Small town waitress Michele Casey sees an opportunity to chase her big city dreams when shadowy stranger Buz blows into town, offering her a shot at the Go-Go dancing scene in Los Angeles. Together they hit the road, picking up a scraggly hitchhiker named Critter along the way. After a few misadventures during their travels, all three land jobs at the Haunted House club, but not everything is on the up-and-up.
This youthful crime drama has rebellion, wanderlust, sexuality, and groovy tunes—that is to say, almost everything one could ask for. It’s a fun, but not especially good, movie that pits uncertain counterculture against modern morals, and lands us in hot water fast. Much more interesting than the film itself, though, is what the film represents.
1968 was something of a transitional time for youth culture. The beatniks were on their way out, the hippies were already staking their claim, and the outlaw motorcycle gang—the fringe of the fringe—were circling the area (though the disastrous Altamont Free Concert was still a year away). All of these groups had been, or would be, the subject of countless exploitation films, and GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS works as something of a transitional film itself.
Buz and Critter are both young rambling men, but that’s where their similarities end. Buz is a rough and tumble criminal with sociopathic tendencies. Critter is sensitive and educated (he dropped out of both Berkeley and Columbia), truly an artistic and peaceful soul. And yet, despite their enduring differences, there is an odd connective tissue between them. They each represent an aspect of the Beat Generation. Critter is something akin to an honest portrayal of the real life beat—lost and wandering, sometimes finding himself in bad situations but in general, not a bad person. When he gets on a roll, most noticeable in his first scene in the diner, his smooth-talking patter is reminiscent of Neal Cassady’s stream-of-consciousness raps. Buz, on the other hand, is a beat as typically portrayed in the media (as witnessed in films like THE BEATNIKS)—dangerous and degenerate.
Further connections to the Beats are more tenuous, but exist nonetheless. The mere mention of Columbia University conjures up images of beatnik life, as that is the college where many of the key figures of the Beat movement initially met. The road trip that Buz, Critter, and Michele embark on was a staple of beatnik culture since the publication of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in 1957, which detailed his and Neal Cassady’s gallivanting across the country. On the Road in turn inspired the television show ROUTE 66 (1960-1964), in which one of the main characters was named Buz. And finally, bongo music has long been associated with the Beats, and this film features a blazing hot scene of Preston Epps, certainly one of the bongo kings, wailing away like mad. But more about him later.
The bikers crop up on the periphery to cause a spot of trouble early on during the voyage, but they back down way too quickly to be seen as a credible threat—which just served as further evidence that Buz is a bad man who is not to be trifled with. Hippies, however, never make a fully impressionable appearance in the film, which is odd, as the so-called Summer of Love had wrapped up only the year before. Instead we get go-go dancing, tangentially connected to the Mod scene, which was something of a halfway point between beat and hippie. My guess is the rapid gyrations of go-go girls was merely more marketable than the slow and peaceful swaying of the flower children. Flesh on screen puts bodies in seats.
GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS showed us the seedy side of the professional jiggler’s world decades before SHOWGIRLS came along, and would make a good companion feature to that film. There’s no nudity on display here, though, and the closest we get to a sex scene is a few kisses on the mouth. It’s actually startlingly chaste, considering the plot is about sexuality, drugs, and murder. It’s probably the most “innocent” example of such a film that I can think of, and that’s part of its charm.
Once our rambling young people arrive in Los Angeles (shot here like a gaudy neon wonderland with its own kind of beauty), the majority of the film takes place within the confines of the Haunted House night club. I’m not much for the club scene myself, but I would gladly pay the cover charge to get inside this one. After walking through what resembles a carnival spookshow, complete with wax dummies and eerie sound effects, you enter into the club proper, where the dancing girls share the stage with a live band, and the backdrop looks like the gaping maw of a carnivorous beast. As far as night clubs go, it’s a genre lover’s dream.
Interestingly, the Haunted House was an actual club that stood at 6315 Hollywood Boulevard, though I’ve been unable to locate very much information about it. It doesn’t appear that it was open for more than a few years before shutting down. Scenes from 1967’s IT’S A BIKINI WORLD were also shot there, but for a much better look, you’ll want to watch this clip from the old tabloid news show, HOLLYWOOD INSIDER, in which Sonny & Cher take us on a tour of the place. At some point, it became an adult theater known as the Cave (so named because the cavern-like walls from its previous incarnation still existed), and is now Déjà Vu Showgirls (“1000s of Beautiful Girls & 3 Ugly Ones”, as their sign proudly proclaims).
It apparently took three different people to hammer out this screenplay: Leighton J. Peatman, Art Names, and John T. Wilson. Art Names by far has the most extensive filmography, but only two additional writing credits—THE BLACK KLANSMAN (1966) and SNAKES (1974), both of them also with John T. Wilson. Both men were also credited as producers on the latter, and that pretty much ends Wilson’s career in the movies. Names is mostly known for his sound work, though, on cult favorites like the biker flick THE GLORY STOMPERS (1967), blaxploitation effort THE BLACK GODFATHER (1974), and revenge film SAVAGE STREETS (1984). As for Peatman, his only other credit is the script for the spy thriller A MAN CALLED DAGGER (1968), which he co-wrote with Robert S. Weekly.
It was produced and directed by Ted V. Mikels, who also gave us STRIKE ME DEADLY (1963), the previously mentioned THE BLACK KLANSMAN (1966), THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES (1968), THE CORPSE GRINDERS (1971), BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE-DEVILS (1973), and TEN VIOLENT WOMEN (1982). In recent years, he returned to the well with THE CORPSE GRINDERS 2 (2000) and 3 (2012), and three ASTRO-ZOMBIE sequels (2004, 2010, and 2012).
Our star go-go girl, Michele, was played by Leslie McRay, who can also be seen in Al Adamson’s HELL’S BLOODY DEVILS (1970), Mikels’s BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE-DEVILS, COFFY (1973) with Pam Grier, groupie exploitation film BUMMER (1973), and Roger Corman’s DEATH RACE 2000 (1975). Michele’s predecessor to the gold boots glory, Joanie, was played by Bara Byrnes, who gets extra hipster credit for a few of the other titles in her filmography: she played another dancing girl in THE BEAT GENERATION (1959) and she appeared in an episode of the jazzy P.I. drama JOHNNY STACATO (1959). She can also be seen in the Mamie Van Doren drama GIRLS TOWN (1959), the musical LOOKING FOR LOVE (1964), the voyeur thriller EXTREME CLOSE-UP (1973), and the Bruce Greenwood rom-com THE MALIBU BIKINI SHOP (1986).
Tom Pace, who played Buz, showed up again in Mikels’s ASTRO-ZOMBIES and BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE-DEVILS, as well as the Gene Roddenberry TV movie GENESIS II (1973).
Buz’s competitor for Michele’s heart, Critter, was played by Jody Daniels, who can also be seen in the Western THE GUN HAWK (1963), the Larry Buchanan sci-fi schlocker ATTACK OF THE EYE CREATURES (1965), and the rarely-seen biker flick HELLS CHOSEN FEW (1968).
The drug-slinging club owner, Leo McCabe, was played with great relish by Mark Herron, who just five years prior had popped up in Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, and would next appear in the horror film EYE OF THE CAT (1969). His underling Marty was portrayed by William Bagdad, also of SHE-FREAK (1967), HEAD (1968), and most of the by-now expected Mikels films, plus his THE DOLL SQUAD (1973).
One can not discuss a movie such as GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS without some coverage of the film’s music. It’s too intricate a part of the proceedings to ignore, and some of the swinging numbers are also a good deal of fun. Fourteen songs made up the soundtrack—seven of them exclusive to the film—which was advertised in the pressbook but never actually saw release. I could spend a good deal of time waxing poetic on these deep tracks, but rather I’ll link you to a post at the wonderful (but sadly inactive) My Little Underground blog, written by Jeremy Allison, likely the biggest GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS fan in the universe, who does it more justice than I ever could.
Preston Epps, however, is not mentioned in the post linked to above—likely because he wasn’t listed on the official soundtrack, so we’ll discuss him a bit more here. He was born in Oakland, CA in 1931, and picked up the bongos while serving in Okinawa during the Korean War. After his return home, he started playing local hangouts until discovered by Art Laboe, disc jockey and founder of Original Sounds Records. Together, they released Epps’s single “Bongo Rock” (co-written by Laboe under the pseudonym Arthur Egnoian) in 1959, reaching #14 on the pop charts. This was followed up with “Bongo Bongo Bongo” in 1960, which peaked at #78. The full-length album also entitled Bongo Bongo Bongo reached #35, but his other singles and LPs didn’t fare nearly as well. He continued working in the industry, though, doing studio session work, and playing California clubs regularly. Although his songs have appeared in various movies, this is the only film appearance he has been credited with.
As of this writing, GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS is hovering near the middle of the IMDb’s Bottom 100, but I maintain a genuine affection for it. But maybe that’s because I’m a rebel.
A rebel with a pretty mind.