Wednesday, November 23, 2016

THE PHYNX (1970)

The Super Secret Agency has its office entrance behind a men's room stall in an International House of Pancakes. Their latest mission: sneak into Albania and rescue a slew of pop culture celebrities who have been kidnapped. The disappearance of folks like Johnny Weissmuller, Edgar Bergen, Butterfly McQueen, Rudy Vallee, and Col. Sanders of KFC fame is lowering the morale of American citizens, and superspy Corrigan (Lou Antonio) can't get past Rostinov (Michael Ansara) who guards the Albanian border. One idea is to parachute Bob Hope in and Albania will think that a war has been declared. But the supercomputer (named Motha and shaped like a buxom woman) comes up with another plan: put together a pop group, get them a big following, and have them visit Albania on the pretext of giving a concert. Four young men are chosen to form a band called the Phynx (pronounced "Finks"); there's the cute one, the jock, the black guy, and the Native American. First, they're sent through boot camp, then renowned (and nutty) producer Philbaby is brought in to make their first album. They appear on Ed Sullivan, and James Brown gives them their gold record.

In Europe, agent Martha Raye—who wears a "Rosebud" bracelet—reveals that a map to the Albanian castle where the celebs are being held is tattooed in three parts on the stomachs of three lovely young women, which leads to all manner of lurid behavior (X-ray glasses, 1000 one-night stands—actually more like 10-minute stands) to find the three bellies and the map. Albania extends "the warm fist of friendship" to the band, they attend the National Flower Festival—their flower is the radish—and eventually make it to the castle where they find the celebrities. In the end, they all get away when the Phyn'’s rock and roll performance causes the castle walls to collapse. Yes, rock and roll saves American popular culture!

I have long wanted to see his notorious movie because of the long list of classic-era names putting in cameos—in addition to those named above, we see Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Maureen O’Sullivan (who gets a cute scene of banter with her former Tarzan co-star Weissmuller), Xavier Cugat, Busby Berkeley, Dick Clark, Richard Pryor (blink and you'll miss him) and Pat O'Brien (whom Gorcey calls "Father" in reference to their 30s movie ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES) among many others. George Tobias and Joan Blondell have more substantive roles as the rulers of Albania. There seems to be some debate as to whether or not this movie ever got an official release, but over the years, it has gotten a reputation as one of the worst of the worst. Surprise: it's actually fun. A good movie? Not really, but I had great fun watching it and I can imagine watching it again sometime. It helps that it's meant to be stupidly funny, so when they throw everything against the wall, a few things have to stick. Lou Antonio as the spy boss is good, though it took a while for him to grow on me. Less amusing is Mike Kellin as Antonio's boss. The band members are fine, though only one (Lonny Stevens) has gone on to other movie credits. The others, for the record, are A. Michael Miller (the cute one), Ray Chippeway, and Dennis Larden. Sadly, the music, though not awful, is not memorable, despite the fact that all the songs were written by Leiber and Stoller, co-writers of many great rock hits ("Hound Dog," "On Broadway," "Stand By Me"). Most critics dismiss this as a mess, but Paul Tabili at DVD Drive-In hits the nail on the head when he compares its "vibe" to that of the TV show Laugh-In. It doesn’t work for Tabili but it mostly worked for me. Others reactions are bound to be similarly scattershot. If you have any interest in either the late-60s comic ethos or the classic stars gathered here, you should see this one. Pictured at right are Joan Blondell and Col. Sanders. [TCM]

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