quinn becomes more demented, ranting and raving at will.
We also see a story here of wealth versus those without it.
Jay Robinson, who was always so good in biblical pictures, especially when he played Caligula, turns up as a cohort of Quinn who betrays him when the kidnapped guy offers him more money.
This is also a story of when you're down on your luck, it continues that way.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
***SPOILERS*** After taking too many hits to the head as a professional
football player washed up ex-Redskin running back Big Tom Kupfan,
Anthony Quinn, has now become an annoying and pestering moocher to all
those whom he comes in contact with. With his few odd-ball friends Big
Tom is always planning to rip off unsuspecting people in elaborate
con-jobs that mostly has him, who thinks that he's God's great gift to
the female species, sweep ladies off their feet with his magnetic as
well as animal charms.
It's when Big Tom runs into this couple at a local L.A bar Navy Lt.Arthur Mitchell, Arthur Frenz, and his fiancée Erica London, Carol Ohmart, that his career as a con artist comes to an abrupt and shocking end. Getting both Arthur and his girl Erica to go to this sleazy underground beatnik joint "The Fat Man's" Big Tom gets to work on Erica as his friend and partner in crime Gage, Jay Robinson, lifts the keys to Erica's car. While all this is going on Arthur is slowing getting himself drunk on fee drinks supplied by "The Fat Man", Joseph J.Green.
It's when the party is over at the "Fat Man's" that the real party begins at Big Tom's place a rundown and decapitated as well as roach and rat infested dive on the beach. With Erica not finding the keys, that Greg lifted from her pocketbook, to her car Big Tom graciously offers her and Arthur a lift home; Not to her and Arthur's place but his! And it's at Big Tom's place that the party to end all parties begins!
What amazed me most, besides Mr.Quinn's over the top acting, was how both brainless and naive Arthur and Erica were in not suspecting what Big Tom & Co. were really up to in them trying to rip the couple off! Mindlessly going along like sheep to the slaughter with the very obvious, in what he's planning for them, mentally unbalanced Big Tom the two ended up being kidnapped as well as abused and tortured by him. As it turned Big Tom really got turned on by Erica who caveman style tried to forcefully take her away from her fiancée Arthur. Arthur who was no match for the hulking and sex crazed Big Tom ended up being a punching bag, with Big Tom doing all the punching,throughout almost the entire film!
***SPOILERS*** What finally put an end to Big Tom's sexually inspired insanity was his own fellow misfits Greg and his girlfriend Honey, Kathryn Grant, and pianist Kicks Johnson, Nehemiah Persoff. As things tuned out Big Tom's overconfidence in himself as a con-artist and womanizer in the end worked against him. And in the end Big Tom was brought back down to earth by non other then his estranged girlfriend Honey but not after he ended up wrecking almost everyone's, friends and strangers alike,lives in the movie!
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