When I first saw the poster for Hot Rod Gang, I knew I should see the film. The colors are bold, there is a lot of action, and as it says: “Gene Vincent Sings.” Sounds like a perfect night of rockabilly auto drama, and then you look again, and the singing man is not Gene Vincent!
Weird. Why? Isn’t that a selling point?
So naturally I investigated.
As it turns out, the woman who covers 30% of the poster is Maureen Arthur, not Jody Fair. The auto race happens in the first two minutes, and the man with the beard is John Ashley. Ashley is in disguise as a beatnik and hits the big time singing the 17th-century Scottish song “Annie Laurie” (what a hep cat–). Better yet, this brilliant musical act was Gene Vincent’s idea.
Still with me?
The plot centers around John Abernathy III, a wild young man (John Ashley- of teen beach movie fame- Beach Blanket Bingo, Beach Party, How to Stuff A Wild Bikini) who must behave to maintain his inheritance. While street racing, he drives into a puddle and splashes his Aunts’ lawyer with water. So the police are after the assailant. Yes, a puddle.
Meanwhile, the Aunts set up John on a chaperoned date with the new girl in town, Lois (Jody Fair). Lois excuses herself from the party and catches John sneaking out of the house. She forces John to let her accompany him to the clubhouse, where she discovers the gang must raise $4000 to build a hot rod. Local tough guy Mark (Steve Drexel) dances with Lois, then aggressively forces himself on her. John gets into a fight with Mark.
Lois is friends with Gene Vincent, and she knows he can help the gang raise the $4000. Gene, unfortunately, is going on tour, and can’t help them right away, but he hears John is a great singer, John should sing! But John is on the run from the police for the puddle incident, he can’t risk being recognized. So Gene gets the idea that they should fix him up, like those cats from Greenwich Village. John under the pseudonym Jackson Dalrymple is an overnight sensation. What follows is a lot of musical numbers, a final showdown between John and Mark, and a promise of John’s forthcoming reformation as a responsible adult.
Five Reasons to See This Film:
- There is a great dance number at the TV studio
- If you are into retro-rockabilly clothing, you want everything Marney (Maureen Arthur) wears.
- You enjoy the bad beatnik stereotypes Daddy-O.
- Did I mention Gene Vincent is in the film, despite his non-presence on the poster
- Learn how to upstage your co-stars and pull all focus! Focus on the scene-stealing performance of Agatha the maid (Claire Dubray). Notice the unnecessary activity, in every scene! Then learn to steal a musical scene and study Gene Vincent’s brown haired clapper boy.
American International Pictures released the film in 1958 as a double-feature along with High School Hellcats. In 1959, the film was released in the U.K. under the title Fury Unleashed!
The Wichita Eagle has a wonderful collection of photographs from the film’s promo tour. kansas.com/cars/article1112410.html