Cast & Crew
In order to inherit his late father's estate, college student John Abernathy, III must lead a quiet, dignified life. Consequently, at home, under the guardianship of his spinster aunts, Anastasia and Abigail, John is a model of teenage perfection, but when he can, John slips away to a secret life racing cars and singing in a small combo. One afternoon while racing gang member Mark in the city streets, John inadvertently speeds dangerously close to his family attorney, Dryden Philpot, just as Philpot is getting in his car with newly arrived colleague Wesley Cavendish and his daughter Lois. Outraged, Philpot summons the police to report the reckless driver whom he can only identify from the last two numbers of the car's license plate. Later that afternoon, hoping that Lois might help identify the rash driver, Philpot takes Lois, Wesley and a police officer to the local youth hangout, but John hides as his best friend and car fanatic Dave distracts the police. Lois accidentally finds John, but says nothing to her father or the police. That evening, Philpot presents the Cavendishes to Anastasia and Abigail and announces that according to the terms of his father's will, now that John has turned twenty-one, he may begin dating an approved young lady. Soon after, John arrives formally dressed and is pleased when Lois does not mention recognizing him. Nevertheless, John evades Philpot's attempt to pair him with Lois and excuses himself to practice violin. Suspicious, Lois takes a walk outside of the house and discovers John, who has changed into sporty clothes, sneaking out of his bedroom window. When Lois hints that she can identify John to Philpot and the police, he agrees to take her to his group's hangout. On the way there, Lois is impressed by John's racing skills and later, upon seeing him perform, by his singing talent. After rehearsing, John learns that Dave needs four thousand dollars to build a car that he plans to enter in a sweepstakes contest. Mark tells John that he and his partner Jack have been selling stolen car parts and could quickly raise the money, but John refuses to participate, planning instead to raise the money performing with his singing combo. Later, landlord Al Berrywhiff informs the band that because their rent is overdue, they must either pay or leave at the end of the month. Unable to use his family money without raising his aunt's suspicions, John and his friends are at a loss until Lois reveals that she knows pop singer Gene Vincent and will arrange an audition for John. A couple of days later, Lois takes John to the television studio where Gene is taping a variety show. Gene is impressed by John's singing and offers him a guest spot on his show, but John fears being recognized by his aunts and family friends. Gene suggests that John disguise himself and he agrees, appearing on the show in a beard and beret as a cool, "beatnik" type called Jackson Dalyrimple. "Jackson's" appearance on Gene's show is a huge success and John is invited to record a tune for Gene's company. Within two weeks of the song's release it is a success on the pop charts and Jackson is in big demand. In disguise, John performs at several local clubs and one night, while still wearing his beard, drives Lois home and confesses to being relieved about having raised almost all the money for Dave's race car and to pay the back rent on the hall. Unaware that Mark is eavesdropping nearby, Lois assures John that Jackson need only make one final performance at a huge hop at which Gene and his band will appear. When John sneaks home that night, he is caught by Anastasia and Abigail, who admit that an anonymous phone caller informed them of his disguise as Jackson. After John explains the reason for his masquerade, his aunts are understanding, but fear the inflexible Philpot will find out. The following day, Mark tells Jack that the police may be close to finding out about their stolen car parts racket. That afternoon, when John and Lois arrive at the recording studio for Jackson's rehearsal, a policeman stops them and demands to examine John's car. When the officer discovers stolen car parts that Mark has planted in the trunk, John is arrested. Philpot is greatly disturbed by the enormous press coverage of John's arrest and the revelation that he is Jackson Dalyrimple. John's friends are upset because his money has been impounded by the police and the hall is still threatened. Admiring John's dedication and suspicious of Mark, Al contacts ex-con Johnny Red Eye, who served time with Jack's brother. When Johnny pressures Jack to confess to the police, John is released in time for the hop, which is enthusiastically attended by all the kids and John's aunts. After Gene and John perform, Mark jealously starts a brawl then flees with John and the police in pursuit, but is eventually caught and arrested. Although John is cleared of the robbery charges, he is ticketed for reckless driving as the police have finally traced his hot-rod's license number. After his aunts and Philpot approve of Lois, the Abernathys host a large party to celebrate John's successful singing career.
Samuel Z. Arkoff
Robert S. Eisen
James H. Nicholson
Charles "buddy" Rogers
Hot Rod Gang
Hot Rod Gang (1958) managed to put all three into a film that defies easy categorization. John Ashley stars as John Abernathy III, a teenage heir to a fortune who is living a double life. By all appearances he's a clean-cut, well-spoken, dignified young man who gets good grades and plays classical violin under the supervision of his doting but oblivious spinster aunts, but he shucks the whole façade to drive fast cars and sing in a rock combo at the local teen hangout. He must remain on the straight and narrow to meet the conditions of his inheritance so he takes on yet another persona to go public with his singing: Jackson "The Beard" Dalyrymple. He hides behind a beatnik beard and beret to raise money to save the club hangout. Dub Taylor, the B-western sidekick turned character actor and Peckinpah regular, provides comic relief as the landlord who shows up for the rent money and offers comments about this young generation.
John Ashley was a mainstay in AIP's juvenile delinquent dramas, taking the lead in Dragstrip Girl (1957) and Motorcycle Gang (1957), and he made the leap from fifties leather jacket hood to sixties beach boy hunk playing Frankie Avalon's best friend in a series of beach party movies. Ashley also cut a number of records through the 1950s and does his own singing in the film, delivering a rocked-up version of the traditional "Annie Laurie" and the hot rod-themed original "Hit and Run Lover."
The film's featured musical attraction, however, is rockabilly legends Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps. They perform their signature hit "Dance to the Bop" and a couple of new singles, "Baby Blue" and "Dance in the Street." It turned out to be one of the last performances of Gene Vincent with The Blue Caps. After a number of line-up changes, the band disbanded for good at the end of 1958.
Director Lew Landers had a long career cranking out B-movies, from westerns to horror films to crime pictures to comedies, but had shifted almost entirely to TV when he was tapped for Hot Rod Gang by writer/producer Lou Rusoff. They'd worked together before on the TV adventure series Terry and the Pirates in the early 1950s. The years of low budgets and tight schedules, as well as the wide range of genres under his belt, serves Landers well. This Hot Rod Gang is not really a gang, despite the title. In fact, the working title was Hot Rod Rock, ostensibly changed to cash in on Ashley's early juvenile delinquent credits. The film does, however, deliver juvenile delinquents and a car theft ring along with dialogue strewn with teen slang and gearhead patter, rock and roll interludes, a tongue-in-cheek spoof of beat culture, and a kooky comedy of stuffed shirt high society types mixing with the goofy antics of John's sweetly dotty aunts. The film constantly shifts gears between genres and refuses to take itself seriously right to the end. According the epilogue: "This story is true--only the facts have been changed."
Gene Vincent: A Companion, Derek Henderson. Spent Brothers Productions, 2005.
Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave, 1959-1969, Thomas Lisanti. McFarland and Company, 2005.
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
By Sean Axmaker
Hot Rod Gang
The working title of the film was Hot Rod Rock. The following written epilogue appears onscreen: "This story is true-only the facts have been changed." In the onscreen credits, executive producer Charles "Buddy" Rogers' name does not appear, as it usually did onscreen, with quotation marks around "Buddy." According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Ferde Grofe, Jr. was to co-produce for Rogers and Edward Cahn was set to direct. Recording artist Gene Vincent and his group, the Red Caps, appear in the film as themselves. Although an April 1958 Daily Variety news item adds Esther Dale to the cast, her appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.