05 May 2013

Dr. Goldfoot, The Bikini Machine, and The Girl Bombs!

First Dr. GoldFoot Film Great Camp Fun – The Second, Not So Much!
By Kristin Battestella

Mad Scientist Dr. Goldfoot (Vincent Price) uses his Bikini Machine to create robot ladies in the near perfect 1965 spy spoof Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. He trains his mechanical gals to conquer elite gentleman around the globe and marry into position as needed in his quest for world domination, further seen in the inferior but still fun 1966 sequel Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs.

Austin Powers certainly took a hint from director Norman Taurog (Boys Town) and his AIP produced Bikini Machine, and the “San Francisco, the Day after Tomorrow” title card tells the audience what kind of fun to expect, indeed.  Great visual cues set up numerous backhand quips, puns, and double entendres from Louis M. Heyward (Witchfinder General), Elwood Ullman (The Three Stooges), Robert Kaufman (Ski Party), and producer James H. Nicholson’s snappy, smart script – as one man from Goldfoot’s Secret Intelligence Command nemesis reminds another, “You’re a SIC man!” Spot on comedic timing and quality slapstick helps the laughs, too, not to mention lots of girls in gold bikinis filling in between the goofy. Varying film speeds, camera tricks, and backwards footage are certainly obvious and even stupid looking today, yet these simplistic efforts add to the camp charm. The plot may seem straightforward enough, but these extras work on all levels thanks to the great dialogue, fun performances, and even a twist or two. Although there are a few cemetery scenes, some ghoulish humor, and references to Price’s previous AIP Poe movies along with the Beach Party jokes, Price laymen may should definitely not expect anything scary here. Similar in camp to the sixties Batman series, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine has a skill and maturity in its goofy rather than just being juvenile, and the hair brained chase finale caps off all the humorous action.

Vincent Price of course, plays the titular diabolical wonderfully – from the cliché golden slippers and smoking jacket to his totally casual and subtle style of being so over the top. I dare say he could have been a Bond villain back in the day, as despite the comic tone, Dr. Goldfoot does indeed make one consider this sinister possibility. Dr. G. kills the lady competition with “wife disposing devices” – opera glasses with hidden poison daggers or laser lipsticks! It’s so absurd that it’s good. Price is clearly having fun with all the onscreen incompetence around Goldfoot, and Jack Mullaney (Tickle Me) is smart foil as Igor, Dr. G.’s “dug up grave digger” assistant who often wishes he had stayed dead.  He’s a fun little shadow and provides some great physical gags for Big V at his own expense. Understated moments where Igor must drive Goldfoot’s Cadillac even though the Doctor is riding up front to chastise him add quirky charm, and their motorcycle and sidecar scenes are simply classic!

Surprisingly, crooner turned Beach Party alum Frankie Avalon is quite good as Double O and a Quarter SIC man Craig Gamble. He’s cheap and dorky rather than his hep cat self, and the tiptoeing, breaking of the fourth wall, and physical comedy elements work wonderfully along side his Uncle Donald foil Fred Clark (How to Marry a Millionaire). Susan Hart (The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini) as Diane aka Number 11 also fits the bill whether she’s an over the top southern belle robot or spouting French – whatever’s needed for her next manly conquest. All the chicks in Bikini Bombs are more kinky and on the prowl than the bumbling boys, but they have some great, goofy expressions.  Dwayne Hickman (The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) as Todd Armstrong is slightly run of the mill or a bit of a step down from Avalon, but thankfully, the boys are similar enough for a few solid gags and hi jinks. Likewise, the cameo from the late Annette Funicello is delightful.  

Naturally, to go along with all the babes and humor, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine has some spiffy, catchy music from The Supremes and several other sixties tunes. A few club scenes and onscreen concerts make one wonder what might have been had they developed musical plans for Dr. G as intended, but the  Claymation titles, great ladies clothes, suave men’s suits, San Fran trolleys, cool cars, and fun gadgets keep the camp mid century flavors intact.  The then high tech looking mad scientist lab, oversized machinery, lots of blinking lights, and fun sounds top off the mod décor and perfectly bad visual effects. Nods to AIP’s Poe series surface again thanks to reused footage and sets, and Dr. G’s secret funeral parlor lair full of gothic colors and décor adds some fun macabre, too. Despite the diabolical mission and sexuality of Bikini Machine, even tongue in cheek separate marital beds make an appearance!

Unfortunately, the local flavors and somewhat cardboard set designs for Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs aren’t as magical as the real San Fran scenery peppering the first film. A quick refresher and clips montage from Bikini Machine introduces Girl Bombs, but the visuals just don’t match up.  While there are still big old gadgets and futuristic sixties gizmos, Girl Bombs has less goofy effects and camera tricks. Even the gold bathing suits and bikinis have more fabric, and surprisingly, the period European fashions are less than stellar. Though there are some dynamite record players and mod décor, without any titular tunes, Girl Bombs just feels as if it has less zing and personality as the not so dearly departed Dr. G again takes on the world one NATO general at a time.

Oft-horror director Mario Bava (Black Sunday) helms the 1966 AIP Italian produced Girl Bombs, but the Paris plots and intrigue in Rome somehow don’t live up to their Dr. Goldfoot predecessor. The idea of Goldfoot taking on Europe should be rife with all sorts of foreign humor or jet setting hi jinks, but the 80 minutes here feels smaller, as if the ante was not upped when it almost always should be for a sequel.  The slapstick also isn’t as good, and the slowed pace drags more in the Price-less scenes (I had to do it!) Big V’s campy fans can still find some merit here, but the mainstream catchy, funny, and sexy seem absent. Girl Bombs simply does not have enough gags per minute nor a taught script to carry the overlong chase finale.  Every overused trick– including silent moving hamming and inter titles – happens too late and it’s laid on thick for the rushed, nonsensical, and confusing finish.

Thankfully, the eponymous Doc remains ever irrepressible. Price is the only returning cast member for Girl Bombs, but he’s having globe hopping fun as several bemusing and contrasting characters. There’s a class to his camp, and when he breaks the fourth wall, it proves that all we really need to keep a presentation interesting are Price and an audience – even in these outlandish Dr. Goldfoot films. Without a doubt, his scenes are the best ones in Girl Bombs, and I’m amazed he can get those zingers out with a straight face! Sadly, the former pop sensation turned actor Fabian (North to Alaska) comes off as a bit lame in his scenes with Price, and most of the dames aren’t that dynamic. I feel like the Girl Bombs actually don’t have that much to do! Likewise, Italian comedy stars Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia suffer in translation.  A lot of their dubbed quips and Italian gags or mannerisms simply don’t come across, and their set ups seem awkward – almost as if they are playing in a separate film spliced with Girl Bombs. 

It’s a pity really that Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs had such an inferior production, for if the quality of the original Bikini Machine had remained, it would have been great to see more of Dr. G. The AIP television episode entitled The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot gives hints of the musical possibilities, but alas, it and Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs are not currently available on video.  The DVD of Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is also elusive, even on Netflix, but a dual edition is apparently available on Amazon.These print pursuits aside, young, old, or young at heart fans of Austin Powers, straight spy films, or action spoofs can delight in the stupidity and campy charm of Vincent Price and Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.

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