There's trouble down on this campus, as many of the students have staged a sit-in at one of the buildings, and have told the Principal in no uncertain terms that they want him out of the job since there is no way they will talk to him, as he is the embodiment of the establishment they wish to overthrow. The university board hold an emergency meeting where they look at the protestors' choices for a new Principal: Che Guevara, Eldridge Cleaver and Paco Perez (Anthony Quinn). The first two are impossible, but who is Perez? He's the lecturer they feel is most attuned to their demands and outlook, a liberal progressive, so he is called from his bed to meet the board...
Student protests were very much in the news in 1970, in America at least, where after the famous (notorious?) events in 1968 across the globe, the revolutionary fervour had never calmed down thanks to the Vietnam War still raging and claiming the lives of the nation's young men (not to mention the lives of many Vietnamese). Therefore this was also the time of Hollywood wrestling with the issues, with various campus-set dramas more or less playing out the same way: starting with the protest, lots of chat about the social and political problems, and eventually some kind of eruption of violence as the police or Army were called to step in and remove the insurgents.
Some of these were very effective as a snapshot of their window on an era - Getting Straight and Drive, He Said are worth your time if you want an original take on the events - but R.P.M. was painfully not one of those, actively embarrassing to watch in places. Stanley Kramer was the man behind it, one of the most powerful producers and directors of the nineteen-fifties and sixties, and a proud liberal at a time when such a stance was by no means popular, so naturally with the country in turmoil, he wished to address that. The trouble was, it looked like this old geezer was trying to get down with the kids, something Kramer was ill-advised to do, being one of the older generation.
Not that it is impossible for someone older to see a younger person's point of view, but that's more likely these days when the teens who grew up with the generation gap are now parents and grandparents themselves, so can sympathise when they see the youngsters struggling with the same societal pressures they did at their age. But back in 1970? Even a self-proclaimed liberal like Kramer found himself out of place, and the Quinn character more appealing to his mentality than any of the students who are portrayed as having some justification in their stand, but eventually there comes a time when they are too stubborn or naïve to understand what people - i.e. the authorities - are trying to tell them about the way the world works. Somehow the film managed to patronise both sides of the argument.
Quinn's character was cringefully self-regarding, even when he is knocked down a peg or two, because Perez was the hero and this fifty-three-year-old man was our gateway into the climate of protest bred on the campuses of America. This is supposedly because he likes to have sex with the students (female), which somehow offers him a greater perception of what makes them tick, a concept that may have been an accurate rendering of some student-tutor relationships down the years, but you can imagine how well that plays today, not very. When Quinn is introduced in bed with latest conquest Ann-Margret, a graduate student, with his hand on her ass, the effect is ludicrous: how does this libido of his generate any kind of intelligent discussion, especially when there are scenes later on where he and protest leaders Gary Lockwood (smug) and Paul Winfield (sincere) have their talks break down, leaving the $2million computer a potential casualty. That nothing is resolved but a bunch of heads get whacked may be the only accurate element here. Music by Perry Botkin Jr and Barry De Vorzon.