This one's got it
all. The sleazy hang out, the leather jackets, the roaring
hot rods, a competent cast and one of the very best
scores to emerge from a film of its type.
Hot Rod Rumble
handily qualifies for placement at the top of any speed
film devotee's 10 best list. From its opening shot of
tough guy Richard Hartunian lighting a smoke to the
smouldering, sax-driven strains of Alexander Courage's
music, Rumble consistently delivers on its promise
of cheap thrills. Lensed by journeyman director Leslie
Martinson, who the previous year had endowed J.D. filmdom
with the unforgettable Hot Car Girl, this flick
sizzles along at a four-barrel's pace. Soon after the
film's completion, Martinson turned his steady hand
to TV, where he shepherded crackerjack dramas such as
77 Sunset Strip and Cheyenne for Warner
Brothers. Steamrolling into the 60s, Martinson mounted
big-budget flicks like PT 109 and the 1966 Batman
feature starring Adam West.
scenery-chewer Richard Hartunian stars as a misunderstood
dropout, hovering on the fringes of the teen in-crowd.
Possessed of an oddball intensity, but little credibility,
Hartunian does his best Brando, grunting and growling
his way through what is, by all accounts, his only film
Handsome Brett Halsey
does a snide turn as Hartunian's antagonist. Nurturing
B-movie laurels, such as High School Hellcats
and Girl in Lover's Lane, Halsey rivaled heartthrob
John Ashley as the drive-in teen-hunk to top.
King appears as Hartunian's cowardly, conniving pal.
King was better known at the time for co-starring with
a passle of puppets in the 50s kid-vid classic Johnny
as the desire of every male on the premises, luscious
Leigh Snowden brings an unlabored sensuality to the
proceedings as Hartunian's girl. Snowden's non-cutsie
presence was an invaluable attribute, unusual among
starlets of the genre.
J.D. film chicks
fell consistently into one of two categories: snarling,
kicks-hungry harpie, or squeamish daddy's girl yearning
to test the waters. This can't be said of Snowden. She
invests the sodden script with a degree of genuine humanity.
Prior to this unusual turn as a teen, producers had
sought to utilize her earthy maturity and natural beauty
in more adult roles.
with an eye-catching bit as a sunbathing babe in the classic
Kiss Me Deadly, Snowden found herself cast in adult
dramas such as, I've Lived Before, alongside Jock
Mahoney and The Rawhide Years with Tony Curtis.
She indelibly impressed
cult-film fanatics, lending a much-needed note of sincerety
to the final installment of the immortal Black Lagoon
trilogy, The Creature Walks Among Us.
Following the completion of Hot Rod Rumble, she
sought to settle down, marrying accordion ace and Daddy-O
star Dick Contino.
The musical element
in films of this nature cannot be underestimated. Take,
for instance, Teenage Thunder. All the pieces
are there. Rebellious youth, souped-up cars, a grudge-match
chicken race and a dad who just doesn't get it. But
the proceedings are drained of any velocity by a smarmy
score comprised of bubbly situational music.
Hot Rod Rumble, however,
is a standout. The West Coast jazz clique were on hand
to enhance any number of delinquent and horror cheapies
with prolific Les Baxter leading the pack. But when it
came time to score Rumble, somebody gathered the
creme de la creme.
Alexander Courage forever entered
the pop consciousness when he composed the Star Trek
theme. Twice he was nominated for Oscars, most notably for
scoring Doctor Doolittle. But I'm willing to bet
he never again worked with musicians the caliber of those
who enliven the Hot Rod Rumble soundtrack. Guitar
great Barney Kessel is on hand, as are Maynard Ferguson,
Pete Condoli, Shelly Manne, Dave Pell and more.
Obviously a vital component of
any youth-oriented flick, music was only successfully
integrated as a key ingredient into a handful of teen-targeted
films. A pair of the most prominent are profiled below:
Hot Car Girl (1958)
Jazz innovator Cal Tjader
scored this four-on-the-floor foray for Roger Corman.
The plot detailing June Kenney's seduction into teen thug
Richard Bakalyan's stolen wheels racket is peppered by
Tjader's too-cool, bongo-driven score, reused thereafter
in a number of Corman flicks.
Squeeze-box king Dick Contino, the man who popularized
Lady of Spain (no kiddin') and won the real life
heart of Leigh Snowden, takes to the big screen as a fast-driving
rockabilly warbler. Dick effectively belts out such confections
as Rock Candy Baby and Angel Act, composed
for the film by John Williams. That's right, John (Star
Wars, Jaws, Close Encounters, Raiders) Williams.