Nobody would ever mistake The Cool Ones for a good movie, but its DVD release by Warner Archives is a worthy addition to the camp section of your home video library. Originally released in April 1967, just before the summer of love checked in, its brand of pop and mildly rockified standards (“Just one of those things”?) was way behind the curve, even if Lee Hazelwood wrote a few decent songs for it. Director Gene Nelson had a few Elvis movies under his belt, and his career as a dancer probably helps keep this moving in it’s old-fashioned way. Production values count for a lot, and if The Cool Ones runs out of personality once you get past Roddy McDowall, the skewed camera angles, clever editing, crazy dance moves, and eye-popping costumes make it enjoyable despite or even because it’s so dated.
Pop singer Cliff Donner (Gil Peterson, best known for a role in Battlestar Galactica) finds his star diminishing. Upwardly mobile go-go dancer Hallie Rogers (Debbie Watson) is dying to get a break. Rock impresario Tony Krum (McDowall) comes along to shepherd the pair as a manufactured boy/girl duo that takes America by quasi-rock-and-roll storm. Peterson ‘s “rock” persona is so wooden he might as well be a Gerry Anderson marionette, but the dated corniness that probably made this movie anathema to 1960s teens equals camp value for today’s audiences. Watson doesn’t fare that much better, but her performance of Lee Hazelwood’s “This town,” packs a lot more drama than the version that was a hit for Frank and Nancy Sinatra.
The real star power comes from a character who doesn’t sing at all. Roddy McDowall’s character seems a continuation of his megalomaniacal Mollymuck in Lord Love a Duck. He imagined himself a successful Svengali in that sloppy if superior satire, but here the fantasy appears to be reality, as Krum wields a lot of apparent power over the day’s youth.
Cameos by Glen Campbell and The Leaves give the movie a little more cred in the rock department, and an uncredited bit part by Teri Garr will give some people a minor thrill. But the literal show stopper – she’s the last performer in the movie – is Mrs. Miller, a Mermanesque figure who recorded several comedy albums of her off-key singing for Capitol records in the 1960s. Her warbling version of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” broke Billboard’s top 100, which was better than Peterson did in his brief recording career. Such is the fickle finger of popular taste. The Cool Ones is in the lower-echelon of rock movies, but as a glimpse at producer’s misguided analysis of the youth market, it’s a colorful hoot.
Like most Warner Archive titles, The Cool Ones does not include any DVD extras.