(Hi there! So, as you may know because I’ve been talking about it on this site all year, I have got way too much stuff on my DVR. Seriously, I currently have 180 things recorded! I’ve decided that, on February 1st, I am going to erase everything on the DVR, regardless of whether I’ve watched it or not. So, that means that I’ve now have only have a month to clean out the DVR! Will I make it? Keep checking this site to find out! I recorded the 1967 film, Riot on Sunset Strip, off of TCM on September 28th, 2017!)
“Dig that scene!”
That’s a line that’s heard more than once in Riot on Sunset Strip, a film that’s all about digging that scene.
In this case, the scene is Hollywood’s Sunset Strip in 1966. All the kids are going to the clubs and dancing to that strange rock and roll music. Protesters are walking up and down the sidewalk, carrying signs that carry radical messages like: “Be Nice” and “Make Peace.” (As far as I could tell, no one had a “Join the Conversation” sign.) Some of the so-called “long hairs” are wearing red armbands to show that they are a member of the counter-culture police force, determined to keep peace on the Strip. Meanwhile, the real police are a constant presence. There’s a 10 o’clock curfew for anyone under the age of 18 and if the cops catch you, you’re going to the station where your parents will be called and your mom will probably freak out over the length of your skirt. The kids want the police to change their attitude. The local business owners — the ones who don’t own a club and who all look like they might be related to Dwight Eisenhower — want the police to get even more aggressive.
Stuck in the middle of it all is the local police captain, Walt Lormier (Aldo Ray). Sure, Walt might be a member of the establishment, with his neckties and his J. Edgar Hoover haircut. But Walt knows that the kids aren’t all bad. Sure, their music sounds like noise to him. And some of the boys may wear their hair a little bit longer than Walt thinks they should. (In some scenes, it’s easy to imagine Walt thinking, “That haircut would have gotten you shot if you’d been in my unit in Korea…”) But mostly, Walt wants to keep peace. He’s even willing to meet with one of the protesters and listen to his concerns.
“Are you in college?” Walt asks the protester.
“Third year,” the protester replies, “Straight A’s.”
Of course, what Walt doesn’t realize is that his own daughter, Andy (Mismy Farmer, before she relocated to Italy), is one of the kids who is hanging out on the strip! Of course, it’s been a while since he’s seen Andy. Walt is divorced from Andy’s mother and says he really isn’t even sure where either Andy or his ex-wife lives now. Of course, we know that they’re living in a shack, one that has only one room and where wet clothes are hung from the ceiling so that they can dry. Andy’s mom is always drunk. Can you blame Andy for wanting to spend all of her time on the Strip?
Of course, not everyone on the Strip is as reasonable as a third year college student. Some of the kids actually are bad. One of them slips Andy LSD, which leads to Andy staring at her hand and then doing an interpretive dance at a house party. After discovering that his drugged daughter has been raped, Walt attacks her three rapists, which leads to the riot promised by the title. Being a good middle-of-the-road liberal, Walt realizes that he now has to make amends with the good kids but can he stop things before they get out of control? After all, those protesters are already passing out signs…
Based on an actual event. Riot on Sunset Strip is a real time capsule of a film. Regardless of whether the film itself is any good or not, it’s worth watching as just a reflection of the time in which it was made. Like a lot of the “social problem” films made in the mid-60s, it deals with a very real issue and then resolutely refuses to come down on either side. Older viewers could watch Mimsy Farmer freaking out on LSD and say, “See, that’s why we need a curfew!” Younger viewers could look at Andy’s drunk mother and the parents picking up their children at the station and say, “See, that’s why we need to burn down the establishment and move to Cuba!” In the end, the film declares that the kids are all right except for the ones that aren’t. Ultimately, it’s all the parents’ fault except for the parents who aren’t at fault.
(That said, I imagine that any truly committed 60s revolutionary would have rolled their eyes at the way they were portrayed in the film. The protesters and their signs automatically made me think about the infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial.)
Seen today, the main thing that I noticed about Riot on Sunset Strip is that all of the wild kids on the Strip looked more like missionaries than revolutionaries. One of Andy’s friend’s did occasionally let his hair fall in his eyes but otherwise, they were an amazingly clean-cut group of delinquents, the type who, today, would probably get blocked by every member of Resistance Twitter because everyone would assume that they were actually undercover Russian bots.
(At the end of the film, a narrators informs us, “Soon, half the world’s population will be under 25 years of age. What will happen to them? Where will they go?” The answer, of course, is that most of them will go to the suburbs.)
Today, it’s easy to roll your eyes at something like Riot on the Sunset Strip. Our modern culture of snark almost demands that you do. But, honestly, I enjoyed this film. Watching it was like having my own little time machine.