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B – Movie Review – Angel, Angel, Down We Go

Angel, Angel, Down We Go (also released as ‘Cult of the Damned’)

Released… 19 August 1969
Run Time… 93 minutes
Genre… Crime Drama
Production… Sam Katzman Productions & American International Pictures
Country… USA

Featuring

Jennifer Jones… Astrid Steele
Jordan Christopher… Bogart Peter Stuyvesant
Holly Near… Tara Nichole Steele
Lou Rawls… Joe
Charles Aidman… Willy Steele
Davey Davidson… Anna Livia
Roddy McDowell… Santoro
Marty Brille… Maitre D’

Crew

Produced by… Jerome F. Katzman, Sam Katzman, Arthur Driefuss
Music… Fred Karger
Cinematography… John F. Warren
Editing… Eve Newman
Production Design… Gabriel Scognamillo
Art Direction… Bruce Bushman, George W. Davis
Production management… Bobby Stone
Art Department… Shirley Kaplan, Carl Beondé
Sound… Franklin Milton, Fred Faust
Written and Directed by Robert Thom

Synopsis: A rock star and his group take over the life of an overweight young lady and her mother, leading to bizarre circumstances in this really awful movie.

But is has Jennifer Jones in it ! Groovy !

Another 1969 release, this film is a writing effort by Robert Thom, who also directed the film. In 1966 he wrote a story called ‘The Day It All Happened, Baby!’ for Esquire magazine , and it was made into the very well received movie called ‘Wild in the Streets’, released in 1968. He apparently decided he could do the same thing again, writing and now directing for the first time, but failed miserably with this mess. He also apparently realized this film was really terrible and never directed again.

Jennifer Jones, yeah, that Jennifer Jones, the one who won an Academy Award for ‘The Song of Bernadette’, plays Astrid Steele, the mother of Tara Steele and wife of super duper billionaire and creeptoid Willy Steele (played by Charles Aidman).  Holly Near is Tara, she played Billy Pilgrim’s daughter to a much better received movie, ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’, almost three years later. But for now she dominates this horrendous film, and the acting, by all of the cast in this flop, is just abysmal.

This family is rich and dysfunctional to an almost comedic affect. The opening sequences are a narration and annoying collage view of life as seen by Tara, really strange and creepy stuff. She mentions her dad is not a homosexual, while we see him taking a shower  with another young man. She tells us her father is a captain of industry, is terribly rich and a great human being. But we see otherwise as he berates a nanny for allowing the child to see him with his gay lover, who is naked behind a pool table. Weird, just weird… Then Tara crows on about her mother, who wasn’t in stag films and isn’t a frightful witch in high priced gowns and jewelry. And the way she tells it it is obvious that she is being rather sarcastic about it all.

We finally get to see Tara as she is growing up, and in her own words, growing fat. But not really fat fat, just a little overweight. Her parents are in their pajamas (well, the mom is wrapped up in a rug it looks like) and wondering how Tara will be when she comes home from school in Switzerland , the awful father says ‘fat’. Oh boy… Mom is planning a coming out/debutante party for Tara and goes on in dreadful acting detail about how she will have the best clothes and jewelry, and famous folks such as Mama Cass and all the young groovy people will be there. Groovy !!!  Can you dig it ?  Out of Sight !

Before we go any further, let’s examine the plot. There isn’t any. Actually there is a thin plot line that sort of peters out before the movie goes very far. A hippie rock star with faithful followers, who hang on every word he says, infiltrates the family and spouts his ideological/rantings/musings/fleeting thoughts on them. They listen to him and that’s about it. And the whole time it is nothing but nonsense that comes out of his mouth, as well as the others in the group.

So as Tara is fitted with her gown, and then has some guy applying makeup, she excuses herself and goes into her bathroom and attempts to slit her wrist. Why she does this is not explained, she applies a band aid to the cut, and then is shown talking to her dad about jewelry options, which ends up with Tara getting her face slapped heartily by her dad, again for really no reason. Tara also tells dad she can fly airplanes and knows all the dirty secrets, dirty secrets about what is also kept a secret. Mom steps in the room and tells Tara that the party is actually an excuse for her to dress up and shine, and then tells Tara that she used to sell cotton candy on the Santa Monica pier. O…..kay….

It is party time at the Steele residence. Tara makes her descent down the stairs in her gown, makeup, jewels and fat, and no-one really seems to care. The hired band is playing and she is instantly mesmerized by the singer in leather pants. That’s it, that is all he is wearing. We get to see a close up of his crotch and Tara looks like she has an orgasm watching him perform. And to be honest, it is a pretty good, Pink Floydish sort of tune called ‘Angel, Angel, Down We Go’, so we now have a movie title. The singer is Bogart Peter Stuyvesant, doing his best, but not quite there, Jim Morrison impression. Tara’s next move is to the pastry table where she swallows a bakery. And by the way, Mama Cass decided to skip the party as all the young people, too. Just a bunch of old ladies in furs and old guys in groovy (and outlandish) outfits dancing the only way they know how, bad.

After stuffing her face full of doughnuts and éclairs, Tara rushes past the now young crowd of partiers who now are jitterbugging to a band of Dixieland musicians (?), and others who are jumping in the pool fully dressed. She runs yelling ‘groovy’ into the street where the singer (Bogart) almost hits her in his nice looking Mustang. He invites her into the car and they leave together, starting a dialogue exchange that is brutally dreadful. He says he hates these gigs for fat girls, he is rich, she is probably a virgin, everyone there at the party lives in ‘Freaksville’, he needs a pilot for a plane so he and his friends can skydive and other inane small talk. They end up on a blanket where he kisses her and tells her that, “Your breath stinks, and I dig it!”. She apparently ‘digs it’ too. And we also never see or hear from the band he was playing with at the soiree ever again.

Now starts the annoying collage nonsense all over again as Tara removes her rings and puts them on Bogart’s chest while he sleeps. She has a ring on each finger, even two on a single finger, and then puts them on again. Out of nowhere, the rest of the cast shows up, Joe (Lou Rawls), Santoro (Roddy McDowell) and a forgotten actress who plays Anna Livia. Anna is about 8 months pregnant and looks completely silly, dressed in a 1620 pilgrims costume that is also a miniskirt. The other two are outfitted in 1960’s mod clothes that appear totally outdated today. They introduce themselves, Bogart says he is producing the group as a new band called ‘The Rabbit’s Habits’. and then it is off to Bogart’s place where he is singing the ‘Fat Song’ while Tara dances and the others look bored. It again is actually a good song, lyrics are a bit odd (it’s about being fat…duh), and surprisingly, the one actual singer, Lou Rawls, doesn’t sing at all, now, or ever in this movie. Then Tara lays in bed next to him while the collage nonsense is shown to great dramatic affect, lots of collage BS of Humphrey Bogart, General MacArthur, Hermann Göring, etc etc. Next is Bogart running into the bedroom to tell her it is time to go skydiving, he is wearing a skydiving jumpsuit with a scarf around his neck.

Tara sits up in bed and reacts to Bogart telling her that she is going to fly the plane that the group will skydive out off. She says she has been flying all night. It is an obvious reference to the taking of some drugs I guess, although never seen in the movie or mentioned in the movie, is the casual innuendos to drug use. Why they never just come out and say, ‘We dropped some acid’ or ‘We smoked a joint’ is strange really, because we are led to believe the use of drugs by the cast is what makes them so groovy and cool and outta sight. Anyway, Bogart and Tara do some silly dialogue and then he slaps her face, hard. Alrighty…. now we are into the abuse scene.

Up in the air the group is in a plane ready to jump. They pass a red baton to each other as they head out the door onto the struts, saying stuff like “Bogart is God” and other weirdo things, and then jump. Tara is flying the plane looking like she is all high on something. Two strange things in this scene, 1) the 8 month pregnant girl (Anna Livia) is skydiving, and 2) the plane they jump from is, to me, something I’ve seen before. It is a white plane with orange markings and has the registration letters 8801 seen on it. I know I’ve seen this plane before somewhere. We will get back to that later.

Cut to Tara’s mom and dad, while mom is getting her neck rubbed, they argue over where their daughter is and should they call the cops. Nope, no cops, seems dad has detectives out looking. Mom calls the lady rubbing her neck a sadistic dike for no reason. Really awful stuff here acting wise, just pitiful.

After the jump, they are in Bogart’s place dressed in their weird costumes. Bogart and Anna are dressed in what looks like French Legionnaires uniforms while the rest are in stupid groovy outfits. Bogart now wants Tara to ‘phone home’ so he can get to the studio and do some recording. He goes into a mini temper tantrum that is pretty funny to watch. Tara mentions she sat on General MacArthur’s lap when she was two years old and Santoro asks if he got a thrill out of her doing that. Great acting Mr. McDowell. While Bogart rolls around on the floor, he tries to come up with the name of a band. Tara now goes into hallucination mode and sees her mother apparently with her eyes gouged out, she sees her father in the billiard room with a naked Bogart, and finally a scene where Tara is in a jungle being kidnapped by her new friends, and they meet her mother who naturally humiliates her. Once that silliness plays out, they are driving down a road in a pretty nice antique car.

After the car ride, we see Bogart, Tara and her friends at mom and dad’s place. Bogart acts like he swallowed a gallon of liquid amphetamine before he hit the front door. He launches into his insane philosophy, both racist and vulgar. After his speech, he gets himself invited to dinner but announces that he and his friends are staying the night. Now mom and dad discuss the new boyfriend, and dad seems okay with this idiot, while mom is either completely appalled, or falling in love herself with Bogart. Off to the pool while Bogart  dives off the board while the others watch intently. The father gets up and leaves in disgust. So now I guess dad doesn’t like him.

Mom takes some pills and washes ’em down with her Bloody Mary when Bogart comes running up and says, “sipping nips and popping pills” and then laughs uncontrollably. Next we are in the studio recording the song ‘Mother Lover’, with the lyrics’ ‘sipping nips and popping pills’. Tara’s mom sits there getting mad because the song is, of course, about her. She finally runs out, puts on her mink coat, calls her daughter fat, and then leaves. Next scene we are at a restaurant with the gang and mom and Tara and everything seems smoothed over. This is Anna Livias’ big scene where she explains birth control, and how she won’t tell anyone who the father of her baby is, just because. Finally mother gets pissed again and runs out with Bogart saying goodbye to his gang, and running out behind her. They get in a taxi or a limo and Bogart starts feeling her up and mom ain’t complaining.

Tara is heartbroken, crying to her new buddies while she is stuck on the ceiling and having flashbacks of being abused when she was young. More completely useless dialogue ensues and the Tara falls off of ceiling onto the floor. Bogart is in bed with mom and her giant diamonds, he starts saying “Jump, jump, jump’, possibly to get his new lover to go skydiving with him. Then he takes her zillion dollar necklace and won’t give it back.

As stupid as this movie is up to this point, it only gets worse. The group do a few more incredibly bad scenes and dialogue, then they are roaring down the highway in the antique car. Mother Astrid proclaims loudly that she “did 30 stag films and never faked an orgasm.” Bravo Miss Jones, for letting us see the absolute low point in your acting career. This one line seems to sum up this whole idiotic movie. And now the second time I see the antique car they are driving around in, it is plain that it is being towed or on a flatbed being filmed.

Mom says she wants to go to the Santa Monica pier, when they get there, she buys cotton candy and pays for it with jewelry. Then she just tosses the cotton candy on the ground. The group walk the beach and then sit while telling her about skydiving and other meaningless garbage. Back at Bogarts, he bust into another song, ‘Hallelujah’, and it’s not too bad. He sings the song while smashing empty wine bottles on the floor, and they all prance around in bare feet.

After the song, they all sit around and mumble nonsense while in all likelihood they took some leftover Woodstock ‘brown acid’ and drank cheap wine, as this scene makes no sense whatsoever.

Off to the airport where they get the parachutes ready and mom calls Tara fat and Bogart watches with his spinning eyeballs. Daddy arrives in a limo just as they get on the plane.

Remember I mentioned the plane the group jumped from the first time? Well, now they get a similar plane with different markings on it, ‘N22418’. It has an unusual paint scheme on the plane that makes it stand out. I knew I had seen that plane before and I had. In the movie ‘The Gypsy Moths’, which I did a recap of earlier on this site, they are using the exact same plane to jump from in that film. Strange…

Anyway, Tara is flying the plane, the others, including mom, jump out. Bogart has mommy’s high dollar necklace which he gives to mom mid freefall. Then mommy plummets into the earth at 500 MPH because her chute didn’t open. Wow.

On the ground is Tara and daddy and a cop looking forlorn. No investigation, no questions asked, then Bogart, Tara and daddy head back in the limo to ‘somewhere’ where it appears Bogart beats daddy to death with a whip. Tara goes on in her drug addled state of mind preaching mumbo jumbo and the films ends.

It is hard to tell what this movie is about really. Daughter goes on and on about her perfect life, it actuality it is in shambles, she runs off with a musician who is either a cult leader, high on drugs, completely mad or a psychopath. He takes the opportunity to tell the daughter what she wants to hear, and I guess recruits her into his little family of weirdos. He then gets mom, and it seems dad, to follow along with him. The whole timeframe of the movie seems to be just a few days, maybe a week. Why he needs to do any of this is never made clear at all, everything seems so random. All in all, a terrible movie. It bombed at the box office and was renamed ‘Cult of the Damned’ for some reason a year later. It was released as the second movie on the playbill and eventually disappears from sight.

The guy who wrote and directed the movie never directed another movie again, this was his first try. He did write some other interesting stuff that was not near so bad.

But it is a wonderful cult movie that can be watched and laughed at eternally. Groovy!

 

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