Written by / 7/27/2016 / No comments / , , , , , ,

ANDREWS & CRAIN DOUBLE: HOT RODS TO STATE FAIR HELL

Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain 1967
Not a stranger double-feature you'll find, so just relax and unwind... First a 1945 trip to the STATE FAIR where Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain made a terrific couple...

Dana & Jeanne 1945
Then, a whole twenty-two years later (following their DUEL IN THE JUNGLE and MADISON AVENUE), on a violent hwy in the desert under the scorching sun, a trio of violent teens stalk our once young couple, Andrews and Crain, now both adults, married with two kids, trying for a new start and, so far, not doing too well while escaping from HOT RODS TO HELL! It's strange that STATE FAIR, a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that wedged Dana Andrews in-between the mysterious classic Film Noir LAURA and perhaps the greatest post-war movie ever, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, wherein, although married to a shallow nightclub floozy, Virginia Mayo, his older, manly, vulnerable character fell in love with a young lady played by the always-adorable Teresa Wright. And in STATE FAIR, his part is much smaller although he receives second billing to the star, as in the central character along with her family; another lovely young lady, and this one more outright and outrageously gorgeous: that being Jeanne Crain...

Crain and Andrews Uptight at a Rest Stop
As Margy Frake, she's off to the titular locale with her rural family, a brother in singer Dick Haymes whose Wayne looks nothing like he acts. That is, he's pretty cool and suave despite resembling what he is: a  lanky singer, not a muscular actor. Great especially in a scene against a young, goading Harry Morgan (who watched Andrews hang in OX-BOW INCIDENT around the same time). His face, young and plain, was led by that same booming voice: As a barker who had ripped off Wayne the year before, one of the best scene occurs as Wayne, an able hand at a particular fake shooting range game, wins all his money back. As well as the heart of sexy Vivian Blaine...

Two Old Fashions
The movie, no surprise, taking place mostly at the Fair following a sort of dreamlike WIZARD OF OZ-Kansas motif back at the family farm: Crain's dreaming, window-gazing Margy has a boyfriend who's just too typical, meticulous and boring. Turns out being Phil Brown, who'd play Hemingway's own Nick Adams in the mazy Film Noir THE KILLERS, and best yet, Luke Skywalker's stubborn moisture farming Uncle Owen in STAR WARS many years later. Then, at the fair, Dana Andrews, as a smooth-talking newspaper man doing his yearly article, flirts with the girl who, like Wright in BEST YEARS, seems many years younger, more than she actually was, actually not far off from our leading man who you'll root will land the little (tall, actually) gal: he had that quality about him, like he deserved a young good thing...

From Couting in Heaven to...
FAIR has a happy ending all around. The family pig, raised by dad, wins the prize, as does mom with her apple pie. Although there is a legitimate worth of criminal-like suspense, for a musical, as Wayne's girlfriend has a violent beau who gets jealous and a fight arises within a birthday party, after a big nighttime show. Meanwhile, it seems a stretch that Margy will wind up with Dana's older, world-weary Pat Gilbert... Just a crush and nothing more, and yet they just might have a real future. So let's pretend, after both are wed, decades later they change their names to...

About his daughter: "You'll do better looking at the road!"
Tom and Peg Philips played by an older Andrews and Crain, although both look pretty swell in HOT RODS TO HELL, resembling a TV Movie more than anything theatrical. From 1967, television was the medium it was intended before being sold to the Drive-In circuit later on, where it actually belonged all along. A sort of Cult Flick of the Crazy Biker Era, only replacing those straggly hogs with a fire-red HOT ROD dandy with a sexy, instigating blonde between two teenage (though much older) goons, the dame holds onto a roll bar and the downright notorious car, like that killer truck in Spielberg's DUEL a few years later, won't let the family go: this after dad had gotten into a really bad car crash to barnstorm the prologue, ruining his back and especially his "guts" before beginning a new life: all set up to take over a motel in the middle of nowhere. And that's where they're on their way to...

STATE FAIR Rating: ****
Much of HOT RODS takes place on the highway, making it a bonafide road flick; an extremely low budget yet genuinely legit nightmarish romp where the clan are hunted by the madman teen, his pal and the flirtatious yet envious blonde girlfriend...

HOT RODS TO HELL Rating: ***
The leader, Duke, winds up being lusted upon by the good yet sexy family daughter... who would play "Third Nude" in the first DIRTY HARRY, and for an ugly dude he's got something going for him...

Sexy Daughter is completely smitten with this loser as she, all alone, lies in bed, writing and wiggling with his twisted mug in her pretty head. And while a cat fight between good girl and bad never ensues, Dana has to be the man: to finally make a stand... But still, he just can't find it in him to stand up and do what he used to! Unlike FAIR, this campy cult film isn't really all that fun to watch on a loop, like movies of this particular genre, or even to poke fun at. Actually, the entire experience, seeing Andrews not able to fight... holding his back in pain before easily clobbering wimpy teenage goons, is absolutely torturous:

Nice Girls Used to Prefer A Smoking Man
If the entire film took place where the family winds up, the motel connected to a noisy swinging roadhouse where a band plays that typical Surf Guitar with a Chorus Peddle Rockabilly, which, on the road, crossed with a game show theme, the music never stops during the action sequences...

"What kind of animals are those?"
If this inevitable motel destination wasn't just a short stretch of a 90-minute highway flick that, at one point, feels like an endless road to nowhere, it really might've been something but hey, wait: Something happens at the 11th hour when we DO go somewhere with a pretty excellent finale including a monologue on cowardice, and giving up and giving in... for Andrews, some real acting during a suspenseful game of chicken on the midnight road when our man finally has a cause and a fight, and you can see the tough WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS no-nonsense expression as there's someone to actually root for as both Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain still looked pretty great and it's great to see them there; many years older than the FAIR yet still a perfect pair!
Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews with kids, Laurie Mock and Jeffrey Byron
Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews take a stroll at the STATE FAIR
When title cards were title cards, just check out the artwork at the left and right
A young Harry Morgan squares off with a younger hero, Dick Haymes, in STATE FAIR
STAR WARS Uncle Owen Lars actor Phil Brown awkwardly courts Jeanne Crain in STATE FAIR
The gorgeous Jeanne Crain does her best grownup OZ Dorothy imitation in STATE FAIR
During the Game of Chicken finale with Jeanne Crain, Laurie Mock, Dana Andrews and Jeffrey Byron
End title card to HOT RODS TO HELL, winds up pretty swell after all... farewell!
And last, the villains: DeNiro pal Gene Kirkwood; blonde hottie Mimsy Farmer; and Paul Bertoya
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