Friday, April 20, 2012

93. THE SWINGER (1966)

What were they thinking? It was the mid-1960s... Ann-Margret was in her smouldering prime, fresh from standing and dancing her ground opposite Elvis Presley in VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964)... and this was the best vehicle Paramount could offer her? Of course, Elvis went straight from VIVA LAS VEGAS into pictures like TICKLE ME and HARUM SCARUM, so who's to say his flame-haired co-star didn't actually fare a bit better than he?

She plays Kelly Olsson, a wholesome girl from St. Paul who lives in a highly unlikely Los Angeles pad shared with a middle-aged police sergeant (NAKED CITY's Horace McMahon) and a bunch of fun-loving variety show dancers. She's the best dancer in the bunch, so hot she seldom wears anything more than heels and a black danceskin below the waist, but she wants to be a writer! And not just any writer: a writer for GIRL LURE magazine, a pseudo-PLAYBOY competitor published by daffy skirt-chasing Brit Sir Hubert Charles (Robert Coote) and his trim, dashing, prospective son-in-law editor Ric Colby (Anthony Franciosa). They must pay exceptional rates, because the sheltered Kelly doesn't know anything about GIRL LURE, least of all how to write GIRL LURE material. Told her work would be better suited for LADIES' HOME JOURNAL, she returns home, picking up a lot of sleazy paperbacks along the way, which she studies (cue montage of Ann reading TEENAGE STREETWALKER, SEX GIRL and RAPE GIRL RAPE, believe it or not) and uses to write a plagiarized pastiche she entitles THE SWINGER: THE SAGA OF A DEPRAVED YOUNG LADY. But even this is rejected... until she tells Sir Hubert that the story is in fact her autobiography. While she is lying to Ric to ensure publication and getting him into all sorts of compromising positions in front of his fiancée (CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF's Yvonne Romain), he is lying to her (he wises up to her ruse)... and they're both falling in love!

Ann-Margret probably felt she could trust director George Sidney, who had not only directed some of the most colorful musicals ever to come out of Hollywood (SHOWBOAT, JUPITER'S DARLING, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN) but also her own two biggest hits, BYE BYE BIRDIE (1963) and VIVA LAS VEGAS as well. Something clearly went amiss on this production, an attempt to exploit the star's sex appeal as much as possible in a wholesome context, and the fault cannot be entirely attributed to the script by Lawrence Roman, though he also wrote the similarly letchy UNDER THE YUM YUM TREE (1963). This is a case of a movie that wants to do something progressive, but doesn't know which way that is. There is a vibrant pre-credits sequence of our hotcha girl singing on swings and trampoulines, choreographed by David Winters, but the credits that immediately follow are horrendous. At the end, there's another tacked-on attempt to bring the picture more up-to-date, with Ann swinging and sliding around BATMAN-like exclamations of "Bam!" and "Pow!" and "Wham!"

The only moderately successful scenes are an attempted seduction (our heroine sings "I Want To Be Loved" like she means it) and a legendary scene in which she seeks to establish her decadence by letting the magazine publishers see her being used as a paintbrush -- a highlight that Ken Russell later spoofed with baked beans, chocolate and soap suds in TOMMY (1975). Everyone involved seems all too aware of the excruciating falseness of everything, so we are given two different endings -- one of which actually kills off the two leads in a modestly satisfying, headlong collision.

THE SWINGER is at its worst when it tries to beat Louis Malle's ZAZIE at its own game with accelerated chase scenes and flickering still montages of Ann-Margret modeling the most absurd Edith Head monstrosities and looking impish. What is most surprising about it, in a positive sense, is how very nearly it approximates the directorial style of Russ Meyer at times -- the opening montage of Los Angeles sin spots looks like it could have been assembled from MONDO TOPLESS outtakes; it's that distinctive. There is also something about this film's mischievous Kelly that looks forward to Dolly Read's Kelly in BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1969); I would bet this film was one of Roger Ebert's working templates for his screenplay. I also enjoyed much of the supporting cast, especially Milton Frome and Mary La Roche as Kelly's parents and Nydia Westman as Ric's sexually savvy Aunt Cora. If THE SWINGER had been a little more serious, or had couched its absurdity in a more knowing, consistent, underlining style, it might have made all the difference, but its greatest offense is those ridiculous montages, which commit the cardinal sin of making one of the era's great sex symbols not only look foolish but unattractive.

Viewed on Netflix. 

1 comment:

  1. The Swinger was a blast! So glad I stumbled upon it.

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