My fondness for…no, make that absolute love for this Swinging Sixties pop musical is as close to
boundless as it is baseless. Baseless, not in that I love it without reason (on
the contrary, the list of things I love about The Cool Ones would fill up this entire post). But baseless in that
my affection for this unfailingly gladdening go-go groove-a-rama has absolutely nothing
to do with good filmmaking and 100% to do with the emotional, visceral, wholly subjective
delight I derive from its cheery evocation of a particularly happy time in my youth.
|Debbie Watson as Hallie Rogers|
|Gil Peterson as Cliff Donner|
|Roddy McDowall as Tony Krum|
|Phil Harris as McElwaine|
|Nita Talbot as Dee Dee Howitzer|
|George Furth as Howie|
|Mrs. Miller as Mrs. Miller|
In the mid-Sixties, I was just a kid (ten years old in '67), but I had a teenage sister who subsisted on a steady diet of the latest 45s (7-inch, 45rpm records) and every dance T.V. show she could cram in between doing her homework and making sure one of us younger siblings hadn't set fire to the house or each other. After school, she would rush home to watch Where The Action Is
, Hollywood a Go Go,
or The Lloyd Thaxton Show,
teaching me all the latest dance steps (which often consisted of little more than planting your feet in one spot and shaking like you're trying to dislodge a spider that's landed on your clothes) and the words to the Top 40 record hits of the day via the Hit Parader
magazine she religiously purchased every month. My sister's need for a practice dance partner (I was the only boy among four girls) granted me premature entrance into the world of teenagers, and I don't think I ever got over it.
Hit Parader was a teen fan music publication that featured the lyrics to all the latest songs
The colorful mod clothes; the crazy, code-like slang; the infectiously happy-sounding music; the dances so formless and silly that you had no choice but to lose yourself in abandon...all pretty heady stuff for a bookworm little kid like me. I was much too shy (then) to ever express myself so freely in the outside world, but in our living room, with the furniture pushed to the sides to create a dance floor, I felt like I was a part of the very "happening" world of the '60s. For some reason, The Cool Ones
brings back those days to me better than any of the similar films of the era. Thus, when watching it, I find it a physical impossibility not to break into a smile and surrender myself to the nostalgia of it all.
|The Whizbam Dancers|
Teri Garr (left) was a staple dancer in a great many of these '60s teenage musicals
The Cool Ones
breezy, above-average Beach Party
cloaked in a somewhat toothless satire of show business — specifically the
teen-centric West Coast music scene circa 1966. Hallie Rogers (Watson), a
professional wiggler on Whizbam
teen rock & roll T.V. show patterned after its real-life counterparts, Shindig
), harbors a burning desire to hang up her go-go boots and
pursue a career as a pop singer. But, alas, at every turn, she finds her ambitions
thwarted. Condescended to by well-meaning friends ("This is a boy's world.
Isn't it enough to be with them all the time…and get paid for it?"
) and rudely dismissed
producer Mr. MacElwaine
(Harris), frustrated Hallie throws an on-the-air fit that inadvertently sparks a
new dance sensation: The Tantrum.
|Psycho-Chick: Hallie makes a bold play for stardom|
That's a young Glen Campbell back there being upstaged by desperate-for-fame go-go girl Debbie Watson. Campbell, cast as the lead singer of the fictional pop group Patrick and the East Enders, would release his two signature hits the year this film came out: Gentle on My Mind and By the Time I Get to Phoenix.
Of course, she's immediately sacked: "How
dare you flip your wig on our time!"
scolds McElwaine flunky George Furth. But
lucky for Hallie, her musical nervous breakdown has caught the attention of washed-up-at-24 former teen idol Cliff Donner (Peterson). With Cliff's help, plus the assistance of eccentric pop music impresario Tony Krum (McDowall) — "Tony
Krum? Like, he's zero cool! Everything he touches gets well!"
— Hallie finally lands the opportunity to realize her dream of pop-singing stardom. But will true love, ethics, and a modicum of singing talent derail Hallie's teen dreams before
they even start? Well, you'll have to tune in, turn on, and stay cool to find out.
|"She's young, ambitious, and therefore dangerous. It takes a few|
years on a girl to know how to mix a cocktail of ambition and desire."
As movies satirizing teen culture and the music business date
as far back as Frank Tashlin's The Girl Can't Help It (1956), there's really
not much that's particularly surprising or fresh in what The Cool Ones has to say about the mercurial nature of show biz, fickle teenage fans, the randomness of fame, or the absurdity of pop trends. In fact, fans of The Flintstones are apt to note similarities between the plot of The Cool Ones two episodes of the animated series: 1961 - Fred becomes an overnight teen
singing sensation named Hi-Fye. 1965 - Fred stubs his toe and inadvertently creates a
national dance craze called "The Frantic." But what The Cool Ones benefits from is a light touch and a wry self-awareness.
|Have a Tantrum|
No question about it. The grooviest song in the entire score and my absolute favorite is the infectiously percussive "The Tantrum." Why this song wasn't released as a single is beyond me. Although The Cool Ones
failed to produce a soundtrack album, some songs were covered as singles released by other artists. Frank Sinatra recorded "This Town" for his 1967 album The World We Knew
, and Nancy Sinatra sang it on her 1967 T.V. special Movin' With Nancy
. Petula Clark's rendition of "High" (the ski-lift number) appeared on the B side of her single "This Is My Song."
Olivia Newton-John resurrects Debbie Watson's
black T-shirt and tiger-print mini for 1980s Xanadu
The Cool Ones doesn't take itself too seriously, and things move along at a brisk pace thanks to the crisp direction of Gene Nelson. A former dancer, singer, and actor (Oklahoma!, Tea for Two) who won a Tony Award nomination for his role in the original Broadway production of Follies, Nelson directed two Elvis Presley movies and worked extensively in T.V., directing episodes of Star Trek, Gilligan's Island, and Debbie Watson's 1965 T.V. show Tammy. The producer of The Cool Ones is actor Willliam Conrad, to whom I owe an invaluable cultural debt for producing film vehicles for Connie Stevens (Two on a Guillotine - 1965) AND Joey Heatherton (My Blood Runs Cold -1965).
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
Well, I'd say it's a neck and neck tie between the music and
the dancing. Each of these is capable, at various points in the film, of being both
marvelous and ludicrous…frequently simultaneously.
With a soundtrack of some 20-odd songs (accent on the odd), The Cool Ones is virtually wall-to-wall music, with practically every cast member granted the opportunity to burst into tuneless song at one point or another. The songs are a delightfully mixed bag of groove-a-riffic pop ditties, duets, ballads, and plot-propelling book-type numbers of the kind found in traditional movie musicals.
|Warner Bros produced The Cool Ones and therefore saved a fortune in royalty fees by peppering the film's soundtrack with old songs from their vast music library. There's a great deal of amusement to be had in hearing go-go arrangements to such conservative standards as Secret Love, It's Magic, and Birth of the Blues|
The Cool Ones is rumored to have initially been conceived as a project for Nancy Sinatra and her longtime songwriting partner Lee Hazlewood. (Debbie Watson does all of her own singing, but sharp ears might recognize Sinatra's trademark deadpan vocals on The Tantrum.) If that's true, it goes a long way toward explaining the relative ambitiousness of the film's soundtrack of original songs. The late-great Lee Hazlewood (These Boots Are Made for Walkin', Sugar Town) contributes many fine and very danceable tunes to the film's score, along with composer Billy Strange and several others. Even at its weakest (Gil Peterson is seriously rhythm-challenged), the music in The Cool Ones is never less than enjoyably cheesy and fun.
|Roddy McDowall acquits himself very nicely singing a number whose title might well have|
echoed the actor's own thoughts about his career at this stage: "Where Did I Go Wrong?"
The Cool Ones features guest appearances by several pop groups from the '60s whom you've likely never heard of. Top to bottom: The Bantams, The Leaves, and my personal favorite, T.J. and the Fourmations, materializing in full performance out of an elevator.
Acting of any kind usually gets in the way in movies like The Cool Ones,
which run on charm, energy, and personality. Watson and Peterson make for a photogenic, likable couple totally devoid of any real chemistry, but they have real screen charisma and are certainly easy on the eyes.
That actually goes double for the molded-in-plastic good looks of Gil Peterson, the world's worst lip-syncher but the best wearer of tight pants I've ever seen. With his chiseled profile, Young Republican haircut, and stiff countenance, Peterson is more convincing as a Thunderbirds
marionette than as a late-'60s pop star. But thanks to his one-size-too-small wardrobe, he makes for terrific male eye candy in a genre noted for its propensity for zeroing in on the shimmying backsides of female dancers in bikinis.
|Dee Dee Goes for the Gusto|
Nita Talbot's butt-grab greeting assures us were not in Frankie & Annette territory anymore
THE STUFF OF FANTASY
If the music in The Cool Ones
sends me over the top (to use the vernacular, it's wiggy!), then the dancing is just out of this world. It's fun, energetic, and just a blast to watch...I get all charged up seeing it. The unbilled choreographer is Toni Basil (of '80s "Mickey" fame), a Shindig!
alumnus and student of David Winters (West Side Story
), the great-granddad of go-go choreography. It's his distinctive style that's most apparent in the film's ensemble dance numbers. And while Winters never went on to have a career comparable to that of Hullabaloo
dancer Michael Bennett (A Chorus Line
), he choreographed several films (Billie
and Viva Las Vegas
), many popular T.V. specials (Movin' With Nancy
) and went on to direct and produce films.
|Dancers in The Cool Ones are recognizable from any number of '60s teen musicals.|
THE STUFF OF DREAMS
|The Whizbam dancer in the top screencap with the incredible bare midriff is Anita Mann, pictured here with Davy Jones dancing in THIS VIDEO. A terrific dancer, Mann went on to choreograph Solid Gold (and even took a couple of dance classes from me back in the 80s!)|
I adore the mad, mod fashions. The so-bad-it's-good dialogue (it surprises me how often I find it to be genuinely funny. The scenic, time-capsule locations in Palm Springs and Los Angeles (much of it taking place just a block away from my old apartment on La Cienega near the Sunset Strip). That odd running gag about a mystery man coveting Cliff's vintage automobile. There's even the film debut /swansong of atonal '60s novelty act, Mrs. Miller (not to be confused with Merv Griffin's professional audience member, Miss.
Miller). It's a silly movie, and it never apologizes for it. Maybe that's my favorite thing of all.
The Cool Ones
|Roddy McDowall pretty much coasts on the same performance he gave the previous year in Lord Love a Duck (a superior satire, but not nearly as much fun), while effortless scene-stealer Nita Talbot and veteran actor Robert Coote provide stronger support than the film sometimes deserves.|
was a bomb when it came out, but I have a hunch that had The Cool Ones
been made just a few years earlier, it might likely have been a hit. The world was changing fast, and pop culture trends even faster. The Cool Ones
-- which feels like a movie from 1965--came on the scene at a very pivotal time. It was released just months before the hippy-dippy Summer of Love ushered in the psychedelic rock era. A time so drastically different in look and sound that The Cool Ones,
with its clean-cut teens and well-scrubbed leads, looked as dated as a hula hoop.
Now, so many years later, The Cool Ones
feels like right-on-on-time. Lumped together in a movie vision of the '60s fueled by Bye Bye Birdie
, Elvis musicals, and Beach Party movies, The Cool Ones
fits right in. It may not be a classic on any score, but truly fun and entertaining are incredibly hard to come by, and on that score, The Cool Ones
rates top on my list. Although its many pleasures harken back to my distant youth, the enjoyment it gives me as an adult brands it a timeless favorite.
And then, of course, there are still some things that just never go out of style.
In 1962 Gil Peterson released an album of easy listening standards. Songs like "I'll Be Seeing You" and "In the Wee Small hours of the Morning." I've no idea how the L.P. did, but I can't believe sales were helped any by that weird, Kean-esque artwork on the cover.
In Stephen Rebello's 2020 book Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!
chronicling the making of the film Valley of the Dolls,
it's revealed Gil Peterson appeared opposite Patty Duke in a deleted scene that had him playing Neely O'Hara's co-star in the movie "Love and Let Love."
Copyright © Ken Anderson 2009 - 2012