A Psychedelic Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Big Cube (dir by Tito Davison)

I recently discovered that I have about 66 movies recorded on my DVR.  A few of these, like Bend it Like Beckham and Thirteen, are films that I always make it a point to watch whenever they show up on television.  But the majority of them are movies that I just happened to spot while going through the guide and I thought they looked intriguing.  These are movies that I have not been in any hurry to watch but, at the same time, I’m still glad to know that they’re waiting for me whenever I do feel like watching them.

Well, that time has come.  In the month of February, TCM is going to be showing a lot of old Oscar nominees which means that I need to make some space on the DVR.  For the past week, I’ve been going through all of my recorded films and watching them.  While many of them turned out to be rather forgettable, I’ve also come across quite a few that, regardless of quality, made me happy I had taken the time to set them to be recorded.

Case in point: The Big Cube.

What makes The Big Cube such a memorable film?

Four words: Lana.  Turner.  On.  Acid.

The Big Cube was first released in 1969, a fact that’s obvious during every minute of the film.  Lana Turner plays Adriana Roman, a famous stage actress who, following the final performance of a hilariously (and unintentionally) bad play, announces that she is retiring from the theatre so that she might marry the fabulously wealthy Charles Winthrop (Dan O’Herlihy).

Charles has a daughter, a spoiled brat named — wait for it — Lisa (Karin Mossberg).  Interestingly enough, despite the fact that Charles speaks with a pronounced Irish accent, Lisa speaks with a thick Swedish accent that makes the majority of her dialogue almost impossible to understand.  (Adding to the film’s general strangeness is that all of Mossberg’s dialogue is dubbed, which makes you wonder why the film’s producers didn’t, at the very least, hire a voice-over actress who could have at least sounded somewhat believable as Charles’s daughter.)  Lisa is resentful of Adriana, viewing her as competition for both her father’s affection and his money.

Since this movie was made in 1969, Lisa also spends all of her time hanging out with hippies who, in this film, are presented as being the equivalent of pure evil.  They hang out at a “hip” nightclub known as Le Dream where they spend their time secretly slipping sugar cubes laced with LSD into the drinks of strangers.  Or, as one random hippy puts it, “I’m going to cube that mother!”

The source of all of this LSD is Johnny (George Chakiris), a medical student who ends up dating Lisa and conspiring to drive her stepmother insane.  Each night, they secretly slip Adriana LSD, which leads to Lana Turner bugging out her eyes while multi-colored spiral graphs appear on the walls around her.  (And again, we’re reminded that this film was made in 1969, when all you needed to do to let the audience know someone was having a bad trip was to make excessive use of a zoom lens and color filters.)

Eventually, all of this leads to Adriana being struck with amnesia.  How can her mind be fixed?  Could the solution possibly be for Adriana’s playwright friend (Richard Egan) to write a play that reveals the conspiracy against Adriana and then to cast Adriana in the lead role?  And is it possible that along with restoring Adriana’s mind, this play will also allow her to return to the stage and discover that Egan is secretly in love with her?

The Big Cube deserves to be seen just because it’s such a weird and over-the-top film but, beyond that, it’s fascinating as a piece of history.  In 1969, mainstream Hollywood filmmakers were still struggling to figure out how to deal with the counterculture and, even more importantly, how to continue to appeal to young filmgoers who no longer had much in common with the establishment.  The end result were a collection of films that either tried desperately and earnestly to prove that, despite all appearances to contrary, the Hollywood studios really did understand and sympathize with the disaffected youth of America or films like The Big Cube in which old school movie stars like Lana Turner were menaced by long-haired men and amoral girl in miniskirts.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the evil hippy films are a lot more fun than the good hippy films and, as far as evil hippy films are concerned, The Big Cube is one of the more entertaining, even if most of the film’s pleasures are unintentional.  Not only do you get to watch some of the most evil hippies in history but you also get the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing Lana Turner on acid!

Seriously, what better way is there to spend 90 minutes?

(Even better, by watching The Big Cube, I could finally delete it from DVR and make some room for the next episode of Downton Abbey….)