Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Kitten with a Whip
If you've never seen Ann-Margret in her early 1960s prime, then you probably can't imagine the concept behind the "sex kitten," a sexist, condescending term that, back in the day (possibly coined in the late 1950s and, again possibly, attributed in 1958 in reference to french actress Brigitte Bardot), meant "hottie."
In the early 1960s these up and coming "sex kittens" (Bardot, Raquel Welch, etc.) - while splashed all over movie fanzines - didn't carry the extra burden of being exposed and defined by their proclivities, i.e., rampant sexcapades, drug-fueled frenzies or shoplifting rampages a la Lindsey Lohan.
Ann-Margret, who went to New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois and attended Northwestern University, started to gain notice shortly after the death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962. In her career, Monroe had defined the concept of "bombshell," ultimately inspiring the looks of such B-graders as Mamie Van Doren and Jayne Mansfield. Ann-Margret, on the other hand, was something completely different - thinner, red hair - someone who purred sex and meant it, as opposed to Marilyn Monroe, who played her roles alluring (at that time, anyway) with an aware unawareness of self.
Ann-Margret's first film - A Pocketful of Miracles - came out in 1961 and was a tame, non-threatening effort - a family affair. In '62 she was in State Fair with boring, clean cut Pat Boone. In '63, she started to define herself in Bye Bye Birdie but it was her role as Rusty Martin in Viva Las Vegas (1964) that exploited her physical attributes with her "sex kitten" coquettishness playing alongside Elvis Presley, who was reaching his apex. Yet Ann-Margret was still blooming wholesomeness - someone you could easily bring home to mother.
That is until her next movie (released the same year as Viva Las Vegas), Kitten with a Whip. Even in 1964, the title alluded to something vaguely sadomasochistic, something you might see on 42nd Street.
Despite the film's S&M title, the movie is actually an obscure juvenile deliquent romp, with Ann-Margret playing head JD and juvie detention hall escapee, Jody Dvorak. Now the clean-cut "sex kitten" is implied to carry a whip (which Jody does not in this movie), making things a little naughtier.
About Ann-Margret's performance in Kitten with a Whip, Shock Cinema editor Steven Puchalski says, "Lemme tell you, this flick is without a doubt the finest showcase of Ann-Margret's talents. She's a tough, no-nonsense bitch, using sex 'n' a smile to get what she wants, and this harder edge makes her more alluring than ever. When she snarls and brandishes the broken end of a whiskey bottle --- well, I think I'm in love."