rare JD drama from Canada pits bike gang against rich kids
William Davidson & Norman Klenman collaborated on film project in response to a plea from exhibitor Nat Taylor. They'd previously done a literary adaptation, "Now That April's Here", which won critical acclaim but drew little box office. Taylor suggested the duo try to make a more deliberately marketable venture, something that would appeal to the youth market. At the time American International was one of the key producers of such fare, filling drive-in screens with juvenile delinquent melodramas & rock musicals. The producers wanted to help establish a viable film industry in Toronto, and so their next project would be "Ivy League Killers".
Don Borisenko stars as Don, brooding leader of a motorcycle gang called the Black Diamonds (a real gang whose members are seen on screen) that remains a source of irritation for local authorities but commits no real harm. They are just guys n' dolls feeling free and having kicks, causing the occasional misdemeanor disturbance.
Don has the biggest hair of all the males, sort of James Dean by way of Fabian, and this could be one of the key reasons why he gets to call the shots for the gang. When the film opens the gang runs into another gang of sorts - only these are the sons of privilege. Educated, wealthy, society privileged. They rip around in their sports cars, basically following the will of Andy.
Andy is played by Don Francks, a veteran character actor, musician, and activist whose many credits include "Finian's Rainbow", "My Bloody Valentine", and the series "Nikita". This is one of his first roles, and it is amusing to see him cast as a snob with the makings of being a first class sociopath.
Andy's girl is Susan (Barbara Bricker). One look at Don's smoldering good looks and she's hooked. Her interest in the young hood leads to a meeting, and before long she's riding the back of his hog. Naturally this browns off Andy and begins an escalating series of confrontations that will affect both sides. Don's more passive leadership tactics of the gang, and his relationship with Susan puts him at odds with Bruno (George Carron), his rival for Alpha Male. Soon enough Don begins to find his command evaporating.
Andy is a thrill seeker whose yearning for kicks is becoming increasingly more malicious; his buddies go along because their characters are weak and easily bowled over by Andy. The fact he has everything must bore him, necessitating a desire to cause damage. Once Andy realizes that Susan is lost to him - his persuasive argument includes telling her Don is all wrong because "he's uneducated and probably very dirty!" - he wants revenge by sinking the bike gang with the authorities.
Doing this involves stealing their colors, getting some motorcycles of their own, and indulging in some impersonation. This will culminate in a robbery of the local dance hall, a stunt that spins out of control when Andy shoots one man in the face and smashes down another with his motorcycle while fleeing. His plan works: the bikers are blamed and Don becomes a wanted man, ostracized by his gang and pursued by the police.
Despite how bad things may look, Susan has not given up on Don. She gets to play Nancy Drew and try to crack who is really responsible for this violent crime. With the police closing in on Don, the young lovers must race to clear his name and bring the real culprits to justice.
One of the things that sets "Ivy League Killers" apart from many of the other juvenile delinquent melodramas of its era is the fact that Davidson & Klenman take a more serious approach to the material versus simply presenting their protagonists as glorified cartoon characters. It is also unique that the villains of the piece aren't the traditional leather jacket rebels - it is the privileged members of society, the supposedly law abiding. I loved the opening shot - twin sports cars slowly rolling into a desolate arena, approaching the parked motorcycles while the opening titles roll & John Bath's somber score plays out. It almost looks post-apocalyptic, and before any characters have been introduced this simple but effective visual orchestration symbolizes a violation; we merely don't know at this point who will represent good, and who will represent evil. The director and cinematographer shoot extensively outdoors, frequently freeing the movie from the confines of stage bound sets and offering more interesting visual possibilities. Their backgrounds in documentaries for the National Film Board of Canada may have helped contribute a rawer, more naturalistic presentation to "Ivy League Killers" that some of their Hollywood counterparts lacked. That said, they don't sacrifice their more commercial elements: there's rock music (including a ballad called "Easy Rider", sung at a beach bonfire by Igors Gavon), dancing, a juke joint, motorcycles n' sports cars, young love, rebellion, fisticuffs, anti-authoritative tones, and some violent action. The movie doesn't run that long, but it builds its drama nicely to a fast-paced climax that wouldn't have felt out of place in a Republic movie serial.
"Ivy League Killers", also known as "The Fast Ones", didn't get a mainstream North American release until the early Sixties. At that time it would find itself on a double bill with the British horror film "Devil Doll", directed by Lindsay Shonteff - who worked on "Ivy League Killers" as production assistant. Of the cast members Don Francks is the best known today, but star Don Borisenko did several more films in Europe. Supporting cast member Martin Lager (playing one of Don's gang) became a prolific writer of episodic television and feature films in Canada, and would collaborate with William Davidson on a variety of projects in the years to come. This movie didn't have the anticipated effect of launching a commercial film industry in Toronto by the start of the 1960s, but it is an entertaining picture and something of a rarity today.
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