The Pom Pom Girls
Directed by Joseph Ruben. Distributed by Crown International Pictures. 89 minutes.
- Ah, Crown International Pictures, along with American International Pictures one of the great purveyors of B-movies and exploitation stuff from this era. Crown was heavily invested in the drive-in circuit–more than half their exhibitors were drive-ins–and The Pom Pom Girls was certainly made for that audience. But… after (very successful) test screenings in the spring of 1976, Crown decided on a much wider release and more emphasis on “hardtops” instead of just drive-ins.
- Why not start with the title, since it’s a misspelling. Turns out the film was originally (and correctly) called “The Pom Pon Girls,” but during test screenings theater after theater spelled it wrong. Producers shrugged and went with it.
- More about that title — it’s terrible! The film really isn’t about the “pom pom” girls, even though there is a subplot (sort of) about the cheerleaders. Crown founder Newton Jacobs was a big believer (like all exploitationers) in provocative film titles, and that’s certainly the case here. This is really the story of four friends at the beginning of their last year of high school, not (just) a sleazy peek at naked cheerleaders. Also, it’s really more about the journey of the two boys than the two girls. I suspect one reason this film has been forgotten is because of the title.
- Writer/director Ruben certainly wasn’t forgotten — he moved gradually from traditional exploitation stuff like Joyride (1977) and Gorp (1980) to more refined exploitation films such as The Stepfather (1987)) and then True Believer (1989) and finally the immortal Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) and The Good Son (19930. No one will ever forget Money Train (1995).
- The cast. What a delight. I have a soft spot for ensemble B-movies where a bunch of kids just get into adventures, and The Pom Pom Girls doesn’t disappoint. The core group — Robert Carradine, Michael Mullins, Jennifer Ashley, and Lisa Reeves — are basically a time capsule of circa-1970s drive-in movie awesomeness.
- Mullins and Carradine are presented as twin leads — but let’s talk about Carradine. At this point he was obviously well-known as the youngest of the Carradine hunks, and his charism oozes off the screen. He’s a terrific presence here, which makes it even more remarkable that only a few years later he’d make his name permanently known for Revenge of the Nerds (1984). The roles really couldn’t be more different. I wish there was a parallel universe where his performance here as Johnnie led down a different path.
- Of course you recognize the coach, James Gammon — he was the manager in the Major League films (1989, 1994).
Now, on to the film!
- This is a very episodic narrative — as is typical for the genre — but there are repeated efforts to get the cheerleaders (and their bodies) in the frame so the camera can ogle them, like the opening moments on the beach, where the cheerleaders are practicing their routines. Something to keep in mind right here, straightaway: these are supposed to be high school girls. As the movie goes on, it increasingly feels like (thankfully) a lost era… particularly when the nude scenes start getting more frequent. Yikes.
- There’s a repeated motif throughout the film where the action will cut from the football players doing something extremely physical, usually in closeup, to a closeup of a woman’s body. By the fifth or sixth time (entire sequences are constructed like this) I was laughing pretty hard. It’s like Ruben said, let’s make a classic example of homoerotic displacement!
- The “tryouts” sequence is such a nice little piece of 1970s filmmaking. It’s a montage of pairs and trios, all doing their own (improv’d, I’d say) cheers. Great stuff.
They all pale in comparison to these two, though:
That’s an interesting moment in a film that’s otherwise chock full o’ overwhelming whiteness.
- If movies are historical documents and records, then this is a great one for youth culture of the mid-1970s in southern California. This drive-in, Jerry’s Orangee, for example, is beautiful in shots like this one:
- “You seen the back of my new van? You want to?”
- The long-suffering and put-upon Ms. Pritchitt (played by Sandra Lowell) is a terrific stock character teacher. In fact, all the stuff shot on location at Chaminade High School in LA is fantastic and feels very authentic.
- There’s a terrific montage of the whole gang having a tug-o-war over a mud pit that really captures the spirit in the film of teenagers having fun just goofing around. This is another film that clearly influenced Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, especially improvised sequences like this that are genuinely infectious in their craziness. Do people have tug-o-wars anymore?
- One of the main plots — if there are any — involves a prank war between two high schools. The gang steals a fire truck and uses it to spray water on the opposing football team. It makes no sense on the page, but totally works in a “you crazy kids!” sense onscreen.
- Singing “America the Beautiful” at the pep rally before the big game. Notice how small the student body is, which makes for some delightful “we’re putting on a show” moments throughout the film.
- The scene in which Johnnie uses a fake ID to buy beer is clearly a scene that Linklater references in Dazed and Confused.
- Love this moment.
- More Dazed and Confused source material: Jeff doesn’t just quit the football team, he punches out the abusive coach.
- High school kids screwing, smoking pot, and shotgunning beers? Check!
- The film’s big finale is a game of “suicide chicken” between Dwayne and Johnnie… who will stop first before driving off the cliff?
- It’s actually an effective twist ending that I won’t spoil here.
Overall, The Pom Pom Girls is a pretty awesome — but not totally cohesive — portrait of mid-70s high school life. Carradine is especially great as the cocky, high-energy Johnnie, and the textures and locations are a delight. Strongly recommended!
It was released forty years ago today.