"Well, there's sure a lot to be said about the pursuit of knowledge!" - George Barton (Martin Milner) in Sex Kittens Go to College
Sex Kittens Go to College (1960) is a truly terrible sci-fi sex comedy from notoriously sleazy and tasteless producer-director Albert Zugsmith. Nevertheless, the movie has a beguiling, even dizzying mix of cult movie talent certain to attract fans of outré fare: Mamie Van Doren, Tuesday Weld, Mijanou Bardot (Bridget's sister), Vampira, Conway Twitty, the sons of Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin, and Elektro, a real robot built by Westinghouse in 1937 (and currently on display in an Ohio museum). Also tantalizing is that this Warner Archive movie-on-demand title (originally released by Allied Artists) is not the standard 94-minute version of the film generally released in America and later on television (as Beauty and the Robot), but rather a racy 103-minute "international" cut featuring topless strippers. But overall the film is much more insufferable than it is fascinating, and it's about as funny as a wet dishrag.
Warner Archive presents the film in 1.85:1 widescreen and it includes an interesting full-frame trailer.
The movie doesn't have so much a plot as a crude premise, followed by an hour or so of utterly pointless frenetic attempts at suggestive humor. At Collins College, scientist Dr. Zorch (Louis Nye) and his assistant, dour Etta Toodle (Vampira, out of character), program their amazing robot-computer Thinko (Elektro) and some of Kenneth Strickfaden's amazing electric gizmos to select the new head of the Science Department.
The entire school turns out to meet Dr. Mathilda West at the local train station, where Dean Myrtle Carter (Pamela Mason) and others briefly mistake Miss Cadwaller (fat Babe London of Laurel & Hardy's Our Wife and innumerable other comedy shorts) for the new instructor. But then to their horror they realize they've hired a buxom platinum blonde (Mamie Van Doren) who, despite sexual stereotypes, holds 13 degrees and speaks no less than 18 languages.
One of the strange (and, by today's more enlightened standards, highly offensive) conceits of the film is that despite her great intellect and impeccable qualifications, administrators are deeply offended that such a gorgeous woman would dare accept such a prestigious position, knowing what an attractive nuisance she would be to both the student body and the lascivious faculty (including John Carradine and Irwin Berke, who lust after her unapologetically).
Other subplots emerge. College student Jody (Tuesday Weld) is in love with football star Woo Woo Grabowski (hot rod innovator-turned-actor Norman Grabowski) but the big lug is hopelessly shy and clueless around beautiful women. Elsewhere, Mafia-types Legs Raffertino (Allan Drake) and lunk-head Boomie (Mickey Shaughnessy) are up to no good, wanting Thinko to predict horse races on their behalf. But that doesn't deter starring-eyed French exchange student Suzanne (Mijanou Bardot, her voice apparently dubbed), who falls for Legs and wants to collaborate with him on a thesis about American gangsters. Conway Twitty gets to sing while Jackie Coogan, playing the college's millionaire benefactor, tries to imitates W.C. Fields.
Oftentimes people with little understanding of how movies are made assume, particularly with regard to comedies, that the actors just make it up as they go along. In the case of Sex Kittens Go to College, the film really does play as if the actors were given a vaguely-defined screenplay with which to work, and instructed by director Zugsmith to come up with their own bits of comedy business to liven things up. The result is Nye and Vampira frantically flail about the film's laboratory set with nothing to do, while seasoned performers like Carradine, Shaughnessy, and Coogan indulge in unforgivable hamminess.
How the project came about is anyone's guess. Zugsmith had scored a minor hit with the enjoyably bad High School Confidential! (1958) with Van Doren, Coogan, and Charles Chaplin Jr., while the credits on Sex Kittens Go to College, a follow-up of sorts, list actor Martin Milner (Adam-12), who plays public relations director George Barton, as an associate producer.
The movie anticipates American International Pictures' (AIP) later, often equally mind-numbing comedies in many respects: a beautiful, often foreign-born outsider (Bardot here), comically inept villains, character stars in featured roles, rock and roll/R&B stars providing musical relief, a mad slapstick finale, sci-fi/fantasy elements, etc. Sex Kittens Go to College is vastly inferior to the best ‘60s AIP comedies, but about on the same level as the lesser, equally unwatchable ones (Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine and Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, etc.).
It also anticipates the spiraling downward career trajectory of producer-director Zugsmith, late of Universal-International, where he became attached to several atypically good movies like Written on the Wind (1956), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), and Touch of Evil (1958), but then quickly descended to the depths of The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960), Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1964), and The Incredible Sex Revolution (1965).
Finally, Sex Kittens Go to College's for the time incredibly racy international version (quite possibly also distributed on the adult circuit in some U.S. markets) acknowledges the rise of sex films precipitated by the rise of underground amateur 8mm reels in the fifties, the permissiveness on display in European films then being distributed in U.S. art houses, and especially the rise of "nudie cuties" and nudist camp films like The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959) and Nude on the Moon (1961) playing grindhouse theaters but nonetheless initially attracting shocked and/or aroused mainstream audiences. Sex Kittens Go to College may have been the first Production Code-era Hollywood studio production to feature the word "Sex" in its title.
(The movie was shot as Sex Pot Goes to College, which is also the film's title song. Apparently Zugsmith attracted a lot of publicity with this title, as the film's trailer calls it "that controversial picture. Nothing changed but the title!" The change to "Sex Kittens" may have been prompted by Tuesday Weld's burst of popularity co-starring on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis around this same time. She's actually sexier in this than Van Doren.)
One suspects advertising falsely hinting that the added nudity would feature the three female leads, but the nearly 10 minutes of "hot stuff," which occurs an hour and 23 minutes into the picture, instead includes only three anonymous strippers who nonetheless appear topless and nearly bottomless. Though tame and even profoundly silly by today's standards, this footage is nonetheless startling in its explicitness relative to the era in which it was made. That the sequence is also the fever dream of Thinko and features a horny midget (Buddy Douglas, who later had an amusing bit in The Graduate) also make it singularly bizarre.
Video & Audio
Presented in black-and-white, 1.85:1 enhanced widescreen, Sex Kittens Go to College looks pretty good, while the Dolby Digital mono, English only with no alternate audio or subtitle options, is likewise fine, and the disc is region-free.
The lone supplement is an odd, full-frame trailer briefly featuring the voice of Mel Blanc, providing narration with a voice that sounds an awful lot like Bugs Bunny.
Sex Kittens Go to College is a real train wreck of a movie, but some will be attracted to the film for precisely that reason. It's quite terrible but certainly worth seeing once, and for that reason Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.