Hollywood had a hard time dealing with the '60s, and more specifically, the growing counterculture. For a while, they just ignored it, assuming it was all a youth coup phase and that The Establishment would right the constantly shifting social paradigm eventually. As the War in Vietnam raged on and the Generation Gap grew exponentially, it soon became clear that Beach Blanket Bingos weren't going to keep Joe and Jane Teenager from tuning in, turning on, and dropping out...of the demographic. So the studios responded like any out of touch adult - they tried to be 'cool.' While actual rebels such as Dennis Hopper were truly in touch with the adolescent unrest at hand, clueless copycats like American International Pictures produced propaganda such as Riot on Sunset Strip. Meant as a kind of expose on the situation simmering in Los Angeles (and by inference, the rest of the country), this laughable lambasting exists for only one reason - to prove that parents can try, but really don't understand...and then they get really angry when the Flower Power and Peace Movement miscreants get/hit a bit too close to home. Even the most sympathetic adult turns testy the minute his bubble blond daughter starts hanging with "the wrong crowd."
It's the late '60s and LA's infamous Sunset Strip is alive with hippies (or what this movie believes are 'hippies') and other nondescript teen troublemakers (including a couple of misplaced beatniks). While the local businesses and merchants complain about the misguided and misspent youth, Lieutenant Walt Lorimer (Aldo Ray) tries to quell the concerns. He sympathizes, understanding that adolescent loitering and indiscretions are hard to defend, yet he also believes a light police hand should be used in maintaining order. Of course, none of that matters once he discovers what happened to his distant daughter Andy (Mimsy Farmer). Lorimer had not see his child in over four years, his alcoholic ex (Hortense Petra) having kept her away from his stern, structured ways. Now, she has fallen in with a bunch of riff-raff who do drugs and live life with a carefree carelessness - and it eventually costs her. Our hero's reaction rewrites the realities about any potential passivity on law enforcement's part.
From the moment the narrator begins his "here's the situation" screed, you just know Riot on Sunset Strip is going to be goofy. The voice over reminds us of dozens of dopey "scare films" from the past - Mom and Dad, Reefer Madness, I Accuse My Parents - each one deciding that fear and forced stereotyping will countermand compassion and consideration any day. There is no desire to discuss the real reasons behind the teen unrest in California, to pinpoint the problem with any kind of clear sociological rationalizing. Instead, we get the Central Casting concept of high school rebellion/delinquency meshed with familiar character actors faces fuming over these misguided kids. Fashions scream a quick glance through a 1964 copy of Life Magazine while the music is provided by such well known novelties as The Standells and The Chocolate Watch Band. Everything here screams low rent and an even lower budget. AIP was known for being fairly hip at the time, taking the current trends into consideration when cranking out its destined for the drive-in product. But the balancing act attempted here, the desire to play both provocateur and peacemaker just doesn't work.
Part of the problem is Ray. He is a fire hydrant, a man made to look like a '60s peacenik's worst nightmare. Trying to be patient with these punks may be his primary performance motivation, but the truth is that he's really here to go gonzo once he discovers what has happened to his baby girl. The whole broken home angle is so hackneyed, so wrenched from the pages of a preschool PhD's dissertation that it doesn't bear further mention. By arguing that there was nothing underneath the anarchy except Mommy and Daddy not finding a way to avoid divorce is dumb - but that's Riot on Sunset Strip. It's a single IQ entity that loses even more intelligence points along the way. Once we get past the awkward dance sequences inside the cliche-named Pandora's Box hangout, the LSD freakouts and Chamber of Commerce concern, we are left with an illegitimate excuse for entertainment. If it was campier or more kitschy, we could enjoy it as something so bad/sad it's good. Instead, it's just laugh out loud lame.
Still, as a time capsule to the moment when the wave broke over the horizon and threatened to wipe out the conservative, calculated norm we all knew (to borrow liberally from Hunter S. Thompson), Riot on Sunset Strip has its moments of unintentional charm. Watching a world viewed through the eyes of someone unfamiliar with its insular ideals is indeed mesmerizing - like experiencing a docudrama on the late '90s where every adolescent in literally painting as being in a boy band. Better still, the conversations crackle with the kind of pseudo-psychobabble superficiality which renders self-expression and discovery akin to the Seven Deadly Sins. Ray can try to be a voice of reason, but his reaction to his daughter's predicament shows the true face of the enemy - brutal, thick-necked, and militaristic. Sure, the youth movement imploded under its own post-Woodstock hedonism, but the fact remains that, had it stayed around and actually prospered, we'd have more people like Lieutenant Walt Lorimer. At least, that's the message of this otherwise meaningless movie.
Visually, the elements used to create this DVD are actually quite good. They are colorful and clean with only minimal marks or elements of age. Even better, the film is offered in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image that really accents the various sets and locations used by director Arthur Dreifuss. Sure, some of the stock footage of the Sunset Strip fails to match the manmade material, but in general, the transfer is terrific.
While it is thin and reedy, the Dolby Digital Mono mix is actually fairly decent. The middling psychedelic acid rock music definitely suffers, but the dialogue is always clear and comprehendible, and the sense of location and place palatable. Overall, a decent aural offering.
As with many of the Made on Demand titles, there is no added content. Not even a trailer.
Unlike other lost gems from the end of the 1960s, Riot on Sunset Strip deserves its forgotten status. No matter the novelty of Aldo Ray in schizophrenic peacemaker/powder keg mode, or the amazingly awful din that's supposed to pass for hipster music here, the movie remains inert in both its approach and appeal. Still, some might find it intriguing as a misguided mirror of the times, so a rating of Rent It is recommended. This way, you can judge your own internal tolerances for such noxious nostalgia without paying a premium. Truth be told, Hollywood is never very good at capturing the contemporary zeitgeist. Just look around today at what it thinks it's cool and you'll immediately understand something like Riot on Sunset Strip. Never had being so out of touch been so painful - scholastically and cinematically.
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