Country: United States
Starring: Vincent Price, Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, Susan Hart, Jack Mullaney, Fred Clark, Annette Funicello, Harvey Lembeck, Tommy Kirk, Pamela Rodgers.
Director: Norman Taurog
Writers: James Hartford, Robert Kaufman, Elwood Ullman
Cinematograper: Sam Leavitt
Music: Les Baxter
Producers: Samuel Z. Arkoff, James H. Nicholson
Okay, before we start, to know where this film is coming from, it is going to pay to skip across to Keith’s impressively mounted (and courageous) feature on the Beach Party movies. Hop across there now, and then come back.
So you’re back, and now now armed with all the information you could possibly want to know about the Beach Party movies – and privy to how much Keith drinks on the weekend! Next you’re going to need a crash course in Bond, James Bond. Particularly Goldfinger. Now combine what you have read in a large tumbler. Add some ice, a claymation title sequence by Art Clokey, who would later go on to create the Gumby television series, and a healthy budget. “Hold on!” I hear you say. “This is an American International Picture — it can’t have a decent budget!” Well, you are right. The budget was a smidge over a million dollars. But Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine was the first AIP to have a budget that exceeded one million dollars. So for them, this was one of their big guns.
Who were American International Pictures? They were a film production company formed in 1956 by James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff. AIP released independently produced, low-budget films. Their specialty was youth orientated pictures, and Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine taps into that audience, along with another of AIP’s audiences — those who followed the Corman Poe cycle — but more of that later. Okay now, let’s look at the film.
The film is set in San Francisco and is set the day after tomorrow. The opening features location shots of San Fran — the undulating streetscapes, the Golden Gate bridge, and Fisherman’s Wharf. Finally the camera settles on a shapely young lady (Susan Hart) in a trenchcoat wearing a fedora. As she crosses a street, a hotrod screams around the corner, and before you can say “Daddy O,” it crashes right into her. She doesn’t flinch and continues on her way. Next, she inadvertently interrupts a bank robbery. The villains pull their pistols and fire several shots into her. No effect! Okay, what type of girl can survive this treatment? A robot. A “girl bot” in fact. One of Dr. Goldfoot’s amazing creations. This girl bot is Number 11, and Dr. Goldfoot (Vincent Price) has programmed her to track down Todd Armstrong (Dwayne Hickman), the world’s wealthiest bachelor, seduce him, marry him, and then acquire all his wealth.
Meanwhile in a cafeteria, Craig Gamble (Frankie Avalon) is busting up with his girlfriend. Actually it’s the other way around. She is dumping him because he is a cheapskate. He just bought her a cheese sandwich and a glass of milk for lunch. He sure knows how to impress a girl. For some inexplicable reason, as Number 11 passes the cafeteria, she has an urge to go inside and drink the glass of milk on Gamble’s table. Why, I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense. Then Number 11 confuses Gamble for Armstrong and starts to seduce him, which is not hard, as Gamble is a randy horndog. He wastes no time in rushing her back to his apartment.
As Gamble and Number 11 roll around on the floor, Dr. Goldfoot enters his control room, which he has left under the control of his faithful but dimwitted minion, Igor (Jack Mullaney). On the monitor, he notices that Number 11 has acquired the wrong target. Goldfoot reprograms her to go after her real target, Armstrong. She breaks off with Gamble, mid-embrace, and heads out onto the streets once more. Gamble is pretty confused by all this and heads off to see his uncle Donald (Fred Clark). Uncle Donald happens to be the San Francisco head of the Security Intelligence Command, or SIC as it is known. This gives the opportunity for various characters to refer to themselves as a “SIC man.” Get it? Yep, it’s a groaner all right! Gamble also works for SIC. He is agent Double O Half. He isn’t even allowed to carry a gun.
Gamble relays the mornings events to his uncle, who routinely dismisses them. By this time, Number 11 has tracked down her intended target, Todd Armstrong, and is dining with him at a local restaurant. I use the word “dining” loosely, because there is not much food being devoured. It is a procession of one drink after another. As Number 11 is a robot, she doesn’t get drunk, but poor old Armstrong is loosing it. So much so, that Number 11 convinces him, that he should marry her. He agrees.
Next, we see our newly weds in the boudoir. Armstrong is gagging for it, but before Number 11 will let him sample the goodies, she insists that he signs over all his stocks to her. He does. But rather than the supreme sexual encounter that he was expecting, she gets dressed and leaves, preparing to return to Dr. Goldfoot’s lab. On her journey back, Gamble spots her in the street and rushes over to her. She pretends not to notice him. He grabs her by the hand, only to have it come off in his hands. Goldfoot collects his girl bot, and Gamble is left with only a hand as his sole clue to his mysterious love. In case I haven’t made this plain, Gamble is in love with the robot. He is such a looser that if any woman pays any attention to him, it’s immediately love.
Later that evening, Gamble is still trying to track down the love of his life. For some reason (once again, it is never really explained) he goes to Goldfoot Memorial Park — a cemetery. Sneaking around, through a window in the caretaker’s cottage he witnesses Igor getting into a coffin. This coffin features a stairway that leads to Goldfoot’s secret laboratory. Co-incidentally, the episode “Weekend Vampire” from the television series Get Smart also featured the same coffin entrance to a laboratory, as did at least one episode of The Avengers.. Gamble goes below and witnesses all of Goldfoot’s operation, including the torture and reprogramming of Number 11. Needless to say, he is slightly disappointed to find out that the girl of his dreams is a robot. But armed with this information, he goes back to uncle Donald, and relays the details of Dr. Goldfoot’s set-up and plans. Once again, uncle Donald doesn’t believe him.
Gamble has no other option but to go directly to Armstrong and tell him what’s going on. Once informed, the two men join forces to bring Goldfoot down, and this involves another visit to the cemetery. This time, the evil doctor is waiting and captures them. He takes them to his torture chamber, which is just an excuse to re-use some footage from The Pit And The Pendulum. Our two heroes somehow manage to escape. Not because of their ingenuity, but rather because of Igor’s incompetence. And this is where the film becomes a little hard to bare. It becomes a silly chase film. Gamble and Armstrong escape in a car, with Goldfoot and Igor hot on their trail, with Igor riding a motorcycle, and Goldfoot seated beside him in a side-car.
I have my moments were I am quite happy to take a stroll down “dumb street.” I can sit through some of the most juvenile movies and still not get bored by the lame shenanigans on screen. Bikini Machine is certainly a walk down “dumb street,” and for the first three quarters of the film, I had no problem with that. I enjoyed Price’s over the top abuse of Igor. It didn’t matter how many times he called him “a blithering idiot” or told him to “chop, chop.” It raised a smile from my chapped lips. But for the last quarter of the film, somebody decided that the film needed more action. This action appears in the form of a laboriously painful chase through the streets of San Francisco. And the chase is repetitive. Dr. G chases Gamble and Armstrong, who are in a car. Dr. G uses his remote control to blow up Gamble and Armstrong’s car. Gamble and Armstrong steal another car. Dr. G uses his remote control to blow up Gamble and Armstrong’s car. I am sure you get the idea. Finally the chase moves from automobiles to San Francisco Trolley Cars. This is where I reckon most of the films budget went. During the chase, Goldfoot and Igor board a trolley car and chase Gamble and Armstrong who are also on board a trolley car. As they reach the end of the line, our heroes leap off and hop on a mini bike. But Goldfoot and Igor’s trolley leaps off the tracks and pursues them on the streets. Obviously a trolley car can’t travel where there are no tracks, so this vehicle must have been put together by the films “gadget” department, and I am guessing, cost a pretty penny. It’s a good sight gag, but the gimmick overstays it’s welcome. Still, having invested so much money in setting it up, I guess they had to run with it.
I will leave the synopsis there, so as to save a few surprises for those foolhardy enough to want to track down Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine (insert maniacal laughter, fading into the distance). And if that isn’t enough for you, and you are a glutton for punishment, a companion piece to Bikini Machine aired on the TV show Shindig, called The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot. Now I have tried to push the envelope a little and actually do a little research for this review. Some people say that Wild Weird World was just a promo for Bikini Machine that American International Pictures put together for their television distribution arm. American International Television generally didn’t produce too many successful television shows (they tried, but failed with a few pilots). What they did do successfully was redistribute many of their old films. Added to that, they bought collections of European, Japanese, and Mexican films, dubbed them badly, and then redistributed them. But I digress. Back to The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot. Those in the know, claim that Bikini Machine was originally intended to be a musical, but the musical numbers were later cut (except for one by “Sam And The Apemen”). Rather than throwing the footage on the scrap heap, it was edited together as The Wild Weird World Of Dr. Goldfoot. For those wishing to track down Wild Weird World, apparently it is available on a DVD called Vincent Price: The Sinister Image, as an extra.But that’s not the end for Goldfoot — oh, no!. The final pitstop on the Goldfoot highway is Dr. Goldfoot And The Girl Bombs. And while Bikini Machine is, well, crap really, it is far superior to this painful Italian sequel. In fact, Girl Bombs is a strange beast. Obviously, as stated it is a sequel to Bikini Machine, but it was also intended to be a sequel to an Italian film called Due Mafiosi Contro Goldginger (AKA: Two Mafiosi Against Goldfinger, and also The Amazing Doctor G), which starred Italian comedy duo, Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia. Dr. Goldfoot And The Girl Bombs, or Spie Vengono Dal Semifreddo (The Spy Who Came In From The Semi-Cold) as it is known in Italy was made to be a sequel to both of them. Obviously, they were edited slightly differently to make the content more relevant to their specific audiences. But in no way are Due Mafiosi Contro Goldginger and Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine related, except for this piss-poor sequel. I hope you followed all that, because I am pretty sure I have confused myself.
Of course you can’t talk about Dr. Goldfoot without talking about Vincent Price. Price had an incredibly long career, but his big break came when he appeared in The Fall Of The House Of Usher in 1960. This film, apart from giving Price’s career a boost, also changed the career of Roger Corman and the direction of American International Picture. Up until this point, Corman had been entrusted to produce two low-budget black-and-white films for release as a double feature. With Usher, he persuaded AIP to produce a film in colour with a higher-budget. Usher became the first of what became known as the Corman Poe cycle, which included The Fall Of The House Of Usher, The Pit And The Pendulum and The Haunted Palace, among others. All the films in the series were directed by Roger Corman, and seven of the eight starred Price. These films helped cement Price’s place in cinema history as a Gothic horror star. Just to emphasize how prolific Price was, between 1960 and 1970, he appeared in forty productions — some just cameos on television, but none-the-less that’s about four per year.The Corman-Poe cycle weren’t the only films that AIP had success with. They also had their Beach Party movies (which you have all read up on). But that brings us to Frankie Avalon. Although Avalon took roles outside the Beach Party series, those films really set him up as a teen idol. After the seven films in Beach Party series, his output diminished. His most notable performances afterwards were as Teen Angel in the film version of Grease, and teaming up with Annette Funicello once again in 1987 for Back To The Beach.
Strangely enough, I am quite familiar with nearly all of director Norman Taurog’s work from the 1960’s. You see, my mother was a huge fan of Elvis, and as such E’s films were on high rotation in the household. Taurog directed nine Elvis films, starting with G.I. Blues and ending in 1968, when he retired with Live A Little, Love A Little. Taurog had started off as somewhat of a wunderkind, when he was awarded the Academy Award for best director in 1931, for the film Skippy. At thirty-two years old, he was (and I think, still is) the youngest recipient of this award. By the time of Bikini Machine, colourful, swingin’ musicals seemed to be Taurog’s bread and butter, which seems to be a pleasant way to wind down one’s career.
At the end of the day, what can I say about Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine? It is trash, yes, but there is something that draws me to the film. Is it watching Vincent Price ham it up? Is it watching another Bond style ripoff? Or is it the goofy antics of Frankie Avalon? No, sorry. I’m a randy old perv — there’s something about nubile young girls in gold lame bikinis that works for me, but American International knew that. They catered for audiences like me, and that’s why we still talk about their films today!