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Los Angeles Film Fest: Hot Rods and Fast Times

To Hell in a hot rod

Think of it as a wake for Pontiac. Three drag-racing movies, three decades of cars, shifting attitudes toward rule of law and youth culture as seen through the drive-in projector.

Hot Rod Girl (a.k.a. Hot Car Girl) (1956) ’55 T-Bird. Misunderstood but essentially good kids, these juvies are strictly squaresville, working with pre-Rifleman Chuck Connors as a police liaison who’s set up a drag strip to discourage youths from burning up Van Nuys Boulevard in chop-tops. Features a few girls and hot-rods, though rarely together. Frank Gorshin tosses zingers at ambiguously European hangout proprietor “Yo-Yo,” but the best joke is the references to how handsome and physically imposing Bad Kid From Out of Town Bronc is, though actor Mark Andrews is neither, particularly. Lotsa “Lisa sure isn’t firing on all cylinders”–type dialogue and a Poverty Row “chickie run.”

Hot Rods to Hell (1967) ’58 Corvette, ’56 Chevy, ’61 Belvedere vs. a pea-green Plymouth station wagon (with bubble top). The glossiest of the bunch, with the MGM imprimatur and fuzz guitar courtesy Mickey Rooney Jr., concerns a relocating Boston family harassed by a gang of thrill-parched desert hot-rodders (cheered on by quintessential go-go wastoid Mimsy Farmer). “Everybody’s out for kicks — what else is there?” Sanctimonious ex-jock dad Dana Andrews is sidelined by a bad back, so the greaser trash can edge in on his daughter. The lecturing straights rally this round, but for how much longer? “These kids have nowhere to go, and they want to get there at 150 mph.”

Hi-Riders (1978) ’68 Firebird, Charger, Cougar. Chaos reigns and muscle cars stalk the land. Exploitation utility man Greydon Clark tells the tale of two San Diego hot-rodders inducted into the titular commune of dropout dragsters (so named because they jack up the ass ends on their rides). Under the benevolent leadership of T.J. (a guy who looks like Hot Space Freddie Mercury), the Hi-Riders occupy the abandoned shell of a Western movie set, where they dump beer on each other to the shirts-off riffs of “Coyote and the Pack.” A road trip to a nearby ’burg, populated by Old Hollywood actors who didn’t save their money (Ralph Meeker, with Mel Ferrer and Neville Brand fresh off Eaten Alive) leads to war with the local plutocrat and his army of rednecks. Contains the classic exchange: “I almost shit my pants.” “Good thing you didn’t. Smell would make it difficult to concentrate on the situation.”

Each movie is preceded by a Driver’s Ed film, so you can rev up with the likes of seminal, ultradepressing Last Date (1950), in which kids obsessively discuss driving safety, and poor Dick York commits “teenicide.”

Hi-Riders screens at the Billy Wilder Theater, Fri., June 26, 10 p.m. Hot Rods to Hell screens at the Billy Wilder Theater, Sat., June 27, 4:30 p.m. Hot Rod Girl screens on Broxton Avenue, Sat., June 27, 8:30 p.m.


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