YOUNG AMERICANS (1967).
In the 1960's, it seemed like every young person was becoming a longhaired, stoned hippie, but as an alternative to that foul lifestyle there was The Young Americans, a travelling show-choir that presented a clean-cut, uplifting vision of an America that never existed outside of THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW. Conceived by musical supervisor Milton C. Anderson and picked from hundreds of SoCal high school and college students, this feature-length cheese-fest follows them on their latest tour, which is not only teeth-gnashingly upbeat but also feels completely staged. Proving that Oscar voters were always out-of-touch old farts, this actually won the Academy Award for Best Documentary (though it was later returned due to a releasing screw-up)... The film takes us through the group's predictable audition process; perpetually-bitchy Anderson working with the winners (including a young, pre-MAMA'S FAMILY Vicki Lawrence), who have only "one cotton-pickin' week" until their first show; and their eventual road trip across the US. So how exactly do you cram three dozen teenagers on a cross-country bus and maintain a G-rating? They're fuckin' boring! The guys wear pressed slacks and ties, the girls' skirts fall below their knees and they perform hoary old standards like "Yankee Doodle." The times, they were a-changin', but not for this bunch! There's no shortage of wholesome, contrived drama along the way. Katie gets into trouble for sneaking her dog on the trip! They make a pit stop at a roadside diner and help work the kitchen! Plus they prove the power of song when the girls spot a wailing child and calm the brat down with an impromptu tune. In the most scandalous sequence, a lovey-dovey couple breaks the rules by running off without a chaperone and walking by a river hand-in-hand! Horrors! The rest of the time, it's insipid tourist-hijinks, as they visit Boston, New York City and Washington D.C., while performing at state fairs, amusement parks and a sparsely-attended Central Park kids' concert. The group even plays a southern prison, with these chaste underage girls cheerfully serenading (way too enthusiastic) felons. Director Alex Grasshoff would later helm such half-baked oddities as FUTURE SHOCK and WACKY TAXI, while cinematographer Richard Moore shot cult-classics like WILD IN THE STREETS and MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, but any eccentric ideas have been jettisoned in favor of scripted propaganda that says nothing relevant about modern youth. Hell, Frankie & Annette's beach antics were more relatable than these dweebs, who break into a 'spontaneous' musical number in the middle of a damned picnic! And when these teens actually do act like teens by getting a bit too rowdy in their hotel, prissy li'l Anderson quickly clamps a lid on any authentic fun. All in all, singing in The Young Americans might've been a gratifying opportunity for kids who desired minimal fame, barely any compensation and long bus rides away from home; but as a movie, it's one big, transparently-fraudulent overdose of all-American hokum.
© 2011 by Steven Puchalski.