Jody Dvorak (Ann-Margret) has just escaped from a juvenile detention centre and runs towards a railway yard to hide, but there are police officers with dogs hot on her heels. Fortunately for her, she spies a large house up ahead that has newspapers uncollected on the front driveway, so twigging that there is nobody there she breaks in and manages to elude her pursuers. After not bothering to investigate, she curls up in a bed in the daughter of the house's bedroom, holding a soft toy, and falls asleep. The next day, the owner returns: David Stratton (John Forsythe), candidate for the Senate...
Highly controversial in its day but a camp favourite now, Kitten with a Whip was one of a rash of juvenile delinquent movies which gained a foothold in the fifties, but by the sixties had to push the envelope that bit further to stand out from the crowd. Much of this film's cult revolved around the performance of Ann-Margret as the jive-talking ne'erdowell, a seventeen-year-old little madam who manages to twist her victims around her little finger, mainly because she is willing to act out situations which anybody else would not have the guts to embark upon. And naturally, for the fans, this was the reason it was so amusing.
Much of that was down to the square Stratton, who finds himself struggling to keep his nascent political career in his sights, and the contrast he made with the wild and dangerous Jody. You can see where this will go from the outset: at first he wants to help her, swallowing her yarn about her having been abused in detention and offering to set her on the bus to her aunt's, though not before he buys her a dress to wear since she cannot very well go travelling in her nightie. Later, she shows up again, and blackmail rears its head as Jody tells him to do whatever she demands as if he doesn't comply she will cry rape and that will be the end of his already unsteady marriage and his prospects for public office.
No matter that Stratton is entirely innocent and his motives were noble, Jody figures out that if you start slinging mud some of it is going to stick, such is her deviousness. The scenes where the star gets to do her thing are the strongest for she put in a particularly committed performance, grinning balefully from under a mane of blonde, then red hair and switching from playfully seductive to "who me?" ingenuousness, then outright hostility as a last resort, she's really quite something to behold and her corny, forced dialogue which sounds like a middle-aged man's idea of how teenager would talk contributes to the entertainment. As for Forsythe, his contained befuddlement offers a straight man to Jody's dedication to mayhem.
The more Stratton tries to keep order and be levelheaded, the more his unwanted houseguest conjures the spirit of chaos, and given a few tweaks Kitten with a Whip could have made for a rare old comedy. Not that it wasn't funny enough as it stood, but the focus is diluted once Jody invites three friends around and the plot turns to home invasion of a different kind, with the two boys veering towards violence as their host attempts to raise the alarm. In the final act they twist his arm to drive them to Mexico, where the blunders mount up - the perfect time for Stratton to bump into not only someone he knows, but the official who will be considering his candidacy for Senator, obviously. The tone is a mixture of polite outrage at the terrible way the world is heading and a more delirious mood as Stratton, who we are meant to sympathise with, tries and fails to wrangle the palaver to his advantage. Naturally with the passage of time little convinces here, but Ann-Margret offered a crazed performance for the ages.