Friday, January 23, 2009

The Young Graduates (1971)

Directed by Robert Anderson
Starring Patricia Wymer, Tom Stewart, Gary Rist, Bruno Kirby
Rated GP
Buy this bitchin' poster!

"Pills and booze. Wow."

Somebody ought to revive The Young Graduates as a rickety stage play, preferably one cast by today's most over-reaching young thespians. Is Tara Reid too old to play 18? She'd be perfect. We get all these young druggy screwballs together, fit them into body-hugging yarn dresses and bell-bottoms, give them cardboard dune buggies to drive around in, and hand them the script to the Young Graduates.

Here, let's picture it, using the film's first scene. In it, Mindy (exploitation mini-legend Patricia Wymer) and her goofy boyfriend Bill (Gary Rist), are sitting in Bill's buggy - the same kind that Charles Manson wanted to strap machine guns to - and discussing the fact that tomorrow is Mindy's 18th birthday. I'm going with creepy Evan Rachel Wood for Mindy, and Superbad's own Jonah Hill for Bill. Because Jonah Hill would totally own a beach buggy, if he could.

Evan Rachel Wood, batting her eyelashes: "Don't I get a present?"
Jonah Hill, sweating profusely and twisting the knob on the AM radio, which only seems to play suggestive, Hammond-organ driven jungle-surf:"Not until after midnight, when you're no longer legally jailbait."
Evan Rachel Wood, laughing sadistically. "What are you, on uppers?"
Jonah, actually serious about it: "The way you heat me up, I should be on downers."
EVR, punching him. "Ha ha. You are on uppers!"

I am willing to direct, for a nominal fee.

The Young Graduates is awesomely retro. Everything about it screams early 70's, from the topsy-turvy moral values to the relentlessly groovy soundtrack to the vintage threads and the post-Altamont downer vibe. The parents are all mixed-up squares who are either beating on the kids or trying to get them in bed, and the kids? Well, the kids just wanna ride their machines without being hassled by the man. It's like a bummed-out Beach Party flick with a strung-out Annette and an angst-addled Frankie. Since I was a mere infant when this was released in 1971, it is impossible for me to say whether The Young Graduates is an accurate representation of teen life in the late 60's/early 70's, but I'm guessing it was not. Now? Well sure, it's accurate now. Teachers fuck students constantly now. And then they write about it on Facebook or whatever. But in 1971, the idea was probably more fantasy than fact. Dunno. Ask your mom.

So, we have established that Mindy will be 18 tomorrow. Bill agrees to loan her his buggy to do whatever she wants on her birthday. Bad move, Bill. Meanwhile, Mindy's BFF Sandy (Marly Holiday, rocking an awe-inspiring Linda Lovelace porn-fro) has set up a surprise party for her. Too bad Mindy's got other plans.

See, there's this teacher, Jack (Tom Stewart), at Mindy's high school. He's married to the girls' gym teacher, Gretchen (gorgeous redhead Jennifer Ritt), but their marriage is on the rocks, as evidenced by a hellacious scene where Gretchen flatly denies Jack's advances.
"If there was a whorehouse in town, he growls at her, "I'd be tempted!"
"Oh, that's funny!" Gretchen replies.
"This town couldn't afford a whorehouse with all the competition your little high school girls would give it."
Rolling his eyes - he's heard this bullshit before - Jack storms out of the room.
"Where are you going?" Asks Gretchen.
"Where I always get my jollies on Friday night," he snorts, wagging an accusatory finger.
"Watching the late, late show."
Poor bastard. Gretchen is totally hot.

The next day, Mindy takes Bill's goofy car and rumbles over to Jack's house. He'd taken an unflattering picture of her at a school dance, and she's come to retrieve it from him. At least that's her excuse. As soon as she gets in the house, she rubs up against him, purrs, the whole bit. She lays it on so thick that you can practically hear the big globs of sweat dripping off this poor sap's brow. Gretchen's out of town for the weekend, so Mindy suggests they go to the mountains to take pictures for the afternoon. No big whoop, daddy-o. Just a little nature photography.
"It wouldn't be right," Jack says, sensibly. "I'm your teacher, after all."
"Ah well," says Melinda, "Your loss."
And then she starts to leave.
"Melinda? I'll be ready in two minutes," says our doomed Teach, as the camera zooms in crazily on Melinda's malicious grin.

At first it seems like Jack might actually pull this off without completely wrecking his life. He frolics freely with young miss Mindy, but for most of the afternoon, all they really do is climb rocks and take pictures. But then Mindy spies a bunch of hippies skinny dipping in a lake, and being 18 and willing, she peels off her clothes (she was going commando, by the way) and jumps in with 'em. What's a stuffy 30-something school teacher/amateur photographer/maker of bad choices to do? He pulls off his square threads and jumps into the naked fray, rolling around with the kids in the water, naked and weird and having a fuckin' ball.

Later on, they end up at the hippy pad, popping pills and chomping on some gross grub. Feeling the moment, Mindy and Jack lock lips. The Groovy Bunch exit stage left so they can fuck on the floor.

Few days later, Jack tells Mindy that it's over, baby. He might have spoke too soon, as Gretchen announces she's going on vacation with her mother for most of the summer.
Later that evening, Mindy and Sandy have a long and troubling talk about their future. It becomes increasingly clear that Mindy is a horrible, contemptuous young woman.

Mindy (once again played by Evan Rachel Wood): "Who cares about good grades anyway? Look at your father."
Sandy (portrayed here in my imaginary stage play by Anne Hathaway in a frizzy wig):
"My father?"
ERW/Mindy: "He graduated from college Magna Cum Laude, made big money, and what is he today? A drunk! An alcoholic! Well he is, isn't he?"
Sandy/AH, her enormous eyes welling up with tears: "I guess."
AVR/Mindy: "Well, a lot of good a college degree and a great job did him."
Sandy/AH: "Mindy, since your birthday, you're..." She pauses dramatically, choosing her words wisely. "You're just too deep for me."

Just then a boozy, desperate Jack- in a purple bathrobe - calls Mindy and tells her that he wants her back. Cue a queasy date montage where they hold hands, ride a motorcycle, zip around in a speed boat, and visit polar bears at the zoo while a breezy pop song goes "Your love is like shallow waters/and forever may end tomorrow morning". I know, sounds like some Nick Cave death-trip ballad, but it's actually got a Sergio Mendes sorta vibe.

Oh, I should mention that this is Bruno Kirby's first film. He's Bill's friend Les, who tells him, over slugs of coke in glass bottles, that Mr. Thompson's been banging his girl behind his back. He does not take the news well. Later on during gym class, Bill bonks Jack over the head with a basketball. That, however, is the least of Jack's worries. During a gratuitous shower scene that the leads aren't even in, Mindy tells Sandy that she thinks she's pregnant.

You figure that'd be the central drama here, but the pregnancy angle is tossed aside so that The Young Graduates can take a hard detour into Satan's Sadists-ville for half an hour. After a boring day at the drag races (Bill wears an awesome mask and almost crashes his dragster, but Mindy could not care less), Sandy and Mindy take off in the dune buggy. They meet up with Pan (an extremely young Dennis Christopher, half a decade before Breaking Away), one of the skinny-dipping hippies from half a lifetime ago.
"Oh, I didn't recognize you with your clothes on," says Mindy.

They decide they're going to Big Sur together, but almost immediately, they run out gas. They ditch the buggy, thumb a ride with some weed dealers in a psychedelic van, and eventually end up in the clutches of a psychotic biker gang who take Pan out to the woods and beat him half to death. Then one of 'em attempts to rape Sandy, but they escape during a scuffle between the bikers, and they head for the hills. Later on Mindy steals one of the motorcycles.
"I just want to go home," Sandy whines. "I'm so dirty."
"Nope," Mindy says. "We're going to Big Sur."
They really oughta cage this chick.

Mindy and Sandy have slapstick-y adventures on the motorcycle, including a run-in with two good ol' boys in cowboy hats (for some reason, I'm picturing Tenacious D for my stage version) that they meet at a diner. After wolfing down a big breakfast, the girls realize they have no money to pay the bill.
"Maybe those guy will pay for us, if..." Sandy begins.
"Ugh," says Mindy. "I'd rather go down on the motorcycle guys."
So they get chased by the dudes in a pick-up truck. Meanwhile, Jack, Bill, Les and a bunch of cops are looking for the girls. There's also a nomadic hippy tribe/large scale dope operation in there for good measure.

You wouldn't think a movie like this would have a riot scene, but it does. It also, against all odds, has a happy ending. And dancing! Also, although they do not show it, I think Gretchen finally bones her husband. Which may or may not keep him from seducing high school girls next year.

Clearly shot by bah-humbugging grown-ups during the dark days of Manson and Altamont, when the peace movement devolved into a greasy drug fuzz and free love became cheap sex, The Young Graduates is a weird and wonderful time capsule, a grumpy road movie that veers wildly between melodrama and sudden slapstick, with unlikable leads and a meandering story that reads like a lurid tabloid column penned by a confused, mean-old-man. Marketed as softcore in its initial theatrical run and then as a contemporary teen sex comedy (!) when it was released on VHS in the mid 1980's, Young Graduates is actually an overwrought teen melodrama that just happens to be fitfully hilarious in spite of itself. For better or worse, they simply do not make them like this anymore.

Patricia Wymer had already earned her place in drive-in history with appearances in tawdry 60's trash like The Babysitter and The Witchmaker (both 1969), but this is clearly her Apocalypse Now, a dark-hearted epic that gave her full reign to gobble the scenery like a pint-sized Godzilla. Unfortunately, this was her last film role. Apparently, she gave all she had on this one. Most of the cast slinked back into the murk of brown acid and Vietnam, but a couple notable actors, Dennis Christopher and Bruno Kurby, managed to ascend from triple-bill junk like this to mainstream Hollywood. Kirby died in '06, and we all miss him. Christopher is still skinny and weird. Director Anderson was already in his 50's when he made this "youth gone wild" film, so who can blame him for getting it all wrong? He called them like he saw them, man. Anderson had a very brief career, but managed to squeeze out one more exploitation head-scratcher, Cindy and Donna (1970), before moving on to greener pastures.

Availability: The Young Graduates was recently released on DVD as part of the Drive In Cult Classics Vol 4 set from BCI/Eclipse, which also includes The Van, Chain Gang Women, Don't Answer the Phone, and more. A mandatory purchase, obviously.
Buy Drive-In Cult Classics, Vol. 4 at Amazon.
-Ken McIntyre

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