Wild in the Streets (1968)

“Our young people are citizens. They’re concerned, committed, original, vital — they are citizens; we must give them the rights of citizens.”

Synopsis:
Senator Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook) uses popular rock star Max Frost (Christopher Jones) as a political ploy to gain the country’s “youth vote.” Things quickly spin out of control, however, when Frost and his friends entreat the nation not to “trust anyone over 30”.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary describes this cult AIP flick as a “vile movie, a fascist fantasy, an insult to America’s politically conscious youth” — but I think he misses the point. Wild in the Streets is actually a relatively smart, pointed satire which isn’t afraid to carry its provocative (albeit ludicrous) premise to a logical end. When Shelley Winters (perfectly cast as Max’s hypocritical, brown-nosing mother) accidentally shouts out, “I’m an Aryan!” as she’s dragged away by the regime’s Age Police, the allegory between Frost’s Youth-topia and Hitler’s Third Reich couldn’t be clearer. These may be “awful characters”, as Peary notes, but who says power doesn’t corrupt?

Once they’ve managed to take over the White House and imprison anyone over 35 in LSD “concentration camps”, director Barry Shear doesn’t allow Frost and his cronies to rest on the laurels of their successful coup. Instead, the film continues inexorably along its dystopic path: when Frost informs Fergus’s young daughter, Mary, that he’s 24, she responds with youthful disdain, “That’s old!” The fear on Frost’s face at this moment shows that he’s beginning to realize (perhaps too late) the folly of his logic.

Inevitable comparisons have been made between this film and 1968’s Privilege — an equally provocative satire about a popular musician used for nefarious political purposes. But ultimately the films take radically different approaches to their subject matter. Privilege revolves around a patsy rock star who gradually comes to realize that his very identity is being manipulated by the government. Frost, however, is politically savvy from the get-go, and never lets up on his bitter thirst to elimate the equation of age and experience with wisdom and ability.

P.S. For an interesting look at recent attempts to eliminate ageism in society, check out the Americans for a Society Free from Age Restrictions website.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jones’s charismatic portrayal as Max Frost (though his ratty ponytail has got to go!)
  • Appearances by three cult favorites: Richard Pryor (as Frost’s drummer); Shelley Winters (compellingly shrill as always); and Barry Williams (Greg of “Brady Bunch” fame) in a short scene as the young Max
  • Catchy, if annoying, songs

Must See?
Yes. This cult movie may offend those who have fond memories of the 1960s youth movement, but today the film comes across as a surprisingly provocative, biting satire.

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One Response to “Wild in the Streets (1968)”

  1. A wacky must.

    It doesn’t take a lot to be a cult favorite. Take screenwriter Robert Thom. He gave us a handful: this, and things like ‘The Legend of Lylah Clare’, ‘Bloody Mama’, ‘Crazy Mama’ and ‘Angel, Angel, Down We Go’ (which he also directed). Not a lot, overall – but enough to secure a place in the hearts of film fanatics.

    ‘WITS’ has a patently absurd script which was taken 100% seriously by director Shear (who came from tv, made this, and pretty much went back to tv). It’s a rare AIP flick that actually had something on its mind but was still drive-in fodder. It has the added plus of being supported by a class-act cast: Jones, Holbrook, Winters (!!!), Pryor, Ed Begley (very game), Millie Perkins and Diane Varsi. (There’s also a guest appearance by Dick Clark!)

    There’s an added plus: the score by hit-makers Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Usually in films that are not musicals yet have songs that figure prominently, the score is forgettable – and often embarrassing enough to sink a film. Here we have a score which – aside from the single that became a hit: ‘Shape of Things to Come’ – does not stand on its own apart from the film it was created for, yet is plot-centric. (The same kind of thing happens in Russ Meyer’s howl-fest ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’.)

    If for no other reason, see it for Winters’ revelatory performance (“I’m sure my son has a very good reason for paralyzing the country.”) – though she gets stiff competition from Hal Holbrook (“From now on, you read ‘Winnie the Pooh’ or you don’t read anything! And ‘Little Women’! ‘Little Women’!).

    This one may stay with you more than expected.

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