Shack Out on 101 at Berkeley? Yeah, as the accompanying link will attest, you read that right. It’s revival is also long overdue, in my opinion. I had never even heard of this strange, little film until I saw it by chance at a movie marathon, years before I started working on Lee Marvin: Point Blank. It really does defy description, but I knew that once I started researching Lee’s career, I HAD to give it special attention. In fact, I made sure to include an image in the book depicting Marvin and Len Lesser (Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo) “at play”….
There are a number of things that makes this film so strange and watchable at the same time: from the opening near rape scene to the happy conclusion of a man being harpooned, it really is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Take for instance these ads from the pressbook….
The ad lines are of course typically exploitative for its day and subject but check this out: the bottom panel depicting “Eddie” is a scene with Lee Marvin who plays “Slob” (aka Leo) but Eddie is played by Whit Bissell. And these ads are by the guys that made the movie!!! There’s a little more subtle ad below…..
Not that it matters, but Terry Moore’s character is named Kotty, not Kitty. It just gets better and better, doesn’t it? I love the dialogue, too. For example, during a heartfelt talk between Bissell and burger joint owner Keenan Wynn, Bissell quitely asks Wynn if he loves Terry Moore. Wynn answers by slamming his fist down and shouting, “I’m on the hook and I can’t get off!” I just love this stuff. It probably can better be explained by a better authority than I. Way back in 1978, FILM COMMENT magazine started its fairly regular column called Guilty Pleasures, in which film makers cited their favorite bad films and why. Bonnie & Clyde’s co-screenwriter David Newman I think summed up it better than I ever could. He makes some now outdated references that I’ve taken the liberty to wiki but other than that….
“Number 3: Shack Out on 101 (1955, dir. Edward Dein). Forget about those movies like Blood of the Poet that want to look weird and strange and wind up kind of silly. Here is perhaps the most bizarre picture ever made. Yes. I have it seen eleven times and I’m still not sure if it knows how nutty it is. Every time I submit myself to Shack Out, I think I’m stoned or running a high fever.
This black-and-white production looks like it was made for about $2.75 below the line. Except for a beach scene, the entire film takes place on one set: a hamburger joint that makes the Alice cafe on television look like a Max Reinhardt spectacle.
How can I impart the weridness of this movie to you? To begin with, all the men in it are desperately in love with Terry Moore. Wait, wait, there’s more. The romantic hero is Frank Lovejoy. Terry’s miffed because he alone acts cold to her. Is he, ergo, a Commie spy?
More? You want more? Lee Marvin plays a short-order cook [….] in a manner so baroque as to render his performance in The Wild One a gem of nuanced understatement by comparison. Keenan Wynn, as the love besmittne creep who owns the joint, has one scene with Marvin where they work out together, lifting weights, doing push-ups, that, frame for frame, will take you further out of your skull than any amount coke you care to mail me for testing purposes.
The dialogue is so off-the-wall elliptical that it recalls the true zaniness of a Vic ‘n Sade script. I promise you that at no point is it possible to get a grip on this movie. What in the blazes did they think they were doing? Were all they all whacked-out? What is it really about? All I can tell is that I recommended this only once — to a friend who almost punched me out the following day.
But once more unto the breach. Fully aware that its lunatic charm may be apparent only to me, I unhesitatingly recommend that you look for it in the TV Guide, stay up till 4 in the morning (it is never on earlier, when normal people ar awake) and watch it … if you dare.”
So, if you are in the Berkeley area tomorrow night, August 27th, run don’t walk to see Shack Out on 101. You won’t be disappointed. Or, more in keeping with the spiirt of the film: YOU’LL BE ON THE HOOK AND CAN’T GET OFF!!!