Kitten With a Whip (1964)

“You’re going to think I have an awful dirty mind, David — I change it so often.”

Synopsis:
A juvenile delinquent (Ann-Margret) escapes from reform school and takes refuge in the home of aspiring politician David Stratton (John Forsythe). While Stratton wants nothing to do with her, Jody (Ann-Margret) threatens to reveal his involvement in harboring a fugitive, and soon he finds himself battling Jody’s manipulative pals (Peter Brown and James Ward) down in Tijuana.

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Review:
This unfairly maligned B-flick — referred to by the TV Guide as a “thoroughly hideous and unpleasant movie” — is actually an enjoyably kitschy drama which offers plenty of lurid, sassy entertainment. From the opening shot of sexy Ann-Margret (Jody) running down the street in a baby doll nightgown, we’re taken along for a fast-paced ride as Jody-cum-Goldilocks “accidentally” sleeps in a publicity-conscious senator’s house, takes advantage of his compassion, then quickly reveals her true nature as a deeply manipulative — and deeply troubled — juvenile delinquent. Ann-Margret is perfectly cast (and appropriately over-the-top) as Jody, a wild-card teen with vicious claws; and while many have ridiculed John Forsythe’s performance as Jody’s “square” counterpart, he does a believable job reacting the way a compassionate yet publicity-paranoid politician most likely would.

Just when we think the heated story is going to remain centered on Jody’s manipulation of David (will this red-blooded male — separated from his wife, no less — give in to Jody’s tempting sexual advances?), several new characters are introduced: Peter Brown and James Ward are appropriately creepy and cocky as the hoodlum pals who show up on David’s doorstep, and Diane Sayer (equally good in The Strangler, released the same year) adds just the right touch of guilelessness to her role as “Midge”, a female hanger-on given to saying “Guy!” instead of “God!” By the time the story takes us to Tijuana (ever-reliable as a border-town location of crisis and chaos), we’re anxiously awaiting David’s opportunity to finally break free from the clutches of his juvenile hostage-takers; fortunately, the film’s ending — while improbable — is perhaps the most satisfying of all possible outcomes.

P.S. Kitten With a Whip was spoofed by the MST3K crew (and can be viewed in 10-minute installments on You Tube), but remains a rare entry in that series which bears watching on its own as well, without commentary.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ann-Margret as Jody
    Kitten Whip Ann-Margret
  • John Forsythe as David
    Kitten Whip Forsythe
  • Peter Brown and James Ward as Jody’s hoodlum friends
    Kitten Whip Hoodlums
  • Diane Sayer as naive Midge
    Kitten Whip Midge
  • A luridly enjoyable tale of manipulation
    Kitten Whip Manipulation
  • Plenty of hilariously sassy lingo (“I feel creamy!”)

Must See?
Yes, for its status as a cult favorite. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Kitten With a Whip (1964)”

  1. An absolute MUST!: see it as soon as humanly possible, if not sooner! It’s a winner from the get-go (thanks first to music supervisor Joseph Gershenson’s use of ‘stock music’, including that of Henry Mancini!).

    Compelling plot notwithstanding (agreed, it is compulsively watchable pulp), ‘KWAW’ is easily in the top ten of all-time camp howlers. Who can resist such tantalizing, ‘quotable quips’ as:

    “Everything’s so creamy!”

    “I’m with Bucko.”
    “I’m with your wheels, no-face.”

    “How come you think you’re such a smoky something when you’re so NOTHING painted blue?!”

    “Cool it, you creep, and co-exist!”

    “Maybe you can’t help being a loser, but this time you asked for it!”

    “She’s the succuba.” (pronounced ‘suckaba’)

    “What an oof is that Buck!”

    …among many, many others.

    One can’t help but pause and wonder: who the hell dropped acid, then sat down at the typewriter?

    Oddly enough, the ‘film’ is perfectly cast. Undoubtedly, Forsythe (as Ann-Margret says, “a whole bottle and then a drop.”) was first choice for screenwriter/director Douglas Heyes (who went from tv, to this, and basically back to tv).

    One can’t say enough about the early ‘work’ of Ann-Margret. I’ve often wondered why gay men haven’t embraced her as an icon. Mayhaps she’s not damaged-enough goods. That’s it – she’s too…empowered.

    Too-old-for-their-roles Peter Brown and Skip Ward (who would return to Mexico again, to better advantage, in ‘The Night of the Iguana’) are a dynamic duo indeed.

    And who knew Diane Sayer (as Midge) would walk away (unscathed) with the picture? No kidding – she actually exudes plausible subtext.

    No small thanks also to DP Joe Biroc, dependably playing it as it lays.

    Fave scene: A-M threatens to make things very difficult for Forsythe while an unusually loud tv (in center focus) is running a Sylvester cartoon – complete literally with bells and whistles.

    MST3K’s version is among their best – but do call your friends and have your own fun. My copy was taped from NY’s ch. 55 – as the final credits roll, an announcer’s voice says, “Tune in tomorrow at 10 (a.m.) for another great movie!” Will do!!!

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