Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Daddy-O (Imperial, 1958)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Daddy-O is a 1958 juvenile delinquency/rock ’n’ roll movie of such stupefying boredom even the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 crew could do little to make it entertaining. Virtually nobody involved in this movie went on to a major career, and watching it it’s easy to see why: the director is someone named Lou Place and the writer someone equally (if not more) undistinguished named David Moessinger. The only people connected with this film I’d heard of before were the star, Dick Contino — who made some quite appealing instrumental accordion records for Mercury in the 1950’s and is still alive and performing — and the composer of the background score, John Williams. Yes, that John Williams, writing a rather nice jazz accompaniment for much of the movie and showing himself ready for biggers and betters — I had thought Elmer Bernstein’s debut in Cat Women on the Moon was the most embarrassing first credit for a composer that went on to major-budget productions and won Academy Awards, but this one certainly rivals it!

Contino looks far too old to be playing a teenager (he was born January 17, 1930, which would have made him 28 when this film was made) — though that’s also true of the entire rest of the cast as well — and he doesn’t get to do the one thing he really could do well, play the accordion. Instead he’s presented in three characterizations, in none of which does he really distinguish himself, including the titular “Daddy-O,” a teenage truckdriver (well, it worked for Elvis, didn’t it?) who’s nearly run off the road by Thunderbird-driving blonde babe Jana Ryan (Sandra Giles, who was to Mamie Van Doren what Van Doren was to Marilyn Monroe), which is about the only plot this film has until very much later, about a reel before the end, in which Pete Plum (another one of Contino’s alter egos in this movie, though I kept expecting to hear he did it in the library with the lead pipe) is given a package to deliver to someone by throwing it out of his car at a predetermined point (we can guess the package contains illegal drugs, but he seems utterly oblivious to that possibility), only the police are lying in wait at the drop point and arrest him.

Along the way there’s an auto race and Giles gets to try to channel Natalie Wood from Rebel Without a Cause as she signals the two teen boy drivers to start, but aside from that nothing happens in this movie: the characters simply drive around and hang out at a coffee shop where there’s a house rock ’n’ roll band (the actors playing musicians just bop up and down to the pre-recorded soundtrack and don’t even try to make it look like they’re really playing their instruments) to which they sometimes sing — which provoked the nasty comment from one of the MST3K crew, “Why couldn’t he have been on that plane instead of Buddy Holly?” Actually, Dick Contino was a quite good musician in a limited genre — I remember particularly his reading of the song “Nightingale” on the Mercury sampler album Music to Live By, quite eloquently phrased and much more impressive than Les Baxter’s recording of the same piece — and he’s not only still alive, he lives in Las Vegas, still performs and records, and he’s married to a woman named Tonia who sells medicinal herbs (Dick’s Web site, www.dickcontino.com, links to hers). One would think he deserved a better movie as a showcase!