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DVD Savant is compelled by peer pressure to write about great cinema like Intolerance and Citizen Kane, with the result that we often forget the crying need for reviews of movies like Albert Zugsmith's lunatic Sex Kittens Go to College. This maladroit 1960 release doesn't generate a real laugh in 103 minutes of exhaustingly desperate farcical hysteria. The cast list alone will draw the curious, who will then wonder what alternate dimension the film came from (not a bad quality, actually). Compared to Sex Kittens, Otto Preminger's Skiddoo is a profound statement on the human condition. Bad movies slip from the memory, but some are so, um, unique that they leave indelible marks on the brain. Sex Kittens Go to College is just such a movie.
Things are hopping at Collins College, where the new arrival, genius Dr. Mathilda West (Mamie Van Doren) quickly puts the male faculty members into a libidinous spin. Researcher Dr. Zorch (Louis Nye) is concerned about Thinko, a large stationary robot-computer that is suffering from 'mental' problems. 1 Publicity director George Barton (Martin Milner) worries about how Dr. West will fit in. Grinning Prof. Watts (John Carradine) is gaga over West, as is the millionaire college bigwig Wildcat McPherson (Jackie Coogan, doing a W.C. Fields impression). Varsity football star Woo Woo Grabowski (Norman "Woo Woo" Grabowski) gets the hots for Dr. West, requiring her to use psychology to cool him off. Jealous teen Jody (Tuesday Weld) thinks West has seduced Woo Woo, her boyfriend. Dr. Myrtle Carter (Pamela Mason) is also insanely jealous of Dr. West. Slipping onto campus are the comic gangsters Legs Raffertino and Boomie (Allan Drake & Mickey Shaughnessy). They have a special interest in Thinko, who has been helping them place gambling bets on the side. French exchange student Suzanne (Mijanou Bardot, sister of Brigitte) seduces the goofy Boomie, for reasons unexplained. Performing down at the local malt shop is country-flavored rock star Conway Twitty.
Everybody works overtime trying to get laughs in Sex Kittens Go to College, which was filmed under the far more respectable title "Sexpot Goes to College". Despite the high quota of talent, half-talent and passing-for-talent on screen, it's a painful process. The verbal jokes just sit there, the pitiful slapstick antics go nowhere, and promiscuous mugging is the order of the day. Director Zugsmith's staging and cutting is primitive at best. He fills three or four sets with characters and hopes something will happen. Exteriors look like normal reality, but we feel like we're in another galaxy, where burlesque humor has inter-bred with comedy from vintage TV sitcoms. We see no actual classrooms in this college campus; the athletic facilities include playground equipment suitable for a grade school.
Zugsmith deserves honorable mention for assembling a truly weird cast. Were they all personal friends? Martin Milner is an associate producer. How Mijanou Bardot wound up with this for her one and only movie role is a total mystery. The film uses cutaways to insert Tuesday Weld into the opening scene, as if her availability were limited, or they had trouble getting her to show up during filming. We see Tuesday doing her ditzy, pouting teen beauty act, and can only think of all the odd and unrewarding roles she took around this time.
More proof that Albert Zugsmith was a friend of free-range Hollywood actors shows up in the bits. Although she gets prominent billing as Vampira, Maila Nurmi is seen only fleetingly and is best recognized through the line of her eyebrows. Along with several other female cast members, Nurmi/Vampira dons a platinum blonde wig for more 'fun' in the anything-goes (mostly nowhere) conclusion. Besides a Ms. Bardot (Mijanou), the film also features tiny bits with those great comedians Charlie Chaplin (Junior) and Harold Lloyd (Junior). Outclassing the dull robot and most of the bit performances is an extremely well trained chimp called Abraham Q. Voltaire. The ape is given featured status throughout the film, enforcing a truly infantile level of comedy. He's the only one permitted to ogle the girls and flash huge sex-crazed grins. As much as Abraham gives us a headache, we readily admit that his comic timing and precision are darn good.
The "outrageous" finale reveals the curvaceous Dr. West's secret identity. She's really Tassels Monclair, an exotic dancer and the object of universal male lust. Embracing her earlier career, Dr. West does some burlesque gyrations on the malt shop's dance floor, which provokes yet more infantile, censor-proof silliness among the aroused male faculty. Actor John Carradine simply looks out of place dancing in an impromptu conga line, but Jackie Coogan's manic grin is a great fit for Sex Kitten's bizarre vibe. Coogan's millionaire parachutes into the party from his private helicopter, a wacky entrance similar to W.C. Fields' gyrocopter arrival in the vintage classic International House. Coogan then realizes that he left the 'copter on autopilot, with nobody on board. "I lose more helicopters that way!" I hate to say so, but that may be the movie's funniest line.
International House is an oversexed, genuinely liberating madcap 'party' comedy. Hellzapoppin' is a self-reflexive concept party comedy that achieves its own feeling of giddy insanity. Sex Kittens is a strange disaster composed of plenty of good ingredients. But it's in dire need of a workable script.
Albert Zugsmith should be listed as a Hollywood original, not necessarily a schlockmeister or specialist in grotesque poor taste. There's no producer quite like him. He began ten years before producing cheap but effective Sci-fi films like Invasion U.S.A.. He put together the 3D ode to burlesque Top Banana (aha, a theme emerges). Gravitating to Universal, he produced such top-notch auteur classics as Written on the Wind, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Tarnished Angels and Touch of Evil. Zugsmith's production of Jack Arnold's High School Confidential seems to have been his jumping-off point into the sleazy margins of Hollywood filmmaking. He directed College Confidential before Sex Kittens, and from there penetrated deeper into the taste-challenged limbo of things like The Private Lives of Adam and Eve and the indescribably weird, Vincent Price- starring Confessions of an Opium Eater.
Sex Kittens Go to College doesn't utilize much in the way of leering or innuendo, and steers clear of anything remotely erotic. Mamie Van Doren's earlier vehicles usually focused on sexy dance scenes, as in Untamed Youth. Here she has the sexpot role down pat. She delivers her lines well and keeps the energy up, and comes off as a pro performer. The script's final letdown is having her Dr. West character abandon her genius side, to go back to stripping and tassel tossing. This movie has everything -- it's crude, dumb and sexist too. Lonely guys buying movie tickets back in 1960 were surely disappointed to find that no actual Van Doren tassel tossing ever occurs.
The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R of Sex Kittens Go to College is a flawless enhanced encoding of this B&W bad taste extravaganza from an earlier era of prurience. It's in perfect shape. Ellis W. Carter's cinematography is all high-key TV lighting, but the stars certainly look attractive.
An original trailer is present, packed with Allied Artists' hyped ad copy: "You Never SAW A Student Body Like This! The posters and ads are actually fairly sophisticated, and that stack of name stars must have pulled a more than a few curious folk into the theater: "Never Before Has the Screen Had So Much Fun with A STUDENT BODY!" It reads like an incitement for campus rapists.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Sex Kittens Go to College rates:
1. With a couple of alterations, "Thinko" is a repurposed robot called "Electro", the once- famous exhibition automaton created by Westinghouse Appliance for the 1939 World's Fair. Who'da thunk it?
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T'was Ever Thus.