Monday, May 20, 2019

Hold On! (1966)

The late Fifties and early Sixties would see the emergence of what was known as "beat music" in the United Kingdom. Beat music was a subgenre of rock that was guitar oriented and characterised by vocal harmonies and songs featuring musical hooks. Beat music would lead directly to the development of the subgenre known as power pop. Among the beat groups to come about during this period were Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Dave Clark Five, The Kinks, and The Who. The biggest beat group of them all would also become the most successful rock band of all time, The Beatles. It would be The Beatles who would bring beat music to the United States, their arrival beginning what is known as "the British Invasion."

The Beatles would not only conquer the music charts, but movie theatres as well. Their film A Hard Day's Night (1964), directed by Richard Lester, proved successful at the box office and revolutionised the rock music. It would lead to other rock musicals starring British bands, including 1965's Ferry Cross the Mersey (starring Gerry and the Pacemakers) and 1965's Catch Us If You Can (starring The Dave Clark Five).  The success of A Hard Day's Night certainly wasn't lost on the American studios, so that it should have surprised no one when MGM released Hold On! (1966), a pop musical starring the British band Herman's Hermits.

Despite starring a British band, Hold On! is a thoroughly American product. It was produced by Sam Katzman, known for his many low-budget films. It was directed by Arthur Lubin, who directed several Abbott & Costello movies, several Francis the Talking Mule movies, and various TV shows. Other than Herman's Hermits themselves and Bernard Fox, the cast was largely American as well. As to the plot, it is little more than an excuse to string together several performances by Herman's Hermits. Quite simply, when American children want to name NASA's latest Gemini capsule "Herman's Hermits" for good luck, Ed Lindquist of NASA (played by Herbert Anderson) is sent to tag along on the band's tour. Shelley Fabares, then best known as Mary Stone on The Donna Reed Show, played the love interest. Herman's Hermits had previously appeared in the film When the Boys Meet the Girls (1965) starring Harve Presnell and Connie Francis, but in Hold On! they were clearly the stars.

Hold On! actually went through a few titles before receiving its final name. The film was originally going to be titled There's No Place Like Space, but was later retitled A Must to Avoid, which would be Herman's Hermits' next single. MGM then realised that titling a movie A Must to Avoid might not be a wise thing to do, and so it was retitled Hold On! after another song appearing in the movie.

As might be expected, the movie featured several songs by Herman's Hermits. Naturally, a soundtrack album was released and the song "A Must to Avoid" was released as a single. It was the fact that one of the songs from the movie was not released as a single that would change rock history. Songwriters P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri had hoped that "Where Were You When I Needed You" would be released as a follow up single to "A Must to Avoid." When it was not, they recorded it themselves with session musicians using the name "The Grass Roots." When the song proved successful in California, they recruited San Francisco band The Bedouins as the new Grass Roots and the song was re-recorded and re-released. It peaked at no. 28. The Bedouins would have a falling out with P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri, after which another band, The 13th Floor, would be recruited as yet another incarnation of The Grass Roots. This version of The Grass Roots would have their first hit with "Let's Live for Today" in 1967, which would be followed by a string of hits. If Herman's Hermits had released "Where Were You When I Needed You" as a single, then, there probably never would have been The Grass Roots.

Hold On! has not been seen often since its release in 1966. The film made its American broadcast television debut on August 21 1970 on The CBS Friday Night Movies and afterwards would pop up on various local stations. It has since been shown from time to time on TCM. In 2011 it was released on DVD through the Warner Archive.

Hold On! did reasonably well at the box office, although reviews were mixed. Seen today Hold On! is an interesting curio from 1966. Aficionados of the Sixties will be interested to see the various fashions of the era, as well as one of the more successful pop groups of the mid-Sixties in their prime. As to the film itself, it doesn't really stray too far from the formulas of Sam Katzman's other teen movies, which always included some mildly amusing humour, a bit of romance, and plenty of music. For a movie that only runs 85 minutes, the plot of Hold On! does get convoluted at times, but then given the film is primarily an excuse to showcase performances by Herman's Hermits that should not be surprising. Indeed, it is clearly the music that was the primary attraction of Hold On! in the Sixties and it remains so today. The movie featured some of Herman's Hermits' best songs, written by songwriting team of P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri and the songwriting team of Fred Karger, Ben Weisman, and Sid Wayne.  Hold On! is certainly not to everyone's tastes. If one is not a fan of Herman's Hermits or does not enjoy mid-Sixties teen movies, he or she certainly won't care for it. That having been said, while Hold On! is not necessarily the best example of a mid-Sixties pop musical or even a mid-Sixties teen movie, anyone who enjoys these types of movies might well find it amusing.

No comments: