Second Union

Second Union

VINTAGE SUMMER: The Hollywood Knights (1980)

“You are so immature!”

The Hollywood Knights, 1980 (Robert Wuhl) Columbia Pictures

It’s unusual (and extremely rare) that a movie would come out that is such an editorial mess with a thin narrative line connecting scenes which nonetheless tell a decent story and have moments of incredible beauty and brilliance. This is The Hollywood Knights. The movie was unfairly derided upon release as an American Graffiti knock-off, but I think I prefer this movie over George Lucas’ somewhat innocent 1973 ode to teenage life in 1962 Modesto. Where director Floyd Mutrux photographs his characters as amiable yet sly, Lucas tells his story from a distant observer’s perspective.

Tubby’s Drive-In restaurant is the hot-spot for teens in 1965 Beverly Hills, but it’s about to be torn down to make room for an office building and car park. For most of the movie, we follow Newbomb Turk’s (Robert Wuhl) Hollywood Knights gang. We know this is Los Angeles, but these guys are not criminals. They call themselves a “car club.” If anything, they’re just “youthful” troublemakers staying one step ahead of a couple of hapless cops, officers Clark and Bimbeau, but they’re not content to stay home on Halloween night. They initiate several potential members by forcing them to strip and head down to Watts to get on a popular radio show so they can dedicate a song to Tubby’s.

Turk mugs Dudley Laywicker (Stuart Pankin) for his clothes so he can crash a pep rally and play his infamous cover of Bobby Rydell’s “Volare.” Dudley continues to be victimized by Turk throughout the movie, but at least he’s made an honorary Knight by movie’s end. The Hollywood Knights plays as a series of vignettes much in the same way as Mutrux’s first movie, American Hot Wax. American Hot Wax was the story of popular disc jockey Alan Freed as told through the people who listened to the records he played on the radio. Freed is credited with coining the term “Rock ‘n’ Roll” and the music he popularized is all over the soundtrack of The Hollywood Knights. There are some unusual beats in the movie; scenes that don’t connect with the rest of the action. Duke’s (Tony Danza) girlfriend Suzie Q (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) wants to become an actress after her job ends at Tubby’s and she doesn’t think they have a future together. If I were you, Tony, I’d hold on to her!

Duke’s friend Jimmy (Gary Graham) joins the Army and may or not be sent to Vietnam. With his future up in the air, he requests that the car they gifted him to be given to the Hollywood Knights, even though I don’t see much of any connection to them in this subplot. These scenes feel shoe-horned into the movie, perhaps in an effort to tell a cohesive story, but it’s interesting I care enough about the characters to spot the gaps. At least all the characters converge on Tubby’s to hear the song dedication, “Heatwave” by Martha & The Vandellas. It’s a nice earned moment. This is essentially American Graffiti with bare breasts and a lot more childish pranks, but it’s incredibly well-made and well-acted with great songs on the soundtrack.

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