Sunday, 1 July 2007

Kitten with a Whip (1964)

There’s nothing like a good 1950s or early 1960s juvenile delinquent movie, from the days when every decent family lived in dread that their children would turn into juvenile delinquents, or become communists or dope fiends. There were just so many threats to decency and family values to worry about! And Kitten with a Whip, from 1964, is a classic of the genre. Ann-Margret is bad girl Jody, who breaks into the house of squeaky clean ultra-respectable aspiring politician John Forsythe. She then decides to enjoy the high life at his expense, by threatening to scream rape if he calls the police. Poor old John Forsythe’s worst nightmare comes true when some of her friends arrive and decide it’s party time. They’re even more dangerous than she is – one of them even sounds suspiciously like a pacifist, and we all know how dangerous they are. And they even quote poetry, so we know there is no limit to their depravity. So Mr Political Hopeful’s life spirals out of control and he finds himself taking a walk on the wild side.

Of course we realise fairly early on why Jody went bad, when we see her reading comic books. No wonder those crazy kids don’t believe in anything any more. As in all films of this genre respectability and virtue prevails at the end and we see the shocking price that must be paid by kids who go bad. But Kitten with a Whip is enormously entertaining, it has an amazingly frenetic jazz soundtrack, it has incredible energy, it is (naturally) unintentionally screamingly funny in places, and it boasts an unbelievably hyper and totally over-the-top performance by Ann-Margret. She bounces from one extreme emotion to another, and from cold calculating wicked woman to poor frightened little girl lost in the big bad world. It’s a performance that, surprisingly, works extremely well. This movie works superbly as a camp classic and I highly recommend it. The “so bad it’s good” thing very rarely works out in practice, but in this case it does. And the movie has a real style to it.

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