Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Lost Starlet at 65

Bill Crider reminds me that yesterday was the 65th birthday of Ann-Margret. (She shares a birthday with Saddam Hussein and Jay Leno.) A-M made my list of "Lost Starlets of the '60s," actresses who should have been superstars but had the misfortune to come along in the '60s, a time when American movies had basically run out of good parts for women. (To some extent they've never fully recovered, but the '60s hit a particularly bad patch in this respect.) In A-M's case, she had everything it took to be a big star in movie musicals, except that the movie musical was pretty much dead by the time she hit the screen.

The closest thing she ever had to a true star vehicle was 1966's The Swinger, a genuinely insane movie -- it has what is basically the plot of a pornographic film (A-M sets out to prove to Tony Franciosa that she can be a sexy swinger and spends most of the movie stripping and gyrating in front of him) except it's told in a family-friendly way; the key scene has A-M rolling around in paint, yet the scene is presented with a strange kind of innocence, and A-M plays it as though she's still in Pocketful of Miracles. It's the apotheosis of the '60s habit of presenting semi-obscene material as though it's sweet and wholesome.

The director of The Swinger was the crazy, semi-brilliant George Sidney, who had brought A-M to prominence in Bye Bye Birdie and Viva Las Vegas; he summed up her appeal by saying something like: "You don't know whether to offer her a lollipop or a diamond bracelet."

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