Thursday, July 10, 2008


It's a given that practically any Hollywood movie about LSD, hippies, and anything the least bit psychedelic is going to be lame. This one, however, is a notch above the average, more entertaining than the Roger Corman morality-tale downers of the era. James MacArthur and Susan Oliver, the oldest, squarest looking Haight-Ashbury residents ever, have been expelled from college for publishing an underground newspaper. English professor Richard Todd resigns in sympathy with them. They invite him to a Love-In and soon Todd is living, commune-style, with the kids on the Haight and preaching the psychedelic gospel to growing crowds. His slogan, "Be more, sense more, love more," clearly signals that he's a fictionalized version of Timothy Leary. After Oliver, who has started sleeping with Todd, has a bad trip, MacArthur becomes disenchanted, claiming that Todd's whole movement is a scheme for personal gain. Todd's fame grows, and on the eve of a major rally, Oliver tells Todd she's pregnant and he demands she get an abortion. She tries to kill herself; MacArthur saves her but can't save the baby, and heads off to Todd’s rally with a gun.

This is at heart an old-fashioned melodrama of love, sex, and ambition, dressed up in 60's drag. Though the film obviously doesn't take a pro-LSD stance, it also doesn't completely dismiss the hippies, either. Scenes of hippie bliss are disrupted by "straights," in one case a motorcycle gang and, more damagingly, a bunch of jocks pissed off that a hippie "sleep-in" demonstration in the park is interfering with their football game, and it's made clear that it's not the hippies who are being wrong. Oliver's bad trip scene is rather laughable; on a night club dance floor, while a band performs a song that references "Alice in Wonderland," she imagines that she's Alice in a bizarre Wonderland ballet. She seems to suffer no ill effects the next day, though later one young tripping man who thinks he can fly leaps out a window to his death during the street riot. There's also a subplot which goes nowhere about a father trying to get his daughter, who is living at the commune with her boyfriend, to come home. The father is made to look intolerant if not exactly ridiculous. Though Todd is clearly meant to be seen as an exploiter--we never see him take any drugs and his attitude toward Oliver is piggish, to say the least--he's not developed well enough as a character to come off as a real bad guy, and conversely MacArthur, the hero figure, seems largely motivated by jealousy; he's likable, yes, but that's not the same as being heroic. Todd sounds like Richard Burton and looks like the smarmy British English teacher in BYE BYE BIRDIE. Not a moment of the action along the Haight looks authentic and the ending, which should be suspenseful, is completely botched, in the writing and the action and the acting. Otherwise, it's not nearly as bad as it could have been. [TCM]

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