Dr. Goldfoot has invented an army of bikini-clad robots who are programmed to seek out wealthy men and charm them into signing over their assets. Craig Gamble and Todd Armstrong set out to foil the fiendish plot.
Vincent Price ... Dr. Goldfoot
Frankie Avalon ... Craig Gamble
Dwayne Hickman ... Todd Armstrong
Susan Hart ... Robot #11 (Diane)
Jack Mullaney ... Igor
Fred Clark ... Donald J. Penney, SIC man
Patti Chandler ... Robot
Mary Hughes ... Robot
Salli Sachse ... Robot
Luree Holmes ... Robot
Sue Hamilton ... Robot
Now this is what I call a too-little-known gem. Despite being a perpetual "student" of film and being a fan of Vincent Price, 1960s films, and the various genres this film can be seen as, I somehow overlooked this title for years. I can't remember anyone else I've read or talked to who mentioned this title. Maybe that's because a film like this is an acquired taste, one that apparently many people haven't acquired. I must have come across it sometime, but I didn't really notice it until I stumbled across it on Netflix recently.
Some of the descriptive terms that regularly pop up in others' reviews of this film include "silly", "ridiculous", "goofy", "insane", and "absurd". I wouldn't disagree with any of those terms. What I would disagree with is that they denote something undesirable in films, or that they denote something that deserves less respect than other descriptors. Other admirable terms that I would add include "surreal", "satirical", "madcap", occasionally "atmospheric" and "funny". Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine certainly isn't intended to be realistic, and despite popular conceptions, it's not intended to just be a laugh-out-loud comedy, either.
One could think of Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine as what we now call "high concept"--"Vincent Price, in a transformative mode between his Corman-directed Poe characters and Dr. Phibes, meets Frankie Avalon in a beach film attitude meets James Bond meets 1960s 'madcap'/'screwball' comedy".
Price is Dr. Goldfoot, a satire of a Bond mad scientist, with a name that's obviously a pun on Goldfinger. He's planning on usurping the wealth of some of the world's richest men by creating a veritable army of hot robotic women in gold bikinis, appropriately enough, since they're mechanical but artificially intelligent/sentient gold-diggers. Todd Armstrong (Dwayne Hickman) is one of the victims of the nefarious plan, and Craig Gamble (Frankie Avalon), an almost secret agent, becomes involved because the robot aiming for Armstrong initially mistakes Gamble for him--they have a similar look. Gamble falls in love with her and searches for her once she disappears. This gradually leads to Armstrong and the eventual discovery of Dr. Goldfoot's scheme.
In the 1960s, filmmakers were on the upswing of increasing experimentation. The Hays Production Code, which filmmakers had started seriously challenging in the 1950s, was decreasingly influential or "enforceable", and would be abandoned before the end of the decade. In addition to broaching previously forbidden subject matter and images, filmmakers were also increasingly experimenting with the structure of films. The roots of this were the same as the roots fueling parallel revolutions in pop music, for example, and more importantly, in society, leading to the lifestyle experimentation of the hippies. For films, plots were often pushed and prodded, including some attempts to effectively abandon them. The result was a lot of sprawling and too-often-messy "madcap" comedies. In a number of famous cases, such as Casino Royale (1967), or What's New Pussycat (1965), the experimentation ended up hurting the films as much as helping. Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine has the same basic attitude and sense of experimentation, but director Norman Taurog and writers Robert Kaufman, James H. Nicholson and Elwood Ullman admirably keep a relatively tight lid on their plot. It gives us the best aspects of the era's "freewheeling" sense of filmic adventure while not forgetting about the importance of a coherent story.
As a Price fan, some of my favorite moments arrived with Price satirizing his previous screen personae. Dr. Goldfoot lives in an elaborate laboratory/dungeon beneath a funeral parlor that serves as a front (this is prescient in an oblique way of Don Coscarelli's 1979 film, Phantasm), and many scenes of Dr. Goldfoot in his home environment are surprisingly atmospheric, including the chamber housing Goldfoot's razor sharp pendulum, which almost trumps the one in the Roger Corman Pit and the Pendulum (1961), which it references, or questionably "spoofs". Price is good with this kind of comedy if you like complex ambiguity, because he's so dry and his "comic" characters are so closely played to his serious characters. It's a very subtle difference.
Frankie Avalon is far less subtle, but he's no worse for that, and he's primarily done lighthearted roles anyway. Avalon's scenes often veer towards slapstick. Some of the best material in that vein arrived in his special agent office, with his boss, Donald J. Penny (Fred Clark).
Even though this is a 1960s film with one foot in the comedy genre, as a Vincent Price film you wouldn't expect the climax to be an extended, madcap chase scene. It is, and it's one of the best sequences of the film. Our heroes and villains chase each other around the streets of San Francisco (with some attendant very attractive cinematography in a mini-San Francisco travelogue) in a number of increasingly absurd vehicles and scenarios.
Insofar as Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is a James Bond spoof--and that's a prominent mode, although certainly not the only dominant one--it was obviously one of the influences on Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). But Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is also somewhat serious about its other genres, and it satirizes gold-digging, marriages and high-profile divorces in a time where they were becoming much more commonplace in the public consciousness. Of course, it's also a great excuse to watch a dozen scantily clad, beautiful women, who even go-go dance a bit for us.
Vincent Price is an out and out legend, and unsurprisingly, this film is often neglected in discussions about the great actors output and that's a good thing, as it's not among his best work. The film is clearly not meant to be taken seriously and reminded me of Austin Powers, though not in a good way as it fails for all the reasons Austin Powers works. The film appears to be spoofing the likes of James Bond, but the jokes aren't funny and the spoofing is way off-cue. The plot revolves around a mad doctor using robots that look like beautiful girls to enslave powerful men (kind of like the Fembots in Austin Powers). The best thing about the film is, of course, Vincent Price and his hammy acting style is revved up the max for this one and it does actually work quite well. Or at least it would if the jokes were funny. Somehow American International Pictures managed to get The Supremes to sing the title song, and while it fits the camp style of the film; it's a highly irritating piece that is liable to get stuck in your head. It's even worse for me, not being a Supremes fan. As you can probably guess from the title, this is a highly camp film and that may appeal to some people, but as far as I'm concerned; it's is a dire comedy with little to recommend it for. Interestingly, the film received a sequel a year later that bizarrely was directed by the great Mario Bava. I've heard it's even worse than this one...but I know I'll still end up seeing it for the people involved.
I know this will go against what several others have said here, but this stinker is definitely in the running for the "dumbest film ever made." Notice I didn't say "worst film ever made" because there are many, many films that are technically less adept. Don't get me wrong, I love many of the films brought to us by Arkoff and Nicholson at AIP. This one just does not have the campy sensibility of some of their other films like "High School Hellcats" and "Teenage Cave Man." And the humor! Cornball doesn't even begin to describe it. This makes "Herbie the Love Bug" look like a comedic masterpiece. I understand that this is intended as a parody of the James Bond, mad scientist, and teen romp genres, but it lacks any of the true charm and campiness that a parody should encompass. I guess this is what happens when you give a D-grade production staff a budget and some big name stars.
I give this one 2 stars because Vincent Price is in it, 2 stars for the bikini clad robots, 1 star because Dwayne "Dobie" Hickman is in it, 1 star for sentimental value (this film was a regular on the late-night "bad movie" circuit on local TV when I was a youngster), -1 for the lame script and jokes and -2 stars because of the truly awful Frankie Avalon.