The Decent, the Mediocre, and the Dreadful: The Warner Archive Revisits the Swinging Sixties

The ’60s, ladies and gentlemen. It was a time when filmmakers and studio executives – for whatever ungodly reason – decided the implementation of corny animation, still images of goofy faces, and half-baked musical interludes would entertain older generations and the growing “mod” audience of the time alike. (And if those selling points seem ridiculous to you, just remember: people are still paying to see Adam Sandler movies in theaters today.) Of course, in many instances, it wasn’t quite enough. Easily the “best” offering out of this little line-up, 1967’s Three Bites of the Apple was one of several starring vehicles made available to the white hot commodity of Scotland’s second-greatest acting export of the decade: David McCallum.

Opening with an animated musical number which has almost nothing to do with anything with the film itself (and which is performed by the aforementioned Mr. McCallum himself, who enjoyed a small career as a recording artist during the era), our tale soon settles in to its gentle ’60s comedy setting. Since it was a requirement most movies of the time be set in Europe (you know, just to let those damn Yankees know what they were missing), Three Bites of the Apple finds Mr. McCallum as a modest tour guide for a British-run outfit on the continent. When he attempts to find his latest group’s resident alcoholic (as played by the late Harvey Korman, who is one of the rarely-illuminated highlights of the flick), he accidentally winds up winning big at a local casino.

This, of course, catches the eye of local lovely Sylva Koscina – a cunning con-artist who eventually hatches a scheme to swindle the simple tour guide out of his earnings with the assistance of her former partner (in every sense), Domenico Modugno. Alvin Ganzer contributed the last of the few theatrical offerings he helmed during his lengthy career as a director, having guided (heh) Mr. McCallum through several episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. previously. Tammy Grimes (and her raspy phone sex hotline voice) co-stars as an oversexed traveler with an eye for our hero in this earnest enough attempt at comedy which doesn’t offer a whole heck of a lot, but tends to help an afternoon go by easily enough.

Virtually the same thing can be said for our next offering, Doctor, You’ve Got to Be Kidding!, one of many “sex” comedies from a point in time where people couldn’t have sex on film. To give you an idea of how dated this one is by today’s standards, it opens with a comical, dangerous police escort of a packed VW bug to the hospital, where lead Sandra Dee is rushed into the maternity ward. When Ms. Dee claims she doesn’t know who the father of her forthcoming child is – prompting accompanying male companions Bill Bixby, Dwayne Hickman, and Dick Kallman to all claim they are – everyone in the hospital pauses to show their best look of schlocky shock to the camera. Today, this is more than commonplace, and nobody gives a rat’s ass about unwed mothers exploring their sexuality – unless she’s a celebrity, that is.

Although Sandra’s character certainly tries to be a celebrity. Urged by her mum (the wonderful Celeste Holm), she forms a music routine with the help of a beatnik musician (the doomed Dick Hallman), along with the help – but mostly admiration – of a bit part actor (Hickman) who specializes in death scenes, and the boy next door (Mr. Bixby), who has since grown up to be the womanizing man next door. Meanwhile, Sandra lands a job as a secretary for a handsome, business-obsessed, computer-like George Hamilton (at the beginning of his Bronze Period), whom she feels a little something for, but has difficulty cutting through the latter’s seriousness.

My personal favorite scene has Bill Bixby – despite being one of many men hoping to bed our protagonist – being the only man who doesn’t try to take advantage of her when she offers. (What a guy!) The great Mort Sahl delivers a fine part as a sardonic club owner, Star Trek‘s own Nichelle Nichols has a small part as a secretary, and ’30s comedian Allen Jenkins – who has been popping up in a lot of Warner Archive releases lately – makes one of his final film appearances in this so-so rom-com wherein another former TV director, Peter Tewksbury, seems to have been obsessed with utilizing still frames of people displaying funny faces rather than relying on their acting skills.

Said method of getting a cheap laugh out of its audience is a bit annoying, to say the least, but it’s still way better than our third and final filmic outing here, 1964’s Quick, Before It Melts – wherein you can’t get any audience to laugh at anything at all. Period. Whereas the other two features referenced in this article were both directed by men who had previously only handled television productions, Quick, Before It Melts‘ own Delbert Mann had actually helmed motion pictures prior to this atrocity. Alas, it wasn’t too terribly long after the release of this tame and tepid sex comedy that he found himself making nothing but TV movies. If only Mr. Mann had made – or been forced to make – that transition before this film, many innocent people could have been spared.

Here, Robert Morse, in full form as some sort of a half-assed budgetary combination between Jerry Lewis, Jack Lemmon, and Mickey Rooney – only without the charisma of the latter – stars alongside George Maharis (whose talents are also reduced to being a pale imitation of other actors) as a timid reporter and skirt chasing photographer (respectively, though there is truly nothing respectable about this film). This happens after an alienating, utterly uninspired, truly pointless, and completely crude opening credit sequence featuring little irritating animated penguins that have absolutely no context or juxtaposition, of course. Honestly, the openings from the worst Pink Panther films seem like works of genius in comparison.

So, submissive journalist Morse is sent to the Antarctic to cover a military operation by his editor (Howard St. John) who yells a lot in addition to being the protective father of Morse’s fiancée (Yvonne “Batgirl” Craig). Paired with a philandering Maharis, the two cause nothing but trouble in New Zealand while they’re en route to the South Pole. It is here that roughly anyone who has miraculously made it this far might reach for the remote, especially once villain Norman Fell uses the word “gook” to describe a half-native beauty, played by white actress Anjanette Comer. Cheap iced-over sets, unfunny gags, and a clear lack of vision overall loom over a god-awful production also featuring Bernard Fox, James Gregory, and a cameo by Doodles Weaver!

As anyone who has ever managed to get a good laugh out of anyone (whether it be intentional or accidental) knows, the key to comedy is timing. Sadly, in the instance of Quick, Before It Melts, everything had melted long before principal production had even wrapped. It’s that bad. But don’t take my word for it: check out the newly released MOD DVD of this watery mud puddle and see for yourself – as Quick, Before It Melts, Doctor, You’ve Got to Be Kidding!, and Three Bites of the Apple have all made their overdue home video debuts via the Warner Archive Collection, who has released the trio of films individually, and in their original widescreen aspect ratios.

If nothing else, we should at least be able to celebrate the fact that we can now band together in order to find out how truly bad Quick, Before It Melts is and ban it outright – quickly – before it does any more damage to the civilized world.

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Luigi Bastardo

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