The Wild Party
Cast & Crew
Broken-down ex-football star "Big Tom" Kupfen, despondent over the end of his career, spends time at small roadside jazz clubs, accompanied by the unstable Gage Freeposter, shy admirer Honey and pianist Kicks Johnson, who lives in a dream world. Driven by restlessness, Kupfen and his friends recklessly drink and experiment with narcotics. Kupfen then comes up with the idea to rob thrill-seeking society girl Erica London and her fiancé, navy lieutenant Arthur Mitchell. Instead, the group kidnaps the couple and hides them in a beachside abandoned amusement park. There, the kidnappers torment their victims until they are done in by their own depravity.
Buddy De Franco Quartet
Richard C. Meyer
The Wild Party (1956)
In some ways The Wild Party plays like an early precursor to Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972) with the middle-class, represented by a square white couple, being brutalized by the dregs of society. Though the film isn't nearly as bleak or misanthropic as Craven's cult sickie, it is also a cautionary tale with a conservative moral tone lurking just beneath the surface. One could actually see it as a reaction against the entire Beat Generation Movement and such cultural icons as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg who advocated nonconformity and experimentation. For in this lurid little melodrama, directed by Harry Horner (Red Planet Mars, 1952), the hipsters are the villains and their boring victims become the sympathetic heroes by default.
Seen today, The Wild Party is more interesting for the talent in front of and behind the camera and its excesses which, at times, approach the overt theatricality of an Off-Broadway play. The screenwriter is John McPartland whose other work includes the script for The Lost Missile (1958) and the novels No Down Payment and The Kingdom of Johnny Cool, both of which were adapted for the screen. The dialogue is a non-stop laugh riot and typical of Hollywood's idea of how beatniks talk with a zonked-out Kathryn Grant, looking for a fix, asking "You fat?" to Nehemiah Persoff's jiving musician who responds, "Baby I'm clean. I'm so thin it's a sin." The attempt to capture the essence of this particular counterculture is established from the first frame with Persoff's free-form riffing on what went down: "Come with me. Descend. It's another planet. Cool and crazy. It was an evening in June. It was a nervous Monday. A man came looking for money. A big man, a powerhouse. Big Tom we called him. The cockeyed, lopsided king of all cats. Ex-football player, ex-hero, ex-person, a monster, half man, half boy."
On the plus side The Wild Party is beautifully lensed in black-and-white by three-time Oscar® nominee Sam Leavitt (Anatomy of a Murder, 1959) with the opening narrative capturing the nocturnal sights of downtown Los Angeles and such long gone landmarks as the Melody Bar which gangster Bugsy Siegel used to frequent and is now known as The Viper Room. The swinging, kinetic music score, composed by Emmy award-winning Buddy Bregman, is equally apt and features The Buddy De Franco Quartet in one showcase sequence. In addition, cult director Irving Lerner (Murder by Contract ) served as supervising producer with Oscar®-winning screenwriter Philip Yordan (Broken Lance ) serving as executive producer.
Where The Wild Party goes off the rails is in Anthony Quinn's overblown performance as the volatile gang leader and Jay Robinson's knife-welding sadist who is so unintentionally funny as Big Tom's sidekick that whenever they're on the screen, the movie works better as a parody of the bohemian beat scene than the intense melodrama which it clearly aspires to be. Almost as funny is Kathryn Grant's somnambulant bohemian who takes an unexpected turn in the final scene, much to Big Tom's detriment. In one of the most overwrought scenes with a hysterical Erica trying to break out of a locked room in an abandoned warehouse, Grant's character impassively tells her, "I can't help you. There's no way out. Just go inside yourself. Close off the world." Nehemiah Persoff doesn't come off much better with his steady patter of cool cat dialogue like "Baby, let's get lost tonight." Only Carol Ohmart, who made such a sexy villainess in House on Haunted Hill (1959), occasionally hits the right note of fear and bewilderment at her situation: "You read about these things in the paper. They never happen to you."
The big mystery is why Quinn agreed to make The Wild Party at this point in his career. He already had one Oscar® win under his belt for Elia Kazan's Viva Zapata! (1952), had appeared to great critical acclaim in Federico Fellini's La Strada (1954) and was on the verge of being nominated again for Best Supporting Actor in Lust for Life (1956), made the same year as The Wild Party. Despite his fine work in those films, Quinn gives a full-throttle, bull-in-a-china shop performance here as a restless, thrill-seeking Neanderthal, constantly threatening to rape Erica, his hostage for the evening: "You're gonna get to know me." Combined with the extreme earnestness of the other actors, which also includes minor roles for Paul Stewart and Barbara Nichols, Quinn's overacting reaches such heights that it becomes perversely enjoyable to watch.
There have been several films that bare the title The Wild Party, including the 1929 Clara Bow comedy-drama, directed by Dorothy Arzner, and the 1975 James Ivory film, loosely based on the Fatty Arbuckle scandal, which starred James Coco and Raquel Welch. This 1956 melodrama is easily the most obscure and will probably remain that way for obvious reasons.
Producers: Sidney Harmon, Philip Yordan
Director: Harry Horner
Screenplay: John McPartland (story and screenplay)
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Art Direction: Rudi Feld
Music: Buddy Bregman
Film Editing: Richard C. Meyer
Cast: Anthony Quinn (Tom Kupfen), Carol Ohmart (Erica London), Arthur Franz (Lt. Arthur Mitchell), Jay Robinson (Gage Freeposter), Kathryn Grant (Honey), Nehemiah Persoff (Kicks Johnson), Paul Stewart (Ben Davis), Nestor Paiva (Branson), Maureen Stephenson (Ellen).
by Jeff Stafford
The Wild Party (1956)
The working title of the film was Step Down to Terror. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, portions of the film, which was partially set in a jazz club, were shot at Jack Gordon's Melody Room on Sunset Blvd. The Hollywood Reporter review and copyright information list the film's running time as 91 minutes, while Daily Variety and Variety list the running time as 82 minutes.
A Hollywood Reporter news item adds Zahra Narbo to the cast, but her appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. Actress Carol Ohmart was borrowed from Paramount, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item. Writer John McPartland completed a novelization of his script prior to the film's release. The above credits and summary were taken from publicity information in the copyright file and reviews. Modern sources add Pete Jolly, Frank DeVito and Teddy Buckner to the cast as members of Buddy De Franco's quartet.
Released in United States Winter December 1956
Released in United States Winter December 1956