Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Phynx (1970)



          As did Otto Preminger’s disastrous Skiddo (1969), the musical comedy The Phynx charts the most batshit-crazy extremes of the Vietnam-era collision between Establishment values and youth-driven counterculture. A frenetically paced phantasmagoria filled with emptily groovy music, painfully unfunny jokes, pointless cameos by Hollywood stars from yesteryear, and enough sexual humor to make a horny 13-year-old boy blush, The Phynx is very much of the so-wrong-it’s-right variety. Taken at face value, the picture is a juvenile satire of the hysteria surrounding rock bands, fused to a bizarre story about celebrity kidnappings and global intrigue. It’s too hip for the geezers, too square for the kids, and too over-the-top stupid for anyone with a working cerebellum, even if by sheer statistical inevitability, one joke per thousand displays a glimmer of wit.
          Viewed ironically, however, The Phynx is priceless. With some bad movies, the lingering question afterward is why anybody saw value in the underlying premise. With The Phynx, it’s not just the premise that causes befuddlement—literally every single scene in the picture is a colossal misstep, from the puerile sequence about using X-ray specs to ogle ladies in their underwear to the insane finale during which a parade of vintage celebrities are introduced as they enter a room, like guests at some Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences retirement party.
          From start to finish, The Phynx is sure to leave even the most adventurous viewer aghast, flummoxed, and stupefied.
          The plot involves a scheme by a secret government agency to retrieve dozens of American celebrities who have been kidnapped by the communist government in Albania. Upon receiving orders from “Number One,” a version of President Nixon portrayed with a giant wooden block for a head and Rich Little’s voice emanating from within, the secret agency devices its master plan: create a rock band that becomes so popular the Albanian government will request a command performance, at which point the musicians can free the celebrities. Huh? After recruiting the would-be rock stars, the secret agency employs a strange group of people to train the youths. Actor Clint Walker, playing himself, serves as a drill sergeant. Harold Sakata, reprising his “Odd Job” character from Goldfinger (1964), teaches combat. Richard Pryor, playing himself, teaches the lads how to have soul. (Yes, atop everything else, The Phynx is stunningly racist.) Dick Clark, playing himself, appraises the lads’ ability to scale the pop charts. Ed Sullivan introduces the first performance of The Phynx, which is the name given to the group. There’s also a character named “Phil Groovy,” a record producer modeled on Phil Spector.
          Much of the film comprises the members of The Phynx tracking down a set of pretty girls, each of whom has part of an important map tattooed on her body. At one point, the musicians literally shack up in hotel rooms and have sex with 1,000 women in order to find the one with a map tattoo. (This should not be confused with the earlier scene containing the line, “Gentlemen, the United States government is pleased to announce an orgy!”) The madness concludes with an endless sequence during which the dictator of Albania presents his “guests,” the kidnapped celebrities: choreographer/director Busby Berkeley and the original “Gold Diggers” dancers, the Lone Ranger (John Hart) and Tonto (Jay Silverheels) from the old Lone Ranger TV show, Maureen O’Sullivan, and Johnny Weissmuller from the old Tarzan movies, and so on. After the celebrity parade, the Phynx plays a patriotic tune about how much America misses its stars (“The neck bone and the backbone of showbiz was gone, and it nearly blew my mind!”), and then the heroes help the celebrities attempt a mass escape.
          Amazingly, this overview of the film’s contents leaves out many gems, like the supercomputer called M.U.T.H.A., which is shaped like a woman and issues data cards from its nether regions. Clearly transmitted to our planet from some distant dimension, The Phynx is as weird as big-budget American cinema gets. Not surprisingly, the film had such a meager release that images of the original-release poster are hard to find, so I pulled screen grabs and made a collage hinting at the onscreen chaos. Wow.

The Phynx: FREAKY

1 comment:

Steven Thompson said...

I first read about THE PHYNX in a TIGER BEAT or 16 blurb that said it was "like the Monkees." I kept waiting for it to show up in my local theater but, of course, it never did. Over the years, it went straight to the top of my list of movies I really wanted to see! I finally found a copy in 1997 and felt pretty much everything you write about here. Not just mind-numbingly bad but how in the world did ANYONE think anything about the film could possibly work in any way? Wow. Speechless still.