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  Phynx, The Band On The Run
Year: 1970
Director: Lee H. Katzin
Stars: A. Michael Miller, Ray Chippeway, Dennis Larden, Lonny Stevens, Lou Antonio, Mike Kellin, Michael Ansara, George Tobias, Joan Blondell, Martha Raye, Larry Hankin, Ted Eccles, Ultra Violet, Pat McCormick, Rich Little, James Brown, Johnny Weissmuller
Genre: Musical, Comedy, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: American reperesentative of the Super Secret Agency, Corrigan (Lou Antonio), is trying to break into Albania from Yugoslavia, but as it's a well guarded nation he is finding this difficult to do. His first plan is under cover of the night, where he scales the tall border walls and over the other side, but alas he lands in the sidecar of one of the guard's motorbikes so is quickly escorted from the scene. Other ideas include being fired as a human cannonball over the walls, but he is simply bounced back the other way: the Agency are going to have to come up with a far better way of infiltrating the Communist state, and they call a huge meeting to work one out...

Yes, this film actually exists, a near legendary mess that would be fully legendary if any more people had seen or even heard of it. Where the Monkees movie Head fast turned into a cult classic and on the surface adopted a similar take on pop groups, that was genuinely subversive whereas underneath all the flash and colour The Phynx was deeply staid and conservative. The premise sees the C.I.A.. stand-in Agency come up with the idea to set up a band to break through the Iron Curtain, as if the Monkees had not actually been the brainchild of television executives but a plot by the security services to get the youth of the day under the collective thumb of the authorities.

That band are The Phynx (the finks?), who were made up of a collection of four unknowns who went on to obscurity, as for most of them this was the only film they ever appeared in, but perhaps they were hired for their musical ability. If they were, then it all came to naught as Warner Bros, who had produced the film, opted not to release it and the only way that it was possible to catch it was if you were lucky (or perhaps unlucky) enough to watch it on its rare television showings. In the video age, bootlegs appeared of dubious quality, but it is efforts like this which are forbidden fruit for bad movie fans: they don't care how awful its reputation is, they have to take a bite to see how it tastes.

Taste is notably lacking here, however, as the filmmakers went all out to appeal to the youth audience, yet bizarrely hinged the story around saving a bunch of celebrities who were stars before most of the target audience of 1970 were born, or at least aware of who the likes of Martha Raye or Xavier Cugat were. The Albanians have been kidnapping what the film describes as world leaders, and what most of the rest of us would describe as hasbeens, interpersed with more up to date celebs such as Richard Pryor, Ultra Violet or James Brown. The band's mission is therefore to become global superstars, and be invited to Albania thereby offering them the opportunity to free the kidnap victims. This is a musical as well, so every so often the group plays a song by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, not the most obvious choice for vaguely psychedelic, way out rock, but this is more like a bubblegum pop version of that, and in truth not so bad.

If there's one thing apparent it's that all the money this cost was up on the screen, not only in its huge cast (including the extras), but in its set design, special effects, and overall gloss. Throw in a computer shaped like a woman called MOTHA (Mechanical Oracle To Help Americans), the leader of the free world as Rich Little's Richard Nixon impression with a cardboard box for a head, and the odd concert full of screaming girls, and you have a production where everything was thrown at the screen in the hope some of it would stick. Most likely it will stick in the craw, as its real message was to obey the powers that be or else, not the type of thing the more rebellious, anti-Vietnam War, pro-civil rights younger audience would have wanted to hear, not wrapped up in this package of exploitative cynicism at any rate. For all its wackiness, for all its attempts to be down with the kids, The Phynx was all about The Man, by The Man, and who knows, possibly for The Man as well. Maybe Warners knew that we'd see right through it.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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