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"The Hippies and Diggers Are Here! With the Way-Out Excitement That's Turning on America Today!"
The above tag line for the 1967 Columbia Pictures release The Love-Ins was typical for a Sam Katzman production. The veteran showman, who had started as a prop boy in the film industry at the age of thirteen, had shrewdly built his career on producing profitable B-movies that were either popular genres at the time or exploitation pictures that mined the latest fads or musical trends currently popular with younger audiences. The Love-Ins was Katzman's attempt to capitalize on the emerging counterculture in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood that was already spreading across the nation. Katzman, of course, was only interested in the most sensationalistic aspects of this new subculture as reflected in one of his alternate taglines for the film "The Trip-Out! The Sleep-In! The Freak-Out!" and viewed today The Love-Ins is a hilariously pseudo-hip Hollywood melodrama not far removed from the camp histrionics of Reefer Madness (1936, aka Tell Your Children) with LSD, free love and hippie communes all being treated as symptoms of an extremely distasteful social disease.
The film opens with two students, Larry (James MacArthur) and Patricia (Susan Oliver), being expelled from their university by the Dean for refusing to stop the publication of their underground anti-establishment newspaper. Coming to their defense is their professor, Dr. Jonathan Barnett (Richard Todd), who resigns in protest over their dismissal and is promptly introduced into their collective where he quickly begins to amass a following for his enlightened views and liberal attitude. Elliott (Mark Goddard), an opportunistic member of the collective who sells drugs on the side, recognizes Barnett's natural charisma and slowly persuades him, with Larry and Patricia's encouragement, to become a spokesman for the counterculture. While Elliott's reasons for transforming Barnett into a hip guru, complete with white robes and love beads, are completely mercenary, Larry, Patricia and most of the hippies in Haight-Ashbury buy into Barnett's higher consciousness sermonizing which has its own marketing slogan, "Be More. Sense More. Love More," a complete bastardization of Timothy Leary's "Turn On. Turn In. Drop Out." As Barnett quickly rises to fame as the new messiah of the flower children, he develops delusions of grandeur with lusty designs on his smitten female supporters. It all ends with an assassination in Katzman's take on the summer of love which is one of the more blatantly conservative attacks on the hippie movement of its era.
The sixties counterculture was rarely perceived or portrayed by Hollywood movies in a positive or realistic light. There was Katzman's equally crass and formulaic Riot on Sunset Strip  and The Young Runaways ; there was Otto Preminger's painfully misjudged Mafia vs. Hippie satire Skidoo (1968); and even AIP releases featuring such up and coming hipsters as Jack Nicholson (Psych-Out ), Peter Fonda (The Wild Angels, ) and Dennis Hopper (The Trip  often portrayed the period as threatening, dangerous and anarchic. The latter three, in fact, teamed up for Easy Rider (1969), which was easily the biggest commercial hit of this group and also one that ended in tragedy. Only Michael Wadleigh's 1970 concert documentary Woodstock and possibly Revolution, Jack O'Connell's 1968 portrait of Haight-Ashbury, come close to capturing the essence and appeal of the "make love not war" generation.
The most disappointing aspect of The Love-Ins is the lack of stellar musical talent that usually distinguished Katzman's energetic rock 'n' roll features such as Rock Around the Clock , Don't Knock the Rock , and Twist Around the Clock . The completely ungroovy opening credits unfold over an overture by the film's composer Fred Karger that sounds like a sitcom theme in the Love, American Style vein. The rest of the film features glimpses and snatches of music by The Chocolate Watch Band, the all-girl band The UFOs and The New Age Group but nothing as emblematic of its era as Bill Haley and His Comets were for the fifties, performing "Rock Around the Clock" in the 1956 film of the same name. The real showstopper is the absurd LSD freakout scene where Patricia imagines she's Alice in Wonderland and joins the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and other Lewis Carroll creations in a free-form disco ballet that will make you feel deep embarrassment for everyone involved.
Susan Oliver in her autobiography, Odyssey: A Daring Transatlantic Journey, had no illusions about The Love-Ins saying, "I'd turned it down flat at first, since the script was a trivialization of the whole Timothy Leary, flower-child, hippie scene then going on, but the director, and actor James MacArthur, who was an old friend, had come to my home bearing flowers and champagne and promises from the producers that it would be done with taste and empathy. Besides, I'd played Hank Williams's wife in Your Cheatin' Heart, which I was proud of, for these same producers, so I felt some loyalty...so I'm an actress and I have to act. But I went through a sort of hell during filming when I began to realize it really was just "exploitation time" after all. Richard Todd...was sensitive to what I was going through since he'd gone through much the same with his own career, but he'd told me, Look, you can't just run away, you have to work somewhere, even if it's crap and not Shakespeare. Yet the night of our wrap party at MGM I went alone to an empty sound stage and sat there in the dark and wept over lost dreams and compromised principles and dishonest romances and my helplessness in it all."
Surprisingly enough, Richard Todd in his autobiography In Camera regarded The Love-Ins as an important role while revealing his true feelings about the subject matter: "The Love-Ins was quite the most extraordinary and disturbing film I have ever been in...Some sixty hippies had been brought from San Francisco to give an authentic atmosphere to many of the scenes. Filthy and constantly semi-dazed, they couldn't believe their luck at actually being paid to do their own particular thing. Arriving with their bedding rolls, they were perfectly happy to squat in an empty building provided for them. There was some police supervision, but in general the authorities turned a blind eye to the behaviour of our extras. The air was pervaded by the pungent fumes of pot. The more the story unfolded and the more I saw of these hapless creatures, the more I was appalled by the destructive influence of this ghastly new cult. I was seeing at first hand the effects of these drugs, and they were terrifying. I was sure that our film was right in being an expos of the whole dreadful movement, and that it would do some good in bringing it to the notice of the public, especially the young people."
If this was truly Katzman's intent, he couldn't have found a better actor for his purposes. But just to make sure there was equal representation for the "conservative" audience members he included a sequence in which Barnett is interviewed and repeatedly insulted by Joe Pyne, the infamous radio broadcaster who set the standard for all future shock jocks like Morton Downey, Jr. and Rush Limbaugh. Pyne, who delighted in humiliating assorted kooks and crackpots on his show before dismissing them with "Go gargle with razor blades!" steals The Love-Ins from Todd in his brief cameo scene. Reacting to Barnett's friendly gesture of patting his shoulder, Pyne snarls "If you don't mind doctor I'd rather not be touched by somebody who not only supports those unwashed, pseudo intellectuals who print this filth but live in it."
As expected, most of the mainstream critics dismissed The Love-Ins as a typical exploitation film with Judith Crist of NBC's "Today Show" calling it "a mawkish, old-hat un-hip movie" while Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "...for the most part this lurid melodrama is a gaudy, gleeful glorification of the fun that hippies have at their jolly outdoor love-ins and on their phantasmagorical trips...Evidently Sam Katzman wanted his picture to be both psychedelic and socially indignant. It is neither. It's a very weak trip."
There were some favorable reviews too such as Variety which called it a "good exploitation film of San Francisco's hippie movement...a solid, if standard story, fringed in fine style with love-ins and hippie happenings...art direction is slick and colorful." And Richard Todd praised his co-stars, writing "The young actors in the picture were splendid...Susan Oliver was astonishingly convincing during a sequence where she goes on a very far-out LSD trip..." After you see The Love-Ins you have to wonder if Todd was the one on LSD!
Producer: Sam Katzman
Director: Arthur Dreifuss
Screenplay: Hal Collins and Arthur Dreifuss
Cinematography: John F. Warren
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Charles K. Hagedon
Music: Fred Karger
Film Editing: Ben Lewis
Cast: Richard Todd (Dr. Jonathan Barnett), James MacArthur (Larry Osborne), Susan Oliver (Patricia Cross), Mark Goddard (Elliott), Carol Booth (Harriet), Marc Cavell (Mario), Joe Pyne (himself).
by Jeff Stafford