Film: Hootenanny A Go-Go (1965)
Director: Shepard Traube
Also known as: Once Upon A Coffeehouse
Plot: Jerry Newby, the scheming owner of a Miami coffee house creatively called The Coffee House, lays it out shortly into the film: “This cat [Curtis Taylor] has flipped over this chick [Karen Thorsell], right? Every week, he spends a fortune to fly down from New York just to drool over her. But he doesn’t make out, right? Now, let’s get this picture in focus: Don’t you think a rich cat like this might just buy our establishment just to be the boss-man and have [Thorsell] work for him… so she’s gonna come on strong for the boss-man?”
So Newby, a glib weasel with a Paul Lynde smile, tells the clean-cut square Taylor that buying the coffee house will help him “score” with Thorsell, one of the coffee house’s popular folksingers. Taylor bursts into incredulous laughter, but one Gilligan cut later, he’s resignedly forking over a check for $15,000—and immediately heading over to Thorsell to give her the good news. The way her face falls says an awful lot about how she feels about the plan, and about him. As he well knows, she already has a boyfriend, band frontman Vince Martin.
But Taylor doesn’t give up. Over the course of Hootenanny A Go-Go, he tries repeatedly to score with Thorsell, by picking up the slang, goatee, and tight pants of a hipster folknik. Eventually, charmed by his devotion, his desperation, or the wealth that allows him to take her out on his boat and ply her with endless champagne, she comes around—especially when a local artist hangs a tasteful nude painting of a woman with a guitar on the coffee house’s wall, and Martin thinks Thorsell posed for it, and starts treating her like crap and threatening Taylor with violence if he doesn’t take it down.
Key scenes: Most of Hootenanny’s scenes are extended musical performances. Director Shepard Traube was inspired by the endless bitching of a friend who owned a coffee house, so he imported some mildly popular New York acts and staged his own swinging ’60s folk scene; the Taylor-and-Thorsell plot is a thin connective tissue around a series of acts performing folk, gospel-folk, and comedy-folk.
That said, there are a few memorable sequences, like the folk-centric beach party where the singers and their fans all huddle up together in a tight wad, facing in one direction, surrounded by sparklers, and singing plaintively. They look as if they’ve been shipwrecked and are hoping for rescue, or like they’re in a horror movie, facing a nightmare out in the darkness.
And then there’s the slapstick sequence where Newby, still helpfully trying to get Taylor laid, brings him some skinny hipster pants so he’ll fit into the coffee-house groove better. This leads to a lot of Taylor flopping around shirtlessly, unable to bend his knees.
But the movie’s big climax comes when some toughs, presumably acting at Martin’s behest, come around and demand the nude painting. When Taylor stonewalls them, they menace him with the scariest weapon the ’60s had to offer: a single switchblade. Fortunately, a few flung pizzas thoroughly defeat them. They flee in pizza-sauce-smeared terror, but Thorsell and the coffee-house employees have their blood up, so they manage to pizza Taylor, his cartoon-aristocrat mom, and Newby as well.
And finally, there’s a memorably weird dream sequence where Taylor, on all fours and dressed like a dog, pants around after Thorsell in a fog-shrouded, vaguely swampish set, while she does a few vague ballet moves with Newby, and Martin and his buddies tease Taylor and pull his costume ears. It ends with him being menaced by the coffee house’s espresso machine, which looks like a strange, flapping robot.
Can easily be distinguished by: A couple of songs performed by comedy act Jim, Jake & Joan. The Joan is Joan Rivers in her first film role, looking peppy and caffeinated as she brays out counterpoint lines to the more tuneful guys. Their initial number, riffing on the day’s news, seems inspired by Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner’s routines, but less funny.
Sign that it was made in 1965: It treats folkniks as way-cool cats who really know how to have a good time with a swingin’, finger-snappin’, acoustic-guitar-driven sing-along.
Timeless message: Love can be bought with patience, devotion, $15,000, and a boat.
Memorable quotes: Eventually, the nude-portrait artist turns up again with a woman in a slouchy, smock-ish oversized blouse and big sunglasses, and reveals that this is actually her model. Then she orders her to strip down to the tight blouse underneath, fix her hair, and remove her glasses. When Martin sees the fox underneath the layers, he instantly loses interest in Thorsell, saying “Wow, Corinne, you’re a girl! Why didn’t you tell me you were hiding all this delicious femininity?”