Director: Gene Nelson
Warner Bros. Archive Collection

Never before legitimately available on any home video format, fans of music-laden 1960s “keen teen” movies like the AIP “Beach Party” series or Sam Katzman-produced schlockfests such as GET YOURSELF A COLLEGE GIRL and WHEN THE BOYS MEET THE GIRLS will be pleased that Warner Home Video has finally released this irresistible pop confection on MOD DVD as part of their Warner Archive collection.

After only two years in the music biz, teen idol Cliff Donner (handsome Ken doll look-alike Gil Peterson, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) is cynical and disillusioned and in the midst of a career slide (his proposed kiss-of-death next album is titled “Favorites of the ’40s”). He spends his time hanging around L.A. watering hole Stan’s Cellar, sitting in with house band The Leaves (“Hey Joe”), who unfortunately only get to play about half of one of their own songs (“Dr. Stone”) in the movie. Hallie Rogers (hyper-cute, nubile Debbie Watson — Marilyn Munster in MUNSTER, GO HOME!), a dancer on the WhizBam show (a genial takeoff on HULLABALOO), has been promised a solo slot by shyster producer MacElwaine (Phil Harris, THE PATSY) and his flunky Howie (George Furth, MYRA BRECKINRIDGE).

When MacElwaine reneges, Hallie breaks out of her go-go cage and “flips her wig” during Patrick (Glen Campbell, on the cusp of stardom with his first big hit “Gentle on My Mind” dropping just weeks after THE COOL ONES’ release) and The East Enders’ number, grabbing his microphone and frantically hopping around the stage as the WhizBam dancers attempt to drag her into the wings. Ironically, her antics induce the audience to imitate her frenzied gyrations in the auditorium aisles. Stopping in at Stan’s after the show, Hallie is saved by Cliff from a drunken creep on the dance floor, and together with Stan (Robert Coote, THE SWINGER, THEATRE OF BLOOD) they concoct a plan to capitalize on her terpsichorean outburst, which they dub “The Tantrum.”

Stan’s brother, big shot neurotic record producer Tony Krum (Roddy McDowall, PLANET OF THE APES, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE) — who’s obsessed with the color purple and Napoleon Bonaparte, and demands a baby bottle of warm milk and scary story at bedtime — is brought in to take advantage of Hallie’s newfound notoriety and transform her into his next pop protégé (Krum is quite obviously intended as a parody of eccentric record producer Phil Spector). Tony and Hallie convince a reluctant Cliff to form a duo with Hallie, and they debut The Tantrum at a local club to great success. Tony and Hallie then hatch a plot to draw Cliff into a faux romance, courtship, and sham wedding with Hallie to drum up publicity.

Cliff soon catches wind of Hallie and Tony’s plan and exits in disgust, but by this time Hallie’s truly fallen in love with him. Krum’s girl Friday Dee Dee Howitzer (sultry, scene-stealing Nita Talbot, GIRL HAPPY, CHAINED HEAT) is then dispatched to get him drunk and lure him back into the fold (she delivers one of the best lines in the film following her failed seduction attempt). Cliff briefly relents, the Tantrum becomes a sensation, and an offer is floated by MacElwaine to have Cliff and Hallie guest on WhizBam. When given an ultimatum by Cliff to quit the business and marry him to prove her feelings, however, Hallie can’t let go of her burgeoning career and tearfully turns him down, upon which Cliff bolts for good. Will Hallie ever become a star? And will Cliff and Hallie find a way to salvage their love?

THE COOL ONES perfectly encapsulates the sunny, good-time mid-’60s California lifestyle and swingin’ Sunset Strip club scene that would be swept away within months by the Summer of Love, Haight-Ashbury acid rock, and the L.A. “freak” movement, and functions on one level as a virtual catalogue of mid-’60s pop culture. Cliff cruises around in a white Excalibur convertible, a brief stock car racing scene is shoehorned in toward the end, and pictures of Warner Bros. recording artists Dick & Dee Dee and Trini Lopez decorate the walls of MacElwaine’s office. Unlike similar but brain-dead 1960s teen-oriented fare like FOR THOSE WHO THINK YOUNG, IT’S A BIKINI WORLD, or BEACH BALL, THE COOL ONES actually displays some intelligence and wit underneath all the silliness, holding up well to repeat viewings. (One of my favorite dialogue exchanges — Tony Krum: “We have to think of some way to ensure absolute pandemonium for you two on WhizBam. Yeah, something that will really hook those kids.” Dee Dee: “How about if they sing good?”)

There are plenty of familiar and not-so-familiar names both in front of and behind the camera, including producer William Conrad (star of TV’s CANNON), director and former dancer Gene Nelson (THE DONNA REED SHOW, MOD SQUAD), and cinematographer Floyd (David’s dad) Crosby (HIGH NOON, HOUSE OF USHER, NIGHT TIDE), plus uncredited Teri Garr (MARYJANE, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN) as one of the WhizBam dancers and friend of Hallie’s, Angelique Pettyjohn (MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, HELL’S BELLES), also uncredited, as one of Tony’s secretaries, and instantly recognizable perennial fussbudget James Millhollin (THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN, NIGHT CALL NURSES) as the hotel manager.

The soundtrack comprises a mix of standards (“Birth of the Blues,” “Just One of Those Things”) arranged by singer/songwriter and “Wrecking Crew” session guitarist Billy Strange (“Limbo Rock”) and original songs by Duane Eddy/Nancy Sinatra writer/producer Lee Hazlewood (“Rebel Rouser,” “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’”). With songs breaking out at least every five to ten minutes, a variety of musical styles are represented, ranging from tuneful pop vocals to soppy ballads, Broadway-style show tunes, twangy guitar-based rock and roll and even a bit of imitation bossa nova. Highlights include Hazlewood’s “This Town,” later covered by both Nancy Sinatra and her crooner dad, The Leaves’ instrumental take on “The Tantrum,” and an exuberant song-and-dance number staged on the actual Palm Springs tramway (a young Toni Basil [“Mickey”] was the unbilled choreographer).

A variety of obscure or semi-obscure musical groups also appear in cameos. The Gary Usher–produced, uncredited Forté Four (a reconstituted version of early ’60s surf band The Royal Monarchs, house band on DJ Bob Eubanks’s local Los Angeles Hollywood Dance Time and Cinnamon Cinder TV shows) appear as Glen Campbell’s backing band (Campbell had played sessions for the Four), and pubescent novelty acts T. J. and the Fourmations (dig those crazy Munchkin vocals) and The Bantams (playing inside a closet) are among the gauntlet of aspiring musical acts Tony has to run every time he enters his hotel suite. Seminal surf band The Surfaris can also be glimpsed briefly on a TV in MacElwaine’s office, and anti-chanteuse Mrs. Miller, as WhizBam’s wardrobe mistress, even gets to warble “It’s Magic” in the big finale. A soundtrack LP was promoted in the pressbook, but apparently was never released.

Warner’s MOD DVD is transferred in 2.40:1 anamorphic (Panavision) widescreen from a generally superior print, with excellent brightness and contrast, solid black levels, and vibrant, deeply saturated Technicolor. There is a bit of light speckling in evidence, and a perceptible but never obtrusive sheen of fine grain, but overall it looks pretty gorgeous except for a handful of shots where the color balance or brightness level are a bit off. As with most MOD titles, there are no extras whatsoever, but fans of THE COOL ONES will be glad to finally have a crisp, colorful, widescreen copy so they can let go of those fuzzy, faded, pan-and-scan bootlegs. (Paul Tabili)