Feb 11, 2015
Wild Women from Warner Archive: Nancy Kwan and Mamie Van Doren
I love the high-spirited, incredibly silly flicks that Warner Archive has been releasing lately. The new batch is as much fun as the pair of 60s films I reviewed last Wednesday.
This week's double feature is headlined by two very different female characters who are heading towards domestic life, while embracing a bit of wildness along the way.
The Wild Affair (1965)
I've always been disappointed that Nancy Kwan didn't have a bigger career, though her performances in The World of Suzie Wong (1960) and Flower Drum Song (1961) are enough to grant her minor legend status. While both of those roles were seriously sexy, she didn't allow herself to be a vapid bombshell. There was always an air of amused wisdom about her, as if she knew she had a lot more to offer than her beauty, but she wasn't going to let just anyone in on the secret.
In The Wild Affair, Kwan gets the chance to play this type with a more modern flair. She is completely hip to the times as Marjorie Lee, a young secretary on the verge of plunging into matrimony, but still curious about the shifting tides brought forth by the sexual revolution. Looking for one last blast before embracing domesticity, she throws an orgiastic company party on her last day of work.
Marjorie is twenty years old, not long a woman, but already wise. This is partly because every man she meets feels the need to paw at her. You can't stay a child long with all that groping. Her boss, played with lecherous glee by Terry-Thomas, was especially grabby. I wanted to shout at the man to leave her alone!
But this woman knows how to take care of herself. She's got all the energy of youth, and she's willing to experiment, but she's also smart enough to know when to get out of a bad situation. This is the savvy, unapologetic female I'm always craving to see in films. That such a part is played by Nancy Kwan is too good to be true. It's great to see her break free in an adventurous, sharp and playful role.
Kwan is clever, funny, and gracefully walks the line between sweet and street smart. While her character shows hints of being resigned to a conventional life, you get the feeling that a woman that alive could never truly roll along with the status quo.
A lot of supposedly swinging sixties movies can make you cringe with their stilted, but farcical interpretations of the sexual revolution. This flick jumps headfirst into the lusty insanity of it all.
To make it all even more of its time, Kwan rocks a mod Vidal Sassoon bob and a hip wardrobe created by London designer Mary Quant.
Side note to silent film/early talkie fans: Bessie Love is delightful in a brief appearance as Marjorie's mother.
Born Reckless (1958)
Mamie Van Doren was Universal's attempt to launch its own bleach blonde bombshell in the fifties, a la Marilyn Monroe. She certainly looked the part, but just like Jayne Mansfield and Diana Dors, she possessed an entirely different kind of charm than the breathy queen of 1950s sex symbols. Energetic, playful and ready to rock, Van Doren always seemed the most happy-go-lucky of the sexy blondes.
In Born Reckless Van Doren plays one of her most vibrant roles as cowgirl singer and trick rider Jackie, who travels with rodeo star Kelly Cobb (Jeff Richards) and his handler Cool Man (Arthur Hunnicutt) through the competitive circuit. She pines for Kelly and wants to settle down with him on the ranch he's buying with his winnings, but he's still sowing his oats and pays little attention to Jackie.
Perhaps Kelly is suffering from an overload of attention from gorgeous cowgirls, because it is impossible to believe that he wouldn't at least give Jackie a tumble, even though her torpedo-boobed bombshell appearance is at odds with the domestic-minded singer's wholesome values.
It doesn't matter though. This movie isn't concerned with plot. It's about rip-snorting rodeo scenes, bar fights and excellent rockabilly cowboy songs. Van Doren takes on most of the singing duties, and her numbers are a lot of fun because she looks like she's having a blast. Something to Dream About in particular had me tapping my toes for days afterwards. Rockabilly Texan Johnny Olenn and His Group also tear through a couple of raucous numbers, including the memorable title track.
It's uncomplicated fun. There are no surprises. This is the kind of movie you watch when you need to be cheered up, but don't want to save for a rainy day.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.