Not without it’s charm, Bye Bye Birdie comes across as the worst kind of glorification of small time values. It runs on the fear of sexuality, especially that of women, and champions committed abstinence in the most naive, cringe worthy context. A film about sex, and how sex is evil. The villain of the film is Birdie himself, a weak parody of Elvis who causes women to faint with a single thrust of his spandex covered pelvis. Not an all together ridiculous parody, it has some grain of truth, but it goes so far as to demonize and trivialize sexual desire. The greater irony is, there are few stars who ever embodied sex quite like Ann-Margret. She doesn’t have to do much of anything to set the loins of a million men into heat. It’s not enough to overcome the ridiculous virginazation of the adults, notably the equally sensuous Janet Leigh who is a self-proclaimed “good girl”, despite 6 years of engagement to the sexless Dick Van Dyck (not that he isn’t charming, but he has zero sex appeal. It’s perfect for light weight entertainment, but further goes to damper my opinion of this film).
I’m usually very lenient with moralizing and supposed conservative values in film, my love for classic Hollywood cinema should be a tribute to that… but this film rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps it’s simply because the film itself is not strong enough to hold my full interest, I was left to nit-pick at the elements that stood out for me. What I think bothered me most was, considering the film works so hard to praise and hold up chaste, monogamous relationships, they never supply one worth aspiring to. The only married couple featured predominantly in the film is Kim’s parents. Though they don’t seem to hate each other, they don’t seem to be in “love”. The father making tired jokes about the unhappiness and repression of marriage, but they also take an extra point to STRESS that they waited to have sex before marriage. He waited five years in fact. There is no reason why women (and men, though the sexual vulnerability of women is especially highlighted) should be virginal, except that is “what good girl’s do”. It’s entirely aggravating, and one of the very worst examples Hollywood has to offer. It further becomes an icon of traditional, and out-moded values in it’s undying support for war, and it’s senseless dismissal of foreign culture (in this case, the enemy du jour, the Russians).
Despite all my qualms, the film is not entirely worthless. The afore-mentioned Ann-Margret is a revelation. She oozes sex, and the director certainly agreed, forfeiting $60,000 of his own dollars to film book-ends featuring the sexy star that are probably the highlight of the picture. The father, played by Paul Lynde is wonderfully comic, selling many lines that should not have worked. THe rest of the cast is fairly adequate, at the very least watcheable. The music is hit or miss, but the choreography is excellent… unfortunately though, it fails at the hands of bad directing in a few cases. It’s also an adequate parody of celebrity culture, but easily the lesser of many that came out in the 1960s.