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THE LOLLIPOP COVER (1965).

A down-and-out pugilist's road trip is interrupted by an unwanted kid in this ingratiating, low-budget, independent feature, which answers the age-old question, "What the heck would a John Cassavetes-directed Afterschool Special look like?" Starring and co-written by Don Gordon, who'd go onto strong supporting turns in BULLITT, THE MACK and SLAUGHTER, and directed by longtime TV-producer Everett Chambers (PEYTON PLACE, JOHNNY STACCATO), this black-and-white tale has a good deal of rambly charm and gritty authenticity, and emerges from an era when a young child could cross the state with some creepy adult stranger without anyone seeming at all concerned... Fed up with being pummeling for a living, small-time San Francisco boxer Nick Bartaloni (Gordon) heads towards Los Angeles on a mission. He's determined to find a "dope fiend" who broke his sister's heart, stole all of her money and provoked her suicide. Hitching his way there and with limited cash on hand, Nick is suddenly notices that he's being followed by a scruffy 11-year-old girl (Carol Seflinger). It seems that little Felicity is homeless -- her mother dead, abandoned by her dad, currently living in an abandoned car by the beach -- and she won't leave Nick's side, no matter how hard our gruff palooka tries to ditch this pre-pubescent barnacle. The two camp out overnight, wash up in the ocean, share roadside conversations about boxing and Felicity's happy life before her deadbeat dad crawled into a bottle, and accept lifts from a Hollywood weirdo (David White, BEWITCHED-boss Larry Tate) and a chatty salesman in a VW bug (Bert Remsen). Unfortunately, having a kid hanging around tends to cramp Nick's style with the ladies, and while he hopes to eventually locate some relative of Felicity's who'll take her in, she'd prefer to stay with him... Described by Chambers as an "art film," the tone is admirably realistic yet often relies on wild coincidences, like running into Felicity's cruel, besotted father (John Marley) in a random dive bar, and while always on the verge of becoming overly cutesy due to this ragamuffin with the big, sad, sunken eyes, Chambers is quick to clamp down on any potential treacle (with the exception of its unrealistically hokey, upbeat ending). Gordon, an Emmy-nominee for playing a disturbed killer on the early-'60s courtroom series THE DEFENDERS, brings loads of brooding naturalism to this rare starring role, tempering Nick's tough veneer with tenderness and bringing out the best in young Seflinger (who, post-college, starred on Sid & Marty Krofft's Saturday-morning, super-dune-buggy show WONDERBUG), while referring to Felicity as a "simp" (short for simple-minded) since the girl is obsessed with looking through a piece of colored cellophane which she refers to as her "lollipop cover." Co-stars include Lee Philips (future-director of the Gary Coleman comedy ON THE RIGHT TRACK) playing his sister's junkie ex, Bek Nelson (Gordon's wife) as a roadside waitress, plus Sally Kellerman (who co-starred with Gordon on an episode of KRAFT SUSPENSE THEATRE) can be heard singing "When I See a Rainbow" on a diner jukebox.

© 2018 by Steven Puchalski.