He Watched It Sober.

Trust us. We won't let this happen to you.


Hot-Rod Girl

Part Two of J.D.'s & Rocket-Bras

     "Man! Lisa just doesn't seem to be hitting on all eight-cylinders without Jeff."

-- Flat-Top, a Chicken-Runner  




Gonzoid Cinema




"Riddle me this, young Hot-Rodders!

"Just how old are you 'teenagers' anyway?"


Watch it!



Sights &
Hot-Rod Girl
 Nacirema Productions /
 American International

Rails, Riots 
& Rumbles:
& Skid-marked

Hot Rod

Motor Cycle Gang

Dragstrip Girl

Dragstrip Riot

Hot Rod Girl

Hot Rod Rumble

Speed Crazy

T-Bird Gang

Teenage Thunder


I noticed something peculiar at the beginning of this week’s film: You can physically hear someone drop the needle on the record of the spaz-jazz soundtrack before the credits roll. A thud, and then a hiss and a pop and away we go...

Well, we open at the local dragstrip, where the equally local teens race each other in their souped-up rails (-- that’s a tripped-out jalopy to all you squares...). But we haven’t quite reached the age of Big Daddy Roth and the T-Bucket yet, as the only thing that appears to be modified are the engines; and as the final few heats wind down, Lisa Vernon (Lori Nelson), our little hot-rod gal, puts her T-Bird into action (-- Nelson's own coupe, and with Lee Iacocca as my witness, she barely breaks 15mph --) and wins her race -- much to the delight of her boyfriend and mechanic, Jeff Northrup (John Smith). A local hot-rodding legend, it was Jeff's idea to start up the dragstrip club and organize these races. And with the help and guidance of officer Ben Merril (Chuck Connors), Jeff's brainstorm helps to keep the young speed-freaks on the racetrack and off the streets. Still in its infancy, the dragstrip hasn’t won the complete approval of the mayor, the city council, or most of the citizenry yet, but juvenile traffic incidents are noticeably down since it opened, so hopefully, it's only a matter of time before everyone comes around.

With the meet completed, Lisa and Jeff, along with Jeff's brother, Steve (Del Erickson), and friend Flat-Top (Frank Gorshin), decide to head to Yo-Yo’s -- the hot-rodders favorite hang out. Asking Jeff to ride with him to diagnose a nagging engine problem, along the way, we find out that the brothers were orphans when Steve asks to live with Jeff instead of their oppressive aunt. Steve also whines that every time he really wants to go fast, somebody's always around to slow him down. (Oh yeah, this guy will die horribly in a car wreck before the final reel. Or maybe a little sooner...) Almost on cue, another dragster roars up and, despite Jeff’s protests, Steve is goaded by the other driver into a race.

Cut to police headquarters, where we find Merril conversing with his boss about the merits of the dragstrip -- and yeah, you're supposed to notice the HUGE picture of a car wreck adorning the wall behind his desk. The conversation is a tad one-sided until Merril's boss waves him off, saying he’s preaching to the choir, when they’re both interrupted by a phone call ... Seems there's been an accident.

Merril arrives on scene just as Steve’s body is pried out of the wreckage. (Jeez, I thought he’d last longer than that.) Turns out Jeff was thrown clear and escaped injury, and when Merril breaks the news that Steve didn’t make it, quite understandably, Jeff doesn’t take this very well and is inconsolable. And since Steve was a minor under his direct supervision, Jeff's drivers license is suspended -- and it would have been much worse, but Merril went to bat for him. Also, the deadly wreck causes a massive public backlash against the dragstrip. With the city threatening to close it down, Merril asks for Jeff's help to try and save it; but completely overcome with survivor's guilt, Jeff flatly refuses to have anything more to do with hot-rods. 

Mindlessly throwing himself into his work, Jeff tries to forget about the wreck and cars altogether. (Did I mention the guy is an auto-mechanic?) Lisa tries calling the garage where Jeff works several times, but he's reluctant to talk to her and refuses an invitation to meet at Yo-Yo's. Lisa goes anyway and meets up with Flat-Top and Two-Tanks (Ed Reider), and their respective girls, Judy (Carolyn Kearney), and the ditzy L.P. (Roxanne Arlen), who won’t shut up. (L.P. -- Long-Playing record. Get it?) Once inside, we’re entreated to an uncomfortably long rug-burning, toe-tapping and finger-snapping shindig sequence, accompanied by a familiar spastic jazz band. Above the din, when Lisa asks the others why they've all been cutting out on the drag-races, Flat-Top admits it’s just not the same without Jeff there; and when Two-Tanks challenges him to a race out at Dry Lake, Lisa heads to the garage to warn Jeff that the kids are acting up again, hoping he'll stop them, but he still refuses to help. 

Dejected, Lisa returns to Yo-Yo's, and in the parking lot finds a rather greasy looking character in a black leather jacket riding a tripped-out Olds. Bronc Talbott (Mark Andrews) is his given name, but I’ve affectionately dubbed him Greasy, who constantly revs up his engine, trying to impress the chicks -- and you know what the say about guys with ostentatious cars, right? That's right: they're over compensating for the size of their *ahem* "stick shifts". Greasy gives Lisa the big-eye, but she gives him the big brush-off. Following her inside, he firmly establishes himself as the bully and the antagonist for the rest of the film. He also needs a mechanic for his wagon, so Two-Tanks steers him in the direction of Jeff's garage. And from their initial meeting we can already tell that Jeff and Greasy will fight before the end of the film.

Later, after giving Two-Tanks a citation for peeling off some rubber at an intersection, a patrolmen heads to the nearly deserted dragstrip, where Merril and Lisa barely have enough cars for a single heat. His fellow officer warns Merril that bad things are coming; with reports pilling up, and ticket citations on the rise, the mayor wants to do more than just shut down the dragstrip -- he wants to ban all hot-rods outright. Things are getting desperate, and knowing he needs Jeff back to salvage things, Merril asks Lisa to try again. She does, and Jeff finally agrees to meet her at Yo-Yo's.

While she waits, Greasy stirs up more trouble by unplugging the jukebox in the middle of a dance. Jeff arrives just as Flat-Top answers Greasy's challenge to a game of chicken. When Jeff tries to stop this, Flat-Top shrugs him off. Refusing to watch, Jeff is left behind as Lisa goes with the distraught Judy to watch her boyfriend try and kill himself. Outside, after a brief Mexican standoff, the accelerators are punched, the cars roar toward each other, and Greasy wins as Flat-Top quickly chickens out and puts his car in the ditch. Luckily, he isn't hurt, and when they all return to Yo-Yo’s, Jeff and Lisa try to patch things up. On their way out, Flat-Top confesses that Jeff was right and he will never do anything stupid like that again. Taking Lisa to his apartment, Jeff apologizes for his recent behavior. And as they kiss and make-up, he finally agrees to help revive the dragstrip.

Meanwhile, back at Yo-Yo's, Merril shows up since someone reported the chicken-run. (My money's on Jeff.) But no one is talking now, and as he reads everybody the riot act, Greasy isn’t all that impressed and plugs the jukebox back in, drowning the frustrated Merril out. Upon returning to the police station, Merril discovers that Greasy has a rap sheet a mile long, but being the softy that he is, convinces his boss to let him handle things his way. Tracking Greasy down, he offers an ultimatum: he can either come to the dragstrip and see how the good kids do it, or he’ll incarcerate his greasy ass. Then, after a brief mini-documentary on how the dragstrip works, Jeff inspects Greasy’s car and disqualifies him when it doesn’t meet safety requirements. Alas, Greasy doesn’t like being made to look the fool and threatens to get even with Jeff. After he leaves, Merril regrets not running Greasy in -- but on a happier note, he also tells Jeff his probation is over and returns his drivers license.

Later, while Jeff and Lisa drive home, Greasy roars up out of nowhere and tries to force them off the road. Failing to lose him on the long and winding road, Greasy forces Jeff's into the wrong lane as they round a curve. Seeing a fifty-year old "kid" on a bike coming from the other direction, Jeff swerves to miss him and crashes into a tree. But Greasy also loses control and runs this poor "kid" over.

According to legend, the kid in question was played by legendary AIP F/X man, Paul Blaisdell.

When the police arrive, Jeff and Lisa, who were both knocked out, can’t remember clearly what happened. Covering his own ass, Greasy says they were driving on the wrong side of the road and that Jeff ran the kid over. The skid-marks back this up (-- thank you, C.S.I.), and Jeff is placed under arrest for manslaughter. And he's not the only one in hot-water: the mayor wants Merril's badge and the dragstrip shut down immediately. Not believing Greasy's version of events, Merril asks for a little more time before turning in his badge. Asking the chief to call Lisa and Jeff (-- who's out on bail --) and have them to meet him at Yo-Yo’s in one hour, Merril goes back to the crash-site. On closer inspection, Merril notices that the skid-marks actually contradict Greasy's story. Moving on to Yo-Yo’s, he scrapes some paint samples off the cracked front panel of Greasy's Olds to compare with the paint marks on the dead kid’s bike. Confronted with the mounting evidence against him, Greasy smashes a bottle over Merril's head, knocking him out, but when he tries to escape, he runs right into Lisa and Jeff -- who proceeds to kick the crap out of him -- and if you watch closely, you can see the Vitalis fly with each landed punch.

Merril recovers and places what's left of Greasy’s under arrest, saying his actions are as good as a confession. He then asks Jeff and Lisa for help because even though they’ll have to start over from scratch, Merril wants to try and reopen the dragstrip. Thinking that's a great idea, the couple happily agree.

The End

Once again, a lurid title promises us one thing but delivers us something completely different. Our Hot-Rod Girl runs a race at the beginning -- again, at speeds barely breaking 15mph -- and then never gets behind the wheel again! Instead, we get a tale of some dopey slab of beef struggling with his inner demons, brought on by his brother’s accidental death. There’s also the subplot of Greasy -- who's only interested in the glamour aspects of hot-rodding and not the spiritual side of the link between man and machine ... And methinks I've slipped my clutch and be digging a little too deep here, so I’ll stop grinding gears and say to ya’ll -- Never mind that last part. 

One of the few films that I can think of where the police are pro-teen, Hot-Rod Girl is by no means a terrible a movie -- but it isn’t all that great either. The plot is standard and predictable, but there are enough likeable characters to carry the film. But those likeable characters, I have to point out, were all supporting characters as Lisa and Jeff are the film’s least interesting ingredients. Unfortunately, they are the stick and the fulcrum that move the plot along. The film also falls into a familiar trap as our "teens" appear to be in there 20s and 30s. I neglected to mention the fact that in High School Hellcats, aside from the Connie character, most of the actors appeared young enough to be teenagers. Unfortunately, Hot-Rod Girl’s players are so obviously long-in-tooth that I couldn’t forget. Also, watch the fight at the end between Jeff and Greasy and see that Two-Tanks is obviously Greasy’s stunt double.

Aside from the main characters, the film’s weakest points are in the racing sequences themselves. If we aren’t being subjected to cars shot against a rolling matte, where the car is static while they run moving footage behind it, giving the *ahem* illusion of motion, the film is being sped-up to hide the fact that the cars are barely moving -- this was usually done by skip-framing or removing film frames, resulting in a comical, herky-jerky speed-o-vision. Flat-Top and Greasy’s chicken-run combines both methods with some pretty hilarious results. Now I know power-steering hadn’t been invented yet, but I just love the way the actors over-crank their steering wheels. When they rightfully should be bouncing from ditch to ditch, they instead maintain a steady course thanks to the projected film behind them.

Story-wise, John McGreevy's script lacks the bite and social commentary of his peers Charles B. Griffith, Lou Russoff, and Stanely Kallis. Couple that with the pedestrian direction by Leslie Martinsen, and it's no wonder the film is strictly from Dullsville. Martinsen had a long and storied career directing television shows. His resume includes: Airwolf, Manimal, The Powers of Matthew Star, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, Buck Rogers, Diff’rent Strokes, Dallas, The Love Boat, CHiP’s, Fantasy Island, Quincy, Bigfoot and Wildboy (does anyone else remember this show besides me? "Biiyaaaaabbaaaaaa!!!!!!"), Wonder Woman, The Six Million-Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Barnaby Jones, Mannix, Mission: Impossible, Maverick, Batman and -- and I think it might have been easier to just list the shows he didn’t have a hand in.

And big thanks to Bill Peetzke -- motorhead extremis, and fellow Canadian enthusiast -- for the loan of Hot-Rod Girl, as all attempts to get a copy of Dragstrip Girl wound up twisted and wrecked in the ditch. Thanks for the save, buddy!

Hot-Rod Girl (1956) Nacirema Productions :: American International / EP:  David T. Yokozeki / P:  Norman T. Herman / AP:  Byron Roberts / D:  Leslie H. Martinson / W:  John McGreevey / C:  Sam Leavitt / E: Leon Barsha / M: Alexander Courage / S:  Lori Nelson, Chuck Connors, John Smith, Frank Gorshin

More J.D.'s & Rocket-Bras!

Originally Posted: 10/06/00 :: Rehashed 04/18/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
How our Rating System works. Our Philosophy.