The Fat Spy (1966)

The_Fat_Spy_(1966)‘All I had to do was wiggle my hips, and they accepted me.’

A businessman searches a tropical island for the Fountain of Youth. Assisting him in his search are a pair of twins, one of whom is in love with his blonde daughter. Things are complicated when a bunch of teenagers arrive on the island, intent on a treasure search of their own.

Half-baked 1960s ‘anything goes’ teen comedy that bears all the signs of a film that ran out of money and was never properly completed. Various story elements don’t come together, leading cast members never share a scene, and the ‘action’ is linked in places by both an occasional piece of witless voiceover and silly cartoon like captions. All this might be acceptable if they were stapled to a witty script, a quirky sensibility, decent performances and competent direction, but this effort lacks all of these rather essential elements.

Roly-poly stand-up comedian Jack E. Leonard takes the lead here as the twins, who are not just identical in appearance, but in absolutely every way. If we weren’t told they were different people, we’d just never know. They don’t appear in any scenes together, and Leonard makes absolutely no effort to give them separate personalities. This was his first (and almost last) film role, but in the preceding years, he had appeared a few times on U.S. television. Director Joseph Cates was also a network veteran and had probably crossed paths with Leonard there.

In charge of proceedings as the shady island owner is Brian Donlevy, a familiar Hollywood character actor who had played countless heavies, the occasional lead, and even Professor Quatermass in two films made by Hammer Studios. Here he sits in his suspiciously bare-looking office and wanders about on a yacht for a few minutes. The sea-going footage was probably originally intended just to be used as brief inserts, but actually forms the (non) climax of the film!

Better still, his daughter is played by ageing, blonde starlet Jayne Mansfield, remembered now more for the horrific manner of her death than her breakout role in ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ (1956). Their brief scenes together are a model of brilliant technical filmmaking  with close-ups of Donlevy staring off in completely the wrong direction when he’s talking to her. Mansfield’s career was in decline by this point (why would she appear in this mess otherwise?) and she does little more than a breathless Marilyn impression as she romances one of our numbskull heroes. In a strange contrast, the other twin is crazy about crabby old comedienne Phyllis Diller, whose work here could fairly be described as somewhat less than subtle.

The story opens with a serious folk duo sharing serious, philosophical insights such as: ‘People sure act funny when they get a little money’ and other such gems, the details of which escape me for the moment. There’s some brief titles and then we catch up with our wacky teenage funsters heading out to the island on a speedboat. It’s all part of their treasure hunt, of course, but we don’t know that as we don’t get anything as useful as any dialogue, just an inane sub-Beach Boys ditty and lots of tame groping and snogging. This footage is so good that it all turns up again later on, possibly due to some temporal anomaly, or because the producers believed the audience wouldn’t notice, all having nodded off quite some time earlier.

The_Fat_Spy_(1966)

“Come on, lads, the cheques are in the post. Honestly!”

In another left-field casting triumph, one of the gang is played by crooner Johnny Tillotson in his only dramatic acting role. Remembered these days for the hit ‘Poetry In Motion’ his musical repertoire here includes a drippy love ballad, which he sings to his new girlfriend. Who happens to be a mermaid. Another teenager on show is Linda Harrison, who enjoyed a brief flirtation with stardom later on as Charlton Heston’s squeeze on the ‘Planet of the Apes’ (1967).

This film was obviously intended to emulate the AIP Studios ‘Beach Party’ movies with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. There’s ‘madcap’ humour (if you can call it that without breaking the Trades Descriptions Act), a few Hollywood veterans picking up a paycheque, a soppy love story for the girls, and some groovy tunes (not really).

Occasionally, in my wanderings through the overgrown paths in the forest of cinema, I come across a beautiful, neglected flower, forgotten and unappreciated by the world at large. But, more often than not, I tread in a pile of dog shit. I needed a blowtorch to clean my boots after this one.

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