Get Off on the Goldfoot: Kicking off Summer with Vincent Price
While the calendar might denote a specific day that summer begins astrologically, I think most of us will agree that when June arrives, summer is upon us. Here at the Lair, it’s no different. It’s the time of year I break out the Bermuda shorts, drag out the lawn chair, slather up with coconut oil, and start soaking in the rays. It also means that my heart turns to the lighter side of genre fare. From the blood soaked beaches to the dense tropic jungles, you’ll find me turning up the heat all summer long. To start it off, I wanted to bring in the king of cool in a pair of sizzling films. When you think about beaches, surf, and sand, the name Vincent Price surely springs to mind right away. Well, perhaps not right away, but I think today I can bring it a little closer with two films featuring Price commanding a phalanx of two pieces.
By 1965, American International Pictures had already hit it big with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello’s Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, and Bikini Beach, and they were looking for new ways to spin off the formula. Pajama Party, from 1964 featuring Funicello, tied the teen girls, rock, and slapstick hijinks with a science fiction story to modest results, and it must have seemed obvious to try and spin a horror type tale. Enlisting Vincent Price, who had previously appeared in Beach Party as Big Daddy, and director Norman Taurog, deep into a string of directing jobs on Elvis films, writer Robert Kaufman (Ski Party, Freebie and the Bean, Love at First Bite) spun a tale that drew from Price’s Poe films, the “Beach” movies, and spoofed spies along the way. The result was the campy weirdness of Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.
Frankie Avalon stars as Craig Gamble, a junior agent for SIC, the Secret Intelligence Command, who is only barely hanging onto his job. When he runs into a strange girl in a cafeteria, the trail leads him to the nefarious Dr. Goldfoot (Price), a villain intent on taking over the world with his army of golden bikini clad robots. Along with his screw up sidekick Igor (Jack Mullany), Goldfoot programs his girls to marry the most powerful and wealthy men in the world in order to gain their riches and influence for himself. Gamble can’t convince SIC command of his outrageous story, but when he rescues millionaire playboy Todd Armstrong (Dwayne Hickman), the two team up to take down Goldfoot and his belly baring menace.
Taking the tone directly from the “Beach” movies, Dr. Goldfoot plays things for silly laughs that left me smiling, but rarely laughing. Though for comparison, I watched How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, also from 1965, directly after, and found it to be nearly unwatchable. Dr. Goldfoot mines its comedy from slapstick fighting, sight gags, and word play. Which means get ready for a girl to get shot so she can spout milk, Frankie Avalon’s character being referred to punningly as a “SIC” man, and over-cranked chases around a gothic dungeon. Avalon has a certain kind of charisma, and I found him, and Dwayne Hickman, Dobie Gillis to those of us in the know, fun to watch. There is also a certain homoerotic flair to their roles (and Price’s) especially in the face of the bevy of scantily clad co-stars. Surprisingly, Avalon doesn’t sing. The musical numbers were re-cut into a television special called The Weird Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot. Price, of course, steals the show, and he clearly was having a great time no matter if he was menacing in a smoking jacket, showing off paintings of his “ancestors” (actually paintings of Price’s Corman villains), or recreating the climatic finale of The Pit and the Pendulum. However, even he bemoaned the lack of musical numbers in the film saying he felt that it left something lacking in the film. “Beach” movie fans can also look forward to cameos from both Annette and Harvey Lembeck as Erik Von Zipper.
Price had such a good time that he agreed the very next year to come back and slip into the golden shoes of Dr. Goldfoot again. While the first film had only garnered modest success in the United States, in Italy, they ate it up with a spoon. A spoon that had only moments before been shoveling gelato into their face, I’m sure. The previous year the Italian audience had delighted to the antics of comedians Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassa in The Amazing Dr. G, a send-up of James Bond’s Goldfinger. So a plot was hatched. American International Pictures got in bed with Italian International Film, and the baby they had, they called it Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs. The only returning character was Price, but he was up against a singer turned “SIC” man again in the form of pop star Fabian. This time he’s joined by a reluctant director, but one genre film fans will surely know, Mr. Mario Bava.
Dr. Goldfoot is of course up to his old tricks again. This time he’s out to kill off world leaders with his programmed female robots that explode when kissed. Fabian, as Agent Bill Dexter, is dispatched to track down Dr. Goldfoot, and with the help of two local agents, comedians Franci and Ingrassa, the dependable Dexter pursues the diabolical villain. Ultimately, the action leads to a hot air balloon versus bomber chase scene that devolves into a nod to Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Gone is the “Beach” movie humor, and while it remains slapsticky, The Girl Bombs goes in a very different, culturally Italian way that may seem silly and impenetrable to the foreign viewer. In fact the film exists in two very different cuts. The Italian cut makes the stars Franci and Ingrassa and runs twelve minutes longer while the American cut puts Price and Fabian front and center.
No matter which cut we’re talking about, The Girl Bombs was a film that Mario Bava was contractually obligated to do, but he did it reluctantly. He wanted to quit the film on a number of occasions, but he was held to his contract. Sadly, this shows up on the screen as the plot is scant, the filmmaking shaky, and the flow of the film disjointed at best. While there are a few shot setups where the film maker and cinematographer in Bava must have emerged in spite of himself, for the lion’s share of the film, the master behind Twitch of a Death Nerve doesn’t appear. Without Avalon and Hickman bringing their charms, Price is left to carry the weight of the film on his shoulders. Fabian makes for a wet dishrag of a hero, and while Vincent Price is still having fun playing Dr. Goldfoot, the script is so far beneath the first offering that there is little he can do. If one thing can be said for the second film, the bounty of feminine pulchritude on display, this time a bevy of Italian actresses including the ravishing Laura Antonelli, light up the screen. At least in this one way the sequel surpasses the original.
Both of these films, once seriously hard to get a hold of, are currently on Netflix Instant Watch, and on a long summer day after taking in some rays, either one is a great distraction to kick back with a nice cool lemonade and chill for an afternoon. As two of Vincent Price’s more offbeat offerings, they show Price was more than willing to poke fun at his own image and have a good time. If you can get past the star of Dr. Phibes doing the Watusi with a group of bikini babes without cracking a smile, then you must be Charles Bronson. So good evening, Mr. Bronson. For everyone else, despite their faults and cheesiness, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine and Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs are both worth a piece of your summer, and there's no denying that these films, along with the Our Man Flint movies, clearly influenced the Austin Powers franchise. So, yeah, baby. Join me back here for the next two months for more summer fun, and get ready, I have something really big going on in August!