Kitten With A Whip (1964)

Kitten With A Whip (1964)‘You live behind walls, man, where I come from it’s outer space!’

A would-be senator finds a teenage runaway in his house when his wife and daughter are away. When he hears her story, he helps her, but the truth is that she’s escaped from juvenile hall and is wanted by the police. When her friends turn up for a party, things start to spin out of control…

Agreeably trashy B-movie thriller with a 23 year-old Ann-Margret tearing up the scenery in the title role. This really is a film with a classic three act structure; the first being her struggle of wills with Mr Respectability John Forsythe. She plays upon his good nature and tries to manipulate him, while he seeks a way out of the situation once her true self is exposed. There’s underlying sexual tension throughout the film, but particularly in these early scenes with our female star appearing in a series of semi-revealing outfits. Of course, given the vintage of the film, we know this isn’t really going anywhere, but she does rip his shirt open and scratch his bare chest when he’s talking to his wife on the phone, and that was pretty near the knuckle for its time.

The second act kicks off with the arrival of smooth-talking Ron (Peter Brown), violent Buck (Skip Ward) and ditzy Vera (Patricia Barry). The heroine’s invited them around for a party, and we know this isn’t good news for Forsythe. This leads to our final act; an unconvincing Mexican finish not helped by some hideous process shots during a car chase. However, it does provide us with the film’s best sequence; a sweaty, messed up Forsythe running into some important and terribly respectable backers for his senatorial campaign. He tries to cover up what’s going on by taking them to a questionable border town cabaret with less than brilliant results. The group includes Richard Anderson, who is wasted as his best friend and political advisor.

The film has a pretty awful reputation these days, but it’s not entirely justified. Sure, there’s a lot of terrible ‘hep’ dialogue that will provoke laughter in a modern audience, and things threaten to tip over into hysteria on several occasions, but the professionalism of our leads just about holds things together. Ann-Margret’s performance is interesting, but it was probably far too early in her career to attempt such a complex character, whose mood swings and unpredictability suggest serious mental illness.

Kitten With A Whip (1964)

‘Miaow!’

Writer-Director Douglas Heyes had a long career  as a writer, adapting Alastair MacLean’s ‘Ice Station Zebra’ (1968), and scripting episodes of shows such as Rod Serling’s ‘Night Gallery’ and for cowboy-detective ‘McCloud.’ He also penned the screenplay for underrated science fiction thriller ‘The Groundstar Conspiracy’ (1972) and created US Civil War mini-series ‘North and South.’

Story development is very slow, which is inevitable given that the action hardly leaves the one set until the final 20 minutes, but this is still an energetic little title, which manages to remain entertaining through most of its 82 minutes. That’s mostly because of its’ flaws, of course, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.

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