The dry rivers of Los Angeles popularized the postwar craze of hot rod drag racing.
The LA River was used for drag racing scenes in numerous films, among them: Girls Town (1959) and Grease (1978)
Paradoxically, while young people in contemporary films held little interest for me on the big screen, on the black and white console TV in our family’s living room, I was positively gaga over movies about teenagers from the ‘50s and early ‘60s. On Saturday afternoons local TV stations could be relied upon to supply a steady stream of ‘50s juvenile delinquent melodrama (The Violent Years - 1956); hot rod exploitation (Dragstrip Riot - 1956), rock & roll romance (Rock, Rock, Rock - 1956); jukebox musicals (Don’t Knock the Rock - 1956); low-budget monster movies (I Was a Teenage Frankenstein -1957), screwy sci-fi flicks (Teenagers from Outer Space - 1959); and Drive-in oddities (Teenage Caveman - 1958).
|Kids Just Wanna Have Fun|
These poor-relation follow-ups to Brando’s The Wild One (1953), Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Poitier’s Blackboard Jungle may have been marketed to teens, but by favoring harmless generation gap clashes over social rebellion commentary, they hewed close to the middle-class status quo. Juvenile delinquents were never depicted as antiheroes with cause for rebellion, rather, they were seen as atypical bad apples and stand-alone troublemakers; the pitiable product of broken homes or failing to be raised with all the proper advantages (aka: suburbia with white picket fence).
Bask in the Streamline furniture, starburst clocks, wall sconces, and enormous coffee tables
(Jeanne Tatum, Jody Fair, and Kirby Smith)
|Attack of the Well-Behaved, Appropriately-Dressed Party Crashers|
While some of these films were sincere in their efforts to call attention to the delinquency crisis hitting the suburbs at the time, most were conceived as exploitation programmers geared for quick turnover in the Drive-In market. Those I most enjoyed felt like dry-runs for the yet-to-come Beach Party movies of the sixties. They had nonsensical plots, an almost vaudeville approach to humor, stock teen characters (the bland hero, his loyal “girl,” the jokester, the bad kids/rivals), and the elders were always well-meaning allies, effectual authority figures, or comic buffoons.
|Jody Fair as Lois Cavendish|
|Nancy Anderson as Annita (Nita)|
|Members of The Zenith Motor Club|
Amelia (Sanita Pelkey), Dave (Henry McCann), Bonzo (Leon Tyler), and Rhoda (Elaine DuPont)
The Zenith Club is a group of suburban hot rod enthusiasts devoted to disaffirming the public perception of hotrodders as street-racing, authority-flouting, juvenile delinquents. Pledged to a strict code forbidding street racing of any kind, this clean-cut clique spends its time tinkering with engines and bop dancing in the adjacent soda shop. Journalist Tom Hendry (Russ Bender), writing an article titled “This Restless Breed,” has been invited to tag along as the Zeniths do whatever it is they do, opening the door for a lot of plot exposition and the relaying of more hot rod minutiae than any of us deserve.
|Alleged hot-rodder and likely junior ROTC recruit Stan (Martin Braddock) helps superannuated cub reporter Tom (Russ Bender) understand that not all teenagers are as trouble making (or talented) as James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause|
Leader of The Zeniths is Stan (Martin Braddock), a wholesome, cardigan-wearing type distinguished by his level-headedness and never being seen doing anything car-related. Other members include pint-sized brainiac Dave (Henry McCann) and his bookish, Amazonian gal-pal Amelia (Sanita Pelkey); annoying, comedy-relief cut-up Bonzo (Leon Tyler) and kewpie-eyed girlfriend Rhoda (Elaine DuPont); and real-life drag racing Hall of Famer Tommy Ivo (as himself...and perhaps wondering, like me, why he isn’t the leader of the club) and his mostly silent, ponytailed partner Sandra (Judy Howard). A welcome break from all this gender stasis (the women don’t really do anything in the club except stand around watching their boyfriends work on engines) is Lois Cavendish (Jody Fair).
|Madonna prototype Sandra (Judy Howard) stands by as drag racing legend Tommy Ivo contributes some long-winded verisimilitude to the film by delivering a 60-second, documentary-level monologue about his narrow rear end and unblown gas engine.|
Lois is the only female hotrodder and mechanic in the club, and, as she’s so easily goaded into “chicken run” drag races by Nita (Nancy Anderson), a snarly rival gang member, she’s also the film’s only rule-breaker (albeit, reluctant). Refreshingly independent-minded for a film of this sort, Lois has her interest in cars trivialized (“I can dig the male of the species, but the female hotrodder baffles me!”) and boyfriend Stan laments her not placing him first in her passions (“She prefers hot rods instead of hot romances”), yet she persists. Even when it comes to her parents.
|"You're approaching womanhood...."|
"I've got news for you. I've arrived!"
|Dorothy Neumann as Anastasia Abernathy - with Alphonso, her loquacious parrot.|
Fans of The Andy Griffith Show might recognize Neumann as the wife of Otis, the town drunk
Among the many introduced-only-to-be-abandoned plot points: the whole gang rivalry angle; Lois’ generation-gap clash with her parents; Tom’s forgotten magazine article; the chance that Lois’ involvement in hot-rodding could adversely affect her father’s real estate business; and boyfriend Stan’s concern that he comes second to Lois’ love of fast cars.
|A former Miss New York and onetime showgirl, Sanita Pelkey appeared on a|
1958 episode of the Groucho Marx game show You Bet Your Life (audio only)
|Rockabilly band "The Renegades" perform Geronimo and Charge! and Ghost Train|
|The girls of the Zenith Motor Club badly lip-sync to a song titled My Guy. The song was released|
as a 45 single by a group calling themselves "Linda Leigh and the Treasure Tones"
|Jimmie Maddin sings "Tongue Tied." Maddin was a singer/saxophonist and nightclub owner in LA.|
He was still performing at one of his clubs (The Capri Club in Glendale) a year before he died in 2006
(A parent confronting two kids necking)
|Available in its entirety on YouTube|