Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I have been preparing to do a long piece on the late Carol White and lately I have been trying to see as many films of hers as I can. Last night I finally got to see Mark Robson's follow up to VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967), the very strange and heavily flawed DADDY'S GONE A-HUNTING from 1969.
Carol, looking quite stunning here, stars as Cathy Palmer, a young woman from London who has recently moved to San Francisco to pursue an art career. She immediately meets and becomes involved with a strange young man named Kenneth, played with by a miscast Scott Hylands. Kenneth comes across as an immediate oddball and one wonders why Cathy would be at all drawn to this irritating and obviously unstable man.
Cathy becomes pregnant right around the time she realizes that Kenneth is totally hopeless and has an illegal abortion. She soon meets the aspiring politician Jack Byrnes, played by the always great Paul Burke, and attempts to start a new life. This is harder than she thinks as Kenneth, obsessed by the idea that she killed his baby, begins stalking her.
DADDY'S GONE A-HUNTING has a very effective first hour which is helped immensely by the creepy San Francisco location shooting, a remarkable John Williams score and Robson's stylish direction. Carol White is extremely good in the first hour of the film as well and she portrays Cathy's confusion and fear remarkably well. Hylands Kenneth though is a weak link all the way through. Hyland isn't creepy enough to be truly frightening and more than anything else he is just remarkably annoying.
The film really loses its footing in the last 45 minutes when Robson throws anything resembling logic right out the window. The screenplay, credited amazingly enough to Larry Cohen and Lorenzo Semple Jr., is filled with so many lapses and holes that finally the whole thing feels like an exercise in stupidity. The police in this are particularly dense and I found myself literally talking to the screen in the last half hour in a futile attempt to force the characters to do the most obvious and simple acts.
Major problems with the second half aside, DADDY'S GONE A-HUNTING is still effective enough in the first hour to give a slight recommendation to. Robson routinely makes ill judged choices but his films are always interesting to watch. The cinematography and color photography by Ernest Laszlo is very striking all the way through and like I said previously, this early score by John Williams is really fine. The theme song, sung by Lyn Roman with lyrics by Dory Previn, is extremely effective and works very well for the film.
This is an extremely off-kilter and odd film. At one point a strange reference is made to Ken Loach's remarkable CATHY COME HOME (1966) that had starred Carol White and there is also an uncomfortable feeling that the film is some sort of weird pro-life manifesto, even though the abortion is only really handled as a plot device.
One wonders if the screenplay by the usually reliable Cohen and Semple was messed with somewhere along the way. Semple Jr. had just penned the amazing PRETTY POISON (1968) and was getting ready to embark on a decade filled with always interesting work ranging from THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974) to KING KONG (1976).
Cohen, of course, was just a few years away from his amazing work in the Seventies and Eighties which would find him writing and directing some of the best exploitation films ever.
Mark Robson would pass away less than a decade after DADDY'S GONE A-HUNTING and it is one of his last notable films with only four flawed features following it. The lovely, talented and finally tragic Carol White, just in her late twenties in 1969, was getting ready to fight some major personal demons and would manage to make less than a dozen more films before passing away of liver disease just after her fiftieth birthday in 1991.
DADDY'S GONE A-HUNTING is currently out of print and is pretty hard to find, as our most of Carol White's films. It is a troubling and flawed film but one worth at least giving a look to. It is never less than interesting and one of the last films we have that features the talented Carol White still at the peak of her powers.
My tribute to the late Carol White will be appearing soon.