4 / 5 stars
Did this past election season scramble your brain? Fry your sensibilities? Eviscerate your tolerance for bad taste? Don’t fret. Once again, the Quirky Queue is here to the rescue, this time straight from the 1960s! This month’s entry, Wild In The Streets, is a farcical and sometimes frightening look at what happens when pop culture and politics collide. (Click on the movie poster for a bigger view.)
Max Frost (Christopher Jones) flees his stifled father and abusively oppressive mother (Shelley Winters) for sunny California, where he not only becomes a music legend but a cult of personality. Together with his entourage, Max begins to wield political strength by utilizing the fame of burgeoning senator Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook). Fearing mass youth rioting, the nation changes its voting age to 14.
Eventually, age requirements for civil service are lowered to 14 as well and Frost is elected the youngest President of the United States at the age of 22. With his newfound power, Max buses everyone over 40 to barbed wire camps, where they are force-fed LSD and guarded by teenagers brandishing guns and clubs. Take that, old man.
Wild in the Streets is deeply embedded in its time period, but is also eerily prophetic in its sharp political satire. Fifty years before the recent talk of “percentages,” Frost begins chants of “the 52%,” referring to the portion of the population under 25 in 1968. The film even includes a scene of policemen shooting and killing young demonstrators, just a couple of years before the infamous Kent State incident would make the unthinkable a reality.
Even though the movie’s plot becomes increasingly implausible, it’s still rather easy to become swept up in it due to a clever, well-written script and a cast filled with great professionals. Shelley Winters is dead on as Max’s mother, who sees him somewhere between hoodlum and prophet. Hal Holbrook gives a masterful and sympathetic performance as the well-meaning Fergus, caught between the changing times and the influential older political guard. Throw in Ed Begley, Sr. and a young Richard Pryor, and you have an enjoyable film that is able to evoke some serious and
thought provoking themes despite its outlandish events.
Narrated by voice-over legend Paul Frees, Wild in the Streets boasts a glut of uncredited cameos including Walter Winchell, Dick Clark, and celebrity attorney Melvin Belli. You’ll even find a pre-Brady Bunch Barry Williams as the young Frost. Even better, the film displays some great modern editing techniques, which earned it an Academy Award nomination in the category. (It lost to the Steve McQueen classic Bullitt).
Featuring the song “Shape of Things to Come” (which reached #22 on the US Billboard charts), Wild in the Streets, with it’s unique dystopian view, is perhaps the most bizarre political farce ever put on film. Despite its obvious ending, the film’s payoff is still satisfying; produced by B-movie god Samuel Z. Arkoff (Sugar Hill), Wild will definitely relieve any lingering tensions over our current political system with a glimpse of a world much worse than our own.