Writer: Elwood Ullman and Robert Kaufman, from a story by James Hartford
Stars: Vincent Price, Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, Susan Hart, Jack Mullaney and Fred Clark
A.I.P. generally released low budget indie movies, often capitalising on new youth trends, packaged in double bills for the drive-in market. Their first film was The Fast and the Furious in 1955, starring and co-directed by John Ireland and produced and co-written by Roger Corman. It made $250,000 in box office receipts against a $50,000 budget and the new company was off and running. The average fan of exploitation cinema will have seen a whole bunch of A.I.P. movies in a whole bunch of genres: not merely the usual sci-fi and horror pictures but also juvenile delinquent movies, rock ‘n’ roll movies, biker movies, beach movies and hippie movies. I selected Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine to celebrate Nicholson’s centennial partly because I hadn’t seen it before but partly for the reason that it seemed to be the quintessential A.I.P. picture. At heart, it’s what’s called a spy-fi movie, mixing up the spy genre with sci-fi, but it’s populated by a slew of regulars from the beach pictures and stars Vincent Price from Corman’s Poe films.
Of course, Jim Nicholson, who co-wrote the film under the pseudonym of James Hartford, was far more interested in showcasing Hart. Her first major role in a feature had come the year before, when she appeared opposite Tab Hunter in Ride the Wild Surf, and when Nicholson saw rushes from that picture, he promptly snapped her up for an A.I.P. contract. Shortly thereafter, he snapped her up for a marriage license and James Jr., now a composer in New York, was born in 1965. I have to say that Hart, who appears early and often, looks amazing for someone who had given birth that year, and it’s her movie until Vincent Price arrives. Never mind that we’ve seen as much of Frankie Avalon, one of the two A.I.P. beach movie stars (the other, Annette Funicello, has a neat cameo locked in a pair of stocks), it’s Susan Hart that we’re watching. Of course, she has the advantage of being a bulletproof and car-proof beauty wearing a gold bikini (under a raincoat) who flirts outrageously in a southern accent. Frankie who?
Unfortunately for him, it’s all a case of mistaken identity. Diane is really a robot working for the mad genius, Dr. Goldfoot, who has just tuned in to discover that he isn’t watching #11 roll around the floor with Todd Armstrong, the world’s most eligible bachelor. ‘Fye on you!’ Vincent Price tells his assistant, inevitably named Igor, ‘You’re an idiot!’ Beyond being a magic line I should program my alarm clock to use, it marks Price truly taking ownership of the film. Sure, Susan Holt is delightful as Diane, changing accent at the drop of a hat. Sure, there are also similarly clad beauties #1 to #9 to feast our eyes upon. Sure, the sets are gloriously familiar, all decked out with old dark house gimmicks and spy-fi gadgetry, including what does look like the pit and the pendulum from The Pit and the Pendulum. But all this is subservient to Mr. Price, who stalks his underground lair in gold slippers and smoking jacket, wringing his hands, hurling out cheap gags and telling Igor to shut up. He’s what keeps us watching.
Oh, and three of them are related to Jim Nicholson. Beyond Susan Hart, his new wife and mother of his son, at the time only a few months old, there are also Laura Nicholson and Luree Holmes, his grown-up daughters by his first wife, Sylvia. Luree was less than a year younger than her new mother-in-law, whose first A.I.P. role was in the very same picture, 1964’s Pajama Party, that Luree’s daughter appeared in as a topless baby model. That makes Joi Holmes, Nicholson’s granddaughter, older than James Nicholson Jr., his eldest son. Boy, those family get togethers must have been a blast! I wonder how long they continued after Nicholson died of a brain tumour in 1972. Certainly, A.I.P. continued on for a few years before his partner, Sam Arkoff, got bored with the movies and sold his stake to Filmways for $4.3m. I’ve documented the shenanigans that went on with the rights to their films in my review of Naked Paradise aka Thunder Over Hawaii, a Corman picture that Hart now owns and apparently refuses to release.
Price is the traditional lead, as mad scientist Dr. Goldfoot, who’s attempting to get rich by using robots to seduce the wealthy into marriage and the subsequent signing over of all their assets. These are golddiggers in gold bikinis and rather blatant ones at that! Diane lands Todd easily enough but won’t even sleep with him on their wedding night until he signs over the stocks she stole out of his safe. Today’s word is ‘pre-nup’, friends. While Dwayne Hickman is highly billed as Todd, Avalon is the real support, playing the inept spy, Craig Gamble, in a mostly unfunny secondary plot that undoes much of Price’s deliciously camp evil. Fred Clark has far more talent than is shown here as nothing but the victim of Frankie Avalon’s unwitting idiocy. You might think that this would be easy enough to follow, but the scriptwriters focus so much on misogynism and in-jokes that they almost become a plot of their own. Did anyone notice or care that Avalon and Hickman played the same roles in Ski Party a year earlier, merely reversed?