Wild in the Streets (1968): Countercultural Cult Movie, Starring Christopher Jones, Hal Holbrook, and Shelley Winters

Barry Shear directed Wild in the Streets, a satirical zeitgeist movie, starring Christopher Jones, Hal Holbrook, and Shelley Winters.

Based on a 1966 Esquire short story “The Day It All Happened, Baby!” by Robert Thom, this low-budget movie was shot in 15 days.

Zeitgeist Movie

A zeitgeist movie, Wild in the Street benefited from the broader socio-political contexts in which it was made, the Vietnam War, the Anti-War and Countercultural Movements. Lowering the voting age was an issue in 1968 and was not passed until 1970 with Oregon v. Mitchell lowering the presidential minimum voting age to 18. In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the local and state election minimum voting ages to 18.

Released two months before the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the movie was a major commercial hit.  Over the years, it has become a cult classic.

Grade: B (***1/2 out of *****)

Wild in the Streets
Wild in the streets dvd cover.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Popular rock singer and aspiring revolutionary Max Frost (Christopher Jones) was born Max Jacob Flatow Jr. His first public act of violence was blowing up his family’s new car.

Frost’s band, the Troopers, live together with him, their women, and others, in a sprawling Beverly Hills mansion. The band attorney Billy Cage (Kevin Coughlin) on lead guitar, ex-child actor and girlfriend Sally LeRoy (Diane Varsi) on keyboards, hook-handed Abraham Salteen (Larry Bishop) on bass guitar and trumpet, and anthropologist Stanley X (Richard Pryor) on drums.

Max’s band performs a song noting that 52 percent of the population is 25 or younger, making young people the majority in the country. As such, does the country need older politicians.

When Max is asked to sing at a televised political rally by Kennedyesque Senate candidate Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook), who is running on a platform to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, he and the Troopers appear.  But Max stuns everyone by calling instead for the voting age to become 14, then finishes the show with an improvised song, “Fourteen or Fight!”

He calls for a demonstration, and Max’s fans, along with thousands young people, are stirred to action. Within 24 hours, protests have begun in cities around the country.

Fifteen and Ready

Fergus’s advisors want him to denounce Max, but instead he agrees to support the demonstrations, and change his campaign – if Max and his group will compromise, accept a voting age of 15 instead, abide by the law, and appeal to the demonstrators to go home peaceably. Max agrees, and the two appear together on TV, and in person the next day, using the slogan “Fifteen and Ready.”

After the riots, most states agree to lower the voting age within days, and Max Frost and the Troopers campaign for Johnny Fergus, which he wins by landslide.

Taking his place in the Senate, Fergus wishes Frost and his people would now just go away, but instead they get involved with Washington politics. When a Congressman from Sally LeRoy’s home district dies suddenly, the band enters her in the special election that follows.  The eldest of the group, and the only one of majority age to run for office, Sally is voted into Congress by the new teen bloc.

Fourteen and Fight!

The first bill Sally introduces is a constitutional amendment to lower the age requirements for national political office to 14, with the slogan, “Fourteen or Fight!” enters a new phase.

A joint session of Congress is called, and the Troopers, now joined by Fergus’s son, Jimmy (Michael Margotta), swing the vote by spiking the Washington, D.C. water supply with LSD, and providing Senators and Representatives with teenaged escorts.

As teens either take over or threaten the reins of government, the “Old Guard” (over 40) turn to Max to run for president, and assert his control over the changing tide. Max agrees, running as a Republican to his chagrin, but once in office, he turns the tide on his older supporters. Thirty becomes a mandatory retirement age, while those over 35 are rounded up, sent to “re-education camps,” and permanently dosed on LSD.

Fergus unsuccessfully attempts to dissuade Max by contacting his estranged parents (Bert Freed and Shelley Winters), then tries to assassinate him. Failing, he flees Washington, D.C. with his remaining family, but they are soon rounded up.

With youth now in control of the U.S., politically and economically, similar revolutions break out in all the world’s major countries. Max withdraws the military from around the world, puts computers and prodigies in charge of the gross national product, ships surplus grain for free to Third World nations, disbands the FBI and Secret Service, and becomes the leader of “the most truly hedonistic society the world has ever known.”

In the end, however, Max and his cohorts face future intergenerational warfare from an unexpected source, pre-teen children. When a young girl finds out Max’s age, 24, she sneers, “That’s old!”

Later on, after Max kills a crawdad that was a pet to young kids, and mocks their youth and powerlessness, one child exclaims: “We’re gonna put everybody over ten out of business.”

Cameos of Media Celebs

The movie features cameos from several media celebs, including Melvin Belli, Dick Clark, Pamela Mason, Army Archerd, and Walter Winchell. Millie Perkins and Ed Begley have supporting roles, and Bobby Sherman interviews Max as president.

Barry Williams plays the teenaged Max Frost at the beginning of the movie. Child actress Kellie Flanagan, who plays Johnny Fergus’s daughter, Mary, also appeared in director Barry Shear’s TV special “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”

Reel/Real Impact:

Wild in the Streets was first released to theaters in 1968, an election year with many controversies (the Vietnam War, the draft, civil rights, the population explosion, rioting and assassinations, and the baby boomer generation.

The original magazine short story, titled “The Day It All Happened, Baby!” was expanded by its author to book length, and was published as paperback by Pyramid Books.

Oscar Context:

In 1969, Fred R. Feitshans Jr. and Eve Newman were both nominated for the Oscar for Best Film Editing for their work on this film, but lost to Frank P. Keller, who won for Bullitt.

Cast
Shelley Winters as Mrs. Max Flatow (Frost)
Christopher Jones as Max Jacob Flatow Jr., a.k.a. Max Frost
Diane Varsi as Sally LeRoy
Hal Holbrook as Senator Fergus
Millie Perkins as Mrs. Fergus
Richard Pryor as Stanley X
Bert Freed as Max Jacob Flatow Sr.
Kevin Coughlin as Billy Cage
Larry Bishop as the Hook
Michael Margotta as Jimmy Fergus
Ed Begley as Senator Allbright
May Ishihara as Fuji Elly
Salli Sachse as hippie mother
Kellie Flanagan as young Mary Fergus
Don Wyndham as Joseph Fergus

Credits:

Directed by Barry Shear
Produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff, James H. Nicholson
Written by Robert Thom, based on short story “The Day It All Happened, Baby!” by Robert Thom
Music by Les Baxter
Cinematography Richard Moore
Edited by Fred R. Feitshans Jr. Eve Newman
Distributed by American International Pictures

Release date: May 29, 1968

Running time: 97 minutes
Budget $700,000
Box office $4,000,000 (rentals)

Note:

The movie was showed on November 24, 2020.