powered by AFI
Throughout the fifties and sixties producer Sam Katzman appropriated every musicalfad that came along, churning out instant B-movies that were little more than hitparade revues with threadbare plots. He jumped on the rock 'n roll bandwagon andreleased Rock Around the Clock in 1956 with headliners Bill Haleyand the Comets. He assembled Johnny Desmond, The Tarriers and other Caribbean musicdevotees for Calypso Heat Wave (1957), hoping to capture someof Harry Belafonte's "Day-O" magic. He bounced back with TwistAround the Clock (1961) featuring Chubby Checker, Dion, and The Marcels.Katzman even convinced Colonel Parker to let him produce two films starring his prime asset, Elvis Presley - Kissin' Cousins (1964) and HarumScarum (1965). Hootenanny Hoot (1963), on the other hand, attempted to tap into the growing popularity of folk music spearheaded by Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary,Dave Von Ronk, and other prominent musicians.
Typical of most Katzman productions, Hootenanny Hoot featuresa transparent plot which merely serves as a linking device for the musical numbers.Ted Gover (Peter Breck) is a success-driven television producer who predicts thenext big musical craze will be the hootenanny after witnessing its popularity onthe fictitious campus of Norburg College. Gover's ex-wife A. G. Bannister (RutaLee) welds considerable influence at a national network and would make an ideal partner on a live hootenanny broadcast. Money talks and soon the once feuding coupleare collaborating on the big event. You can predict the inevitable outcome as wellas the developing romantic subplots along the way, one which involves the sassy blonde hootenanny organizer Billy-Jo Henley (Pamela Austin) and Bannister's talentagent Steve Laughlin (Joby Baker). The insufferable comic relief is provided by Bannister's wisecracking housekeeper Claudia (Bobo Lewis, a poverty-row ImogeneCoco). Her main function is to prop up her employer's ego with sage advice like,"C'mon honey, there's always a bunch of stallions around to chase a pretty filly like you."
The real reason to watch Hootenanny Hoot is for its eclectic and unhomogeneous mix of folk, gospel and country-western acts. First, the-so-lame-you-have-to-see-them acts (would these groups ever have been a sensation on any college campus in the sixties?) which include The Brothers Four performing "Frogg"and "Little Cory," The Gateway Trio with their renditions of "Puttin'on the Style" and "Foolish Questions," and Cathie Taylor's performance of "The Frozen Logger" before a highly unlikely rapt audience. Theriverside sequence showcasing the music of Chris Crosby and Judy Henske is much more memorable and entertaining if only for the inappropriate and awkward staging.Chris Crosby looks embarrassed as he croons the ballad "Sweet Love" amongthe awestruck picnickers and poor Judy Henske, clad in a bathing suit, has to shimmyand sway as she belts out "The Ballad of Little Romy." Despite her powerfulvoice, Henske's self-consciousness in being exposed this way is palpable and you have to wonder what Sam Katzman was thinking. Folk singers in bathing suits?
The other musical acts include the gospel duo Joe and Eddie performing the uptempo"There's a Meeting Here Tonight," George Hamilton IV (no relation to theactor George Hamilton) singing "Abilene," and Sheb Wooley who performsthe novelty theme song, "Hootenanny Hoot", backed up by dancers who looklike they just escaped from a Las Vegas production of Oklahoma.The choreography in this number is like a car wreck at the intersection of Hollywoodand Broadway, mixing modern jazz routines with square dancing. Sheb Wooley, by theway, was best known for his top forty novelty hit, "Purple People Eater."
The real highlight of Hootenanny Hoot - and it's all too brief- is an appearance by Johnny Cash. Looking lean, mean and out of his element on a college campus, he runs through a wry version of "Frankie's Man Johnny."
Hootenanny Hoot was Katzman's first film for MGM after a fifteenyear stint at Columbia and it was a modest effort at best. It certainly didn't sparka national interest in hootenannies but might have made a stronger impact if Katzmanhad been able to round up a better mix of top forty folk and country acts such asBob Dylan, Skeeter Davis ("The End of the World") and The Rooftop Singers("Walk Right In"). Variety, however, gave it a thumbsup and stated that the film's commercialized brand of folk music had "a somewhatmore widespread appeal, particularly in that real estate between N.Y. and L.A. known as the rest of the country. It is also likely to be less offensive to somethan the twist and the r 'n r and, at any rate, it should do well enough to justifyone of Katzman's sequels, say something along the order of "Don't Refute theHoot."
Producer: Sam Katzman
Director: Gene Nelson
Screenplay: Robert E. Kent
Cinematography: Ellis W. Carter
Film Editing: Al Clark
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Merrill Pye
Cast: Peter Breck (Ted Gover), Ruta Lee (A.G. Bannister), Pamela Austin (Billy-JoeHenley), Joby Baker (Steve Laughlin), Bobo Lewis (Claudia Hoffer), Lauren Gilbert(Howard Stanton).
by Jeff Stafford