Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Wild Guitar (1962)

Arch Hall Sr. was an intriguing character as well as a B-movie legend. As a test pilot during the Second World War he gained such a reputation for wildness that he eventually had a movie made about him (The Last Time I Saw Archie) in which he was played by no less an actor than Robert Mitchum. He’s been a B-movie actor since the 1930s and had been writing screenplays for years before finally setting up his own production company called Fairway International Pictures. The company’s first venture was Eegah, a movie with a formidable reputation for insane awfulness.

Like all Fairway’s pictures, it starred Arch Hall Jr. Young Arch’s main asset as an actor, in fact his only asset as an actor, was that he was the son of the producer and owner of the production company. Arch Jr. also contributed original rock’n’roll songs for the soundtracks of all six movies in which he starred. His songwriting and singing skills were every bit as impressive as his acting. When Fairway made Wild Guitar in 1962 Arch Hall Sr had handed over the task of directing to Ray Dennis Steckler, who would later create his own legend by directing The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?.

Wild Guitar is basically a rock’n’roll teen romance movie about a naïve kid named Bud Eagle (Arch Hall Jr) from Spearfish South Dakota who arrives in Hollywood with a motorcycle, a guitar and 15 cents in his pocket. He is befriended by Vicki, a would-be dancer, and thanks to some amazing luck he gets his first break on a TV talent quest. He is then signed by a dishonest and conniving manager named Mike McCauley (played Arch Hall Sr). He becomes a star, but he never gets to see any of the money he’s made. The plots gets sillier and sillier, involving a phoney kidnapping by the world’s most incompetent crooks, before true love triumphs.

Ray Dennis Steckler also acts in the movie, as Mike’s very unmenacing henchman Steak. His acting is very similar to his directing - weird and incompetent but strangely compelling. You don’t believe what you’re seeing, but you have to keep watching. Nancy Czar as Vicki is not only incompetent, she’s also vaguely disturbing, as if she has no idea at all what’s going on. Arch Hall Jr has absolutely zero acting talent.

It all sounds like terrible film, and it is. But it’s a terrible movie very much in the Ed Wood style. As bad as it is, it’s immensely entertaining. And the worst things about the movie are what makes it most entertaining. The movie also seems torn between trying to be a hard-hitting exposé of corruption in the music business and a sentimental feel-good teen romance movie, and the resulting very confused feel gives it an extra touch of weirdness that adds to the charm. Arch Jr’s songs are awful, but they’re also awful in a fun way.

And it has go-go dancing! Vicki’s dancing is like everything else in the movie. Bad, weird but oddly fascinating. And then there’s the scene where Daisy the stripper tries to seduce poor innocent young Bud. Totally un-erotic, and she doesn’t actually take any of her clothes off, but her dancing is bizarre even by the standards of the rest of the movie. There’s just so much bad movie goodness in this picture. Thoroughly enjoyable, and highly recommended. If you’d always regretted that Ed Wood hadn’t made a rock’n’roll teen romance movie then Wild Guitar is a must-see.

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