Movie Review: Bye Bye Birdie

ByeByeBirdieThumbby Brad Nelson
This is a movie I wondered if it was even worth bothering to review. There is such a large cultural divide between those who think movie “style” is slow-motion blood spurting out of a body cavity to a hip soundtrack and those for whom cool is personified in Bogie and Bacall. Not that I ever  tried that hard, but I’ve given up trying to convince the New Bond Crowd that the Old Bond was much better. You can’t argue taste. You can only cultivate it and enjoy it.

If a sense of irony is a post-execution smart-aleck comment said over someone’s dead body, you may not be capable of the subtlety needed to understand good comedy. For many, Bye Bye Birdie is “camp” and they know not the difference between unintentional camp and intentional camp. They know not the difference between being in on the joke and the joke itself. So this review isn’t for you. If Bye Bye Birdie is just a stupid movie to you, please move on. Go enjoy your New Bond. Buh-bye now.

The rest of you can read on and you can be in on the joke. But, aack, even my own older brother wasn’t quite in on the joke when he watched this with me. Ann-Margrock belts out the opening overture in an intentionally campy, amateurish voice and he thought Ann-Margrock just wasn’t much of a singer. (I soon set him straight, as did the movie itself later on where Ann sings up a storm.)

This movie is not for nitwits. As campy as it is, Bye Bye Birdie is rich in subtlety and more than a little sexual innuendo and imagery. (Love the mini Washington Monument, for example, that is just outside the school entrance.) Surely you will notice that Jesse Pearson is supposed to be playing a parody of a teen idol who may be high on animal magnetism but is a bit short on talent.

Surely you will appreciate the production value of a number of extraordinarily well done song-and-dance numbers including “Honestly Sincere” (a marvelous send-up of romantic crooners), “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” (one of the musical highlights of any musical in memory), “One Boy,” “Kids,” and the campy and wonderful “The Telephone Hour.”

Topping it off is the somewhat forgettable song that includes some nice athletic moves from Janet Leigh and her dancers. And if you don’t have a big grin on your face when Dick van Dyke sings “Put on a Happy Face,” you’re just not human.

Still, appreciating any or all of that is a tall order for generations of kids brought up on excessive sex and violence as the norm. To actually step back and view something a little more innocent is perhaps impossible. This art form may now be all but dead, but Bye Bye Birdie is an extraordinary example of how much talent you need, and how hard you have to work, if you are to hold an audience without using f-bombs and gallons of blood. It can be done. Bye Bye Birdie does that in spades.

This is also a historically important film since it is the jumping-off point for Ann-Margrock becoming a major star. Perhaps the same can be said for Paul Lynde who is at his best as Ann-Margrock’s father. And goofy teen idol (goofy to me, at least) Bobby Ridell plays goofy Hugo Peobody who pins Ann-Margrock in the back seat of his car. Maybe I should rephrase that. Oh, fohgettaboutit. You’ll have to see the movie.

And if you enjoy just downright awesome physical female beauty, then feast your eyes on over an hour and a half of Ann-Margrock and the stunningly beautiful Janet Leigh who is handicapped only by a couple hairstyles that even Jackie Kennedy probably wouldn’t have touched.

Bye Bye Birdie is a re-watchable movie, not only because of the music but because of the various shtick. There’s a Little Shop of Horrors feel to it. The intentional camp adds to the viewing pleasure. When Conrad Birdie sings out “suffer” in the hilarious song “Honestly Sincere,” you had better be laughing or you’re just not getting it.

Margrock2PhotoAll in all, this is a terrific movie. How did I go without seeing it all these years? Probably because it was a musical, and I’m very skeptical of musicals. But if you haven’t become jaded by all the f-bombs and Spinal Tap 11 sex and violence that attempts to entertain with shock because talent and creativity are much more difficult, then give Bye Bye Birdie a try. I give it 4.0 fast turtles out of 5. • (2080 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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8 Responses to Movie Review: Bye Bye Birdie

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    In addition to such songs as “Kids” (but then, I like Paul Lynde as a comic performer) and the telephone sequence, I would also mention their ode to Ed Sullivan as a fun feature. For the benefit of anyone too young to know, the inspiration for the movie was the drafting of Elvis Presley. (When we went to the Patton Museum a few years ago, they had a little section on Presley, who not only did his job as a solider but after that tended to show remarkable sympathy for them I have no idea who Contrad Birdie would have reacted.) Another thing I will mention is Dick Van Dyke’s character’s mother, who perfectly exemplified the manipulative parent.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Thanks for that further info, Timothy. I hope I can count you as another “Birdie” fan. There is just so good stuff out there. And you sometimes have to really dig through the piles to find it. If they simply stopped making movies today, there would still be enough old movies to sift through to last a lifetime.

      • Kung Fu Zu says:

        Funny, it was on TV tonight. What about “One Last Kiss”? I took the movie to be a send up of the whole teeny-bopper, rock and roll culture.

        As to the new Bond, I think Daniel Craig’s Bond is simply a crude, surly, thug with little talent and less interest in cultivating anything remotely like good taste.

        His not only vulgar, but stupid comment to a bar tender asking if he would like his martini shaken or stirred exemplifies the depths to which the culture has sunk.

        The original James Bond films may not have been “Citizen Kane”, but they did exude a sense of sophistication sadly lacking in today’s yutes. Bond was something other than a killer robot.

        I know, I am a dinosaur.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I took the movie to be a send up of the whole teeny-bopper, rock and roll culture.

          Abso-tively. I think this is one of those movies that the low-information voter isn’t going to “get.” I see that a lot these days. A lot of subtle parody movies don’t do well. I think it’s just because yutes these days (and the yute-adult they grow into) just haven’t developed a very sophisticated sense of taste.

          I’m not a big fan of Daniel Craig either. And I’m actually one of the few who will stick up for Roger Moore. I think he was terrific in the first four of his films or so. And who doesn’t like Sean Connery? If you don’t, them is fightin’ words!

          One of the problems with the new Bond isn’t Craig as much as their reliance on gadgetry. Go back and watch one of the early Connery picture. You might be shocked to find out that James Bond used to be a spy thriller with a little cool spy gadgetry thrown in to make it interesting.

          But now they’ve turned Bond into somewhat of a superhero. That opening scene of one of the Craig Bond films where he is jumping from girder to girder is so stupidly unbelievable. And when he’s not being a superhero, it’s gadget, gadgets, and more gadgets.

          I’d love to seem them take a risk and do an old-school Bond film. Yes, Bond used to be something other than a killer robot. Well put, Mr. Kung.

          • Kung Fu Zu says:

            Remember the most sophisticated technical device Bond had in “From Russia with Love” was the briefcase with the knife which popped out of the spine, the hidden gold sovereigns and the tin of powder which exploded if the briefcase wasn’t opened correctly? We thought that was cool.

            tech has replaced talent

          • Timothy Lane says:

            I think I like all of the Eon Bond films up through the one with the Carver Group (Die Another Day, I think), which is the last one I’d seen until I saw one of the Daniel Craig films recently on TV. My housemate has Carver relatives, so that movie bemused her a bit. A friend who saw it with us said the only thing it needed was Shirley Bassey doing the theme song, which I found quite reasonable.
            As for Bye, Bye Birdie, I saw it after it came out, and a few times since. We sort of saw the remake, except the picture on our TV went out maybe half an hour (and stayed out for a week or so), though the sound was unaffected. I also have the soundtrack, which helps keep me familiar with the music.

          • Black JEM says:

            I actually like the new Bond. Much better than the last 3 or 4. Loved Connery – Moore, not so much.

            In the last Bond movie, with the exception of the jaw removing scene being kind of gross, there is little techie or ugly stuff stuff.

            Birdie was a great movie and I enjoy stumbling on to it whenever I can. Over the top, and wonderfully so at that.

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