The 1968 film The Sweet Ride takes the audience on a ride through Malibu and reminds us all that, in many ways, the 1960s sucked.
The Sweet Ride opens with actress Vicki Cartwright (Jacqueline Bisset) losing her top while swimming in the ocean. While Vicki panics and tries to figure out how to get back to the beach without anyone seeing her breasts, she’s spotted by a surfer named Denny McGuire (Michael Sarrazin). Denny hands her a towel and then leads her back to the beach house that he shares with aging tennis player Collie (Anthony Franciosa) and stoned musician Choo-Choo (Bob Denver).
The rest of the film is a 90 minute tour of California beach life in the late 60s. Despite Collie’s cynical warning against falling in love, Denny does just that, despite the fact that Vicki refuses to tell him anything about her past or even where she lives. Meanwhile, Collie spends his time hustling on the tennis court and the married Choo-Choo pretends to be gay in an attempt to get out of being drafted. (Choo-Choo probably could have gotten out of the draft by pointing out that he appears to be 40 years old but the filmmakers decided to have him walk around with a poodle and speak in falsetto. Just in case you had any doubt that this film was made in 1968…) It’s a mix of comedy, romance, and drama and it’s features footage of some real bands performing in actual Malibu nightclubs and that’s a good thing for all of us history nerds.
And, since The Sweet Ride was made in 1968, the whole film gets progressively darker as it reaches its conclusion. Choo-Choo does get drafted and it’s hard to believe he’ll survive a day in Viet Nam. Collie’s perfect life is revealed to be an empty facade. Denny realizes that his friends are all immature losers. And Vicki ends up getting assaulted by a high-power studio executive (Warren Stevens). It all leads to more violence, disillusionment, and general ennui.
For some reason, The Sweet Ride shows up on FXM fairly regularly. It’s a strange film because it doesn’t really work and yet it’s also compulsively watchable. It tries to be about everything and, as a result, it often feels like it’s about absolutely nothing. And yet, somehow, it remains compelling…
Why is the film compelling despite itself? It’s not because of the main characters, that’s for sure. The boys in the beach house are probably some of the least likable film protagonists in cinematic history. Anthony Franciosa gave some great performances in his career (check him out in A Face in the Crowd and Tenebrae) but Collie is such a smug jerk that you find yourself hoping that someone will just punch him in the face. Meanwhile, Denny tends to come across like a weak-willed and obsessive stalker and Choo-Choo — well, Choo-Choo often seems to be a character in a totally different movie. As for Vicki, her character pretty much exclusively exists to be victimized.
Ultimately, I think The Sweet Ride is watchable because it is such an imperfect time capsule. If I wanted to know what it was like to be alive in the 60s, The Sweet Ride is one of the films that I would watch. It’s not the best film ever made but it is a chance to look into the past.
(Incidentally, The Sweet Ride was directed by Harvey Hart, who also directed the underrated Shoot.)