Ah, this movie. It’s hard to sum this film up simply but let me give it a shot…. Lana Turner trips balls.
Okay, maybe that wasn’t so hard. From that description, you may have guessed that this movie takes place in the late 60’s, (1969 to be exact) and deals with the “hippie drug culture” of the time. Now, there are two types of films from this era that deal with this subject matter. One is generally sympathetic and sides with the counter culture, like Billy Jack. The second kind takes the “dirty hippie” approach and warns of the dangers in LSD use and free love. This one definitely is of the latter which also makes it a hell of a lot more fun. The thing is that for years, these films were laughed at for their outrageous assumptions about what the counter culture was all about but now with almost 50 years of hindsight and with the baby boomers legacy a lot more fleshed out, I have to say that a lot of those outrageous assumptions seem to ring pretty true now, strangely enough. Of course, it doesn’t make their portrayal in films like this any less entertaining but it does add another psychological layer of historic content that makes for an interesting time capsule.
Let’s get to it.
Lana Turner plays Adriana Roman, a successful stage actress who just retired to marry old tycoon Charles Winthrop played by none other than Daniel O’Herlihy who you will remember as the OCP chairman in Robocop who fires Ronny Cox so Murphy can light him up at the end. He was also Alex Rogan’s reptilian co-pilot in The Last Starfighter and played another rich tycoon Andrew Packard, who also dies in a boating accident but not really; in Twin Peaks. Don’t worry. I didn’t ruin anything there.
There’s one problem with the happy couple’s new life. It’s Winthrop’s daughter Lisa (Karin Mossberg) who’s a spoiled little rich girl who speaks with a curious Slavic accent that’s never explained and thinks Adriana is here to steal her daddy away from her which yeah, she kind of is because you know what young lady? Daddy has needs to so go to college already and deal with it.
Anyway, after Adriana says goodbye to her obviously lovelorn screenwriting partner Frederick Landsdale (Richard Egan), the newlyweds leave young Lisa to her own devices as they go off on a romantic getaway/honeymoon or something.
Having the mansion all to herself, young Lisa invites her party girl friend over, Bibi (Pamela Rogers) whose first idea is to call up half a dozen guys and have an orgy. I like this chick. She’s got curves in all the right places and a dirty mind. I just can’t figure out how these two became friends because Lisa is annoyingly uptight and naive.
Shooting down that idea, Lisa ends up hanging out with all of Bibi’s friends instead who all turn out to be yuppie kids playing hippies so they can party and get laid easy. You know, like about 90% of actual “hippies” from back in the day. These kids have just gone the extra mile and kept their clean cut hairstyles and washed their clothes. There’s also a creepy older guy who considers himself an artist that none of these 20 year olds seems to mind hanging out with and it’s pretty obvious he’s just there because he’s found a great way to bang young girls who could easily be his daughter. Can’t say I blame him.
It’s here that Lisa meets Johnny Allen (George Chakiris) who immediately takes a liking to Lisa when he notices all of her bling and correctly deduces that she’s got rich parents. Add to that how obvious it is that Lisa is a sheltered sucker that can easily be manipulated and Johnny wastes no time in turning on the charm, which is easy for him considering he’s basically an evil James Darren. Or maybe it was that awesome chin dimple that seduces Lisa.
Before long Lisa is accompanying Bibi and her swinging friends to a trippy club where the cigarette girl is actually handing out free acid and everyone’s tripping except for Lisa who is totally oblivious to what’s going on around her. This scene is right out of an Austin Powers movie and I’m pretty sure Mike Meyers studied this film for preparation.
The scene climaxes when the creepy old guy spikes a rivals drink with acid and the guy has an awesome freakout.
The next day Johnny is questioned by a detective and the head of the university where he’s studying medicine because the guy who freaked out ran through the streets and was hit by a car and killed. It turns out they found the LSD in his system and Johnny is accused of using the college’s lab to make acid for all of his cool friends which he most certainly is. He’s expelled and now really puts the grifter screws to Lisa. Just in time too because Lisa’s dad is killed in a boating accident with Adriana and is about to come into some money along with Turner. There’s just one hitch. In his will, her dad has left Adriana in charge and Lisa is to be disinherited if she marries Johnny unless Adriana gives here consent. Since everyone in this movie can see this kids true intentions from a mile away, Adriana refuses said consent, which really messes with Johnny’s plans.
Johnny’s next move is to convince the easily manipulated Lisa that Adriana actually murdered her dad. Being a lovesick moron, she falls for it and Johnny unveils his new plan to get that green and this is where the real fun begins.
Already under a lot of stress over the death of her man, Adriana’s sedatives are switched out by Johnny with LSD and Turner begins a series of Magic Carpet Rides while Johnny and Lisa play back subliminal messages for her that drive her totally batty.
Lisa just wants to get her committed to an insane asylum so she’ll be declared insane and unable to carry out Winthrop’s will, freeing Lisa to marry Johnny. Sounds harmless enough but Johnny takes things a step further and tells Adriana to jump off the balcony on the subliminal messages and she almost does before Lisa steps in to save her. See? Lisa’s not so bad after all. The acid trips have made Adriana snap to the point of amnesia where she forgets all the trauma of the boating accident and everything after.
Now Johnny and Lisa are free to get married and their nuptials are a full on hippie party where everyone’s getting high and driving motorcycles into the pool. This is where Johnny finally takes things so far even Lisa figures it out when he decides to bang Bibi on his wedding night instead of his bride because hey, be groovy baby. It’s all good.
Lisa decides it’s NOT good and after Johnny tries to blackmail her with what they’ve done in exchange for a $100,000 divorce, she decides she’ll go to Adriana’s old playwright pal, Frederick instead and together they hatch a crazy plan to save Adriana and restore her memory. Frederick will write one last play for Adriana that she’ll star in but the hitch is that the play will be all about the events of the movie, thereby forcing Adriana to relive it all as her crazy LSD trips are recreated with the subliminal messages on the sound system and crazy stage lighting. If this doesn’t jog her memory, nothing will and call me crazy but this actually sounds like it would work.
In case, you haven’t guessed, everything works out. Lisa and Adriana become BFF’s, Adriana totally gets over her husband’s untimely death and hooks up with Frederick and Johnny, now completely shunned by his pals because he no longer has the hookup, ends up in squalor tripping his balls off which in the last shot implies that he either went insane or died. That’s what I read out of the ending sequence anyway where Lisa, Adriana and Frederick drive off from the scene of their new opening play to pass an ambulance that’s probably carrying Johnny.
Altogether, this is a fun, over the top movie that is a great look of the mindset of the time and the influence of those dirty hippies on film itself.
The look and tone are one part Hair, one part Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls and one part old Batman episode. There are lots of hippie parties, everyone who you want to get naked gets naked and Lana Turner’s trips are just that. It’s also fun to see her freak out. Then there’s all the great lines like Johnny meeting Lisa for the first time saying “Who’s your groovy friend?’, or when he’s describing an LSD trip to Lisa; “Strange things begin to happen. You ah, see sounds. You hear colors.” Yeah Johnny, totally accurate.
I doubt this is what the hippie culture was actually like but after living through the 80’s and 90’s the hypocrisy of this generation that’s depicted here feels pretty accurate upon reflection. The hippies are basically depicted as free wheeling frauds just looking for an excuse to party down and discard their “friends” the instant they’re not useful to them anymore. As it turns out, that wasn’t far off the mark considering this is almost exactly what occurred at Andy Warhol’s Factory, which was depicted pretty well in I Shot Andy Warhol (1996). This negative view of the times also goes a little too far in my opinion when it also seems to lump in Timothy Leary’s LSD experiments with his patients as a new psychological tool of the time. Johnny’s abuse of LSD as a studying physician is a clear swipe at this and summed up by what the deans response to him after he asks for a second chance: “To play God? To learn to twist the human mind where you should learn to heal it? Too debase what you should uplift? Too many doctors now think more of their pleasure than their practices.”
Wow, that’s pretty harsh. One thing I never had a problem with was acid being used as part of psychological therapy and the only reason why it stopped was because of the youth counter culture of the time, abusing it and taking things too far which shut down any legitimate research for good. Too bad because I’m reminded of what a friend of mine used to say: “ There’s plenty of people in this world who need to stop doing drugs and plenty of people who need to start.”
The production of the film itself is interesting because even though it’s supposed to take place in California, it was shot in Mexico around Acapulco which is actually a pretty good stand in most of the time but gives itself away here and there. It’s also one of the more interesting takes on the material since this was written and directed by Chilean filmmaker Tito Davison who started out in Hollywood as a comic actor in Spanish language films so not only is this film made by the older generation about the younger generation but by Latin storytellers about American culture.
The actors are all good. Lana Turner is great and shows that old school professionalism where she can’t help but to give it her all no matter how campy the script.
George Chakiris as Johnny plays it to the hilt as the scheming charmer who oozes sleaze just underneath the surface and who was probably best remembered as the leader of the Sharks in West Side Story.
Pamela Rodgers is gorgeously and wonderfully slutty as the hot friend who is the very definition of easy. She’s so sexy that even when old man Winthrop shows up and gives her a disapproving glare, I can swear there’s a subtext where this guys is frustrated by how much his daughter’s friend turns him on and I got the feeling that he would totally hit that the first chance he got. Too bad 50 year-old Lana Turner was always hanging around. Rodgers made a career out of playing this type of girl showing up in Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine, various episodes of shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and Laugh-In where I’m sure she gave Goldie Hawn a run for her money.
This movie is worth it just to see the striptease dance she does for her friends which starts out scary but has a great climax.
Richard Egan as the playwright Frederick is of note mainly for his awesome voice. It seems he was Rod Serling’s original choice to narrate The Twilight Zone but because of contractual obligations, he couldn’t do it. Since he was his first choice, Serling decided to narrate the show himself rather than have anyone other than Egan step into the role. Happily, that worked out really well for the rest of us but it’s hard not to listen to this guy’s distinctive voice and wonder at what might have been.
The one weak link in the chain here is Lisa herself played by Karin Mossberg who plays the role pretty stiff and it seems this was the consensus at the time because she only has two other credits besides this one. It was probably her thick Swedish accent because her entire role here was dubbed over by another actress which curiously sounds Armenian or something.
Either way, The Big Cube is a great addition to the psychedelic film genre that is a curiosity of the times and it’s a blast to see one of classic Hollywood’s leading lady’s camp it up. Worth watching.