Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Swinger Was the One Invented Yay, Yay, Yay

Someone has put the complete movie The Swinger up on YouTube. It is one of the strangest movies of the '60s, not Skidoo strange but close, and it's never been available on home video. This youtube posting will tide us over until TCM shows it on January 23.

This was the third and last movie that Ann-Margret made with veteran director George Sidney. The other two were Bye Bye Birdie and Viva Las Vegas, the movies that made her a star. But only two years later, Ann-Margret's career was in trouble; she'd been working too much in too many terrible movies. (The exception was The Cincinnati Kid, but she didn't really get noticed for that movie, even though she was one of the best things in it -- doing far more with her generic character than most of the other actors did with theirs.) The Swinger was really her last shot at proving she could carry a movie, and so it made perfect sense for her to re-team with Sidney, who adored her and was accused of unbalancing both Birdie and Vegas by giving A-M extra screen time.

But movies had changed a lot in only a couple of years -- that's part of why A-M had gone from star to potential has-been so quickly -- and the kind of mildly-naughty sex comedy suggested by the subject (a goody-two-shoes girl tries to prove she can be a "swinger" to impress a smut publisher) was looking very creaky. The credited writer of the script, Lawrence Roman, had had a success a few years ago with Under the Yum Yum Tree, a sex comedy with no sex whatsoever. Sidney appears to have decided to shoot the film not as a glossy sex comedy but a parody of glossy sex comedies and mid-'60s culture. (He also said that as with Viva Las Vegas, he junked the original script and had most of it rewritten days before shooting started.)

Sidney was always brash and vulgar; that's why he's my favorite of the MGM musical directors, because he's the least tasteful and the most fun. But here he's consciously being vulgar, and making fun of vulgarity. The famous scene where A-M rolls around in paint isn't just a typical George Sidney riot of color, choreography and over-the-top fun; it's a slam on what Sidney and other old pros clearly saw as the smutty, anything-goes culture. (I've always found the scene more disgusting than entertaining.) Like Skiddoo, it's a film where an old-guard director looks at the changing trends in movies and pop culture and tells the audience: that's what you want, you crazy kids? Well, I'll give it to you and then some! A movie made by a director who obviously is disenchanted with the public (Sidney made only one more movie after this and then retired from directing) does not stand much of a chance of succeeding, and indeed The Swinger was a flop.

What keeps it out of Skidoo territory is that it's much more good-natured than Skidoo. Sidney was, as I said, naturally vulgar and silly, so a lot of the scenes in the movie are only slightly more over-the-top versions of the way he would normally do them. And because the movie is in large part a parody of middle-of-the-road sex comedies (the kind Sidney and A-M had both made), it avoids being a grumpy reactionary movie like Skidoo; it parodies "hip" movies but it's also equally merciless toward the "unhip" movies of the era. And I've always wondered if Wayne's World borrowed from the ending, or rather endings, of this movie.

And for Ann-Margret fans, the movie is obviously worthwhile even though it doesn't for a moment ask her to stretch herself or compete with anybody (Tony Franciosa specialized in getting eaten alive by sexy '60s stars; he'd do the same thing with Raquel Welch in Fathom). Sidney used the same cinematographer from Birdie and Vegas, Joe Biroc, and together they were to A-M as Jean-Luc Godard and Raoul Coutard were to Anna Karina.

And I mean that; I was thinking of a comparison to Sidney's use of Ann-Margret, and the comparison that kept coming to mind was Karina in Pierrot Le Fou or Vivre Sa Vie -- the director's fascination with her is so obvious in every shot. Just as Godard's Karina movies wind up being mostly about Karina's changing moods and Godard's feelings about her, Birdie, Vegas and The Swinger are all mostly about A-M and George Sidney's fascination with her, and her beauty, and her strange combination of the adult and the infantile. I wonder, come to think of it, what kind of movie A-M and Godard might have made together. (Another Karina comparison: A-M and Karina are both really creatures of the '60s. After the '60s they were still attractive, still good actors, but not the fascinating cult figures they once were.)

I'll embed the first two parts, and here's a link to the complete movie, in 10 parts on YouTube.

Part 1, the title song followed by a surprisingly long period of A-M free footage:



Part 2, in which A-M meets Tony Franciosa, rides a motorcycle, dances in a leotard while reading a book, and educates herself about smut.




2 comments:

bmovies said...

I'm the guy who posted The Swinger on youtube in all ten parts. :-) I taped it off of the AMC channel years ago. Around 1999-2002 (I really cant recall the exact year). They were airing as a part of their AMCPOP programming on Saturday nights (I sure miss that stuff).

I posted The Swinger as a request from someone who asked if I had the movie. He/she saw one of my other videos I posted on youtube, some filler from AMCPOP, a 1966advertisement mini-documentary called Hollywood Backstage which promoted The Swinger:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4rcumfz-b0

Anonymous said...

wish they had not stripped out about 5-10 min of original footage.