The opening shot of a film is one of the most important scenes in a movie. Whether it's a montage of shot related somehow to the movie's plot or an aerial view of a locale, this
shot may not only serve as a backdrop of sorts for the opening credits but also help provide a glimpse of the backdrop, either
physically or culturally, of the plot. The film covered in this edition of Drive
In Oddities is no exception. After the studio logo that kicks off every film
(you know what I’m talking about) the screen is dark. Then right after
the first credit, it kicks into gear as a body or effigy falls into scene with a noose around its neck and set on fire. This kicks off the opening credits for 1976's The Pom Pom Girls from Crown
credits alternated between the football team suffering through a morning practice in the hot summer sun and cheerleaders practicing
their moves on the beach before heading into the story. The Pom Pom Girls
is the story about a group of football jocks, some cheerleaders, and a school rivalry that gets a bit too out of hand. The two main jocks featured here are Jesse (Michael Mullins) who’s basically
dividing his post practice/post school time between trying to have fun and getting laid and Johnnie, (Robert Carradine) who
has a reputation for being “crazy.” On the cheerleader side the main
characters are Laurie (Jennifer Ashley) and Sally (Lisa Reeves) who play the role of girlfriends when not in school or practice. They and their peers basically spend their free time at practice, the game, dating,
or cutting class to take part in the prank war. In between this, they take part
in some typical teen activities of the time (eating at the drive in, drinking, fooling around).
The guys have
problems to deal with. In Jesse’s case it’s a coach (James Gammon)
that seems to single him out and is drifting further away from sanity as the film progresses.
For Johnnie it’s his nemesis Duane (Bill Adler) the boyfriend he has to steal a woman from and try to get into
fights with rather by food fights in the lunchroom or actual violence. It’s
interesting that we never see the girls’ nemesis in a film that’s supposedly about them, though we do get to see
them as window dressing or getting ready for a game.
As for the movie
itself, in terms of quality film making The Pom Pom Girls is, to a large degree, crap.
The storyline is thinner than dental floss and there appears to have been more focus from the filmmakers on making
money at the box office (even through the drive in and B movie circuit) than realistic portrayal of American adolescence circa
1975-76. The title itself is a misnomer with the actual Pom Pom Girls themselves
appearing more as secondary characters to be fucked or to see strip in a locker room (though some reviews I’ve seen
online suggest that some of the nudity has been cut out of the video/DVD version) while the male characters get the actual
adventures (much in the same way that 1984’s teen classic Sixteen Candles wasn’t about Samantha Baker but
The Geek and his adventures [thanks to the late Sarah Jacobson of Mary Jane’s Not A Virgin Anymore and I Was
A Teenage Serial Killer fame for pointing that one out]).
So why am I telling
you about The Pom Pom Girls if I don’t think it’s that good of a movie?
Well, it’s one of the earliest examples of films that show high school jocks as the sociopaths I remember them
as. This is especially true for Johnnie, who Carradine plays off as somewhere
between a bully and prankster. An example early in the movie is when Johnnie
tries to shout some comment at a girl and gets the finger. In response he peels
rubber onto a sidewalk to get to a parking lot to beat up the guy (I believe, the first scene with Duane). Whether trying to provoke fights with Duane (which he does start for the most part) or dropping his pants
and pissing out a window onto some girls below during class, there’s something about him that really seems unrelatable
unless you’re not just a jock, but an asshole jock. While Duane is shown
to be a prick near the end, Johnnie’s arrogance (in one scene he buys beer with a fake ID, almost doesn’t get
it, and acts indignant after leaving) makes him seem like a complete dick (and he’s supposed to be one of the good guys
in the film).
As for the prank
war, what we first see as a rival school lynching a fiery effigy takes a different turn as Johnnie, Jesse and company steal
a fire truck and unleash the water on the practice field of the rival team – and gets caught. While the school tries to punish the team, the team makes it impossible to single anyone out thus there’s
nobody held accountable. Also to be noted is that many of the actors were nearing
the mid to late 20s and looked it when they appeared in this film (when Jesse is jumped by some people from a rival school
in one scene, the guys attacking him appear to be near 30 rather than high school kids).
The fact the teenagers looked adult makes The Pom Pom Girls a prime example of one of those movies that 80s teen filmmakers
such as Amy Heckerling and John Hughes would reference when they talked about wanting to find actors who looked young rather
than follow actors who looked 30 in earlier teen movies.
the cheerleading in this movie. In the last decade or so movies such as Bring It On have sought to portray cheerleading as a serious sport, one with risky choreographed moved and even
some chances for injury. Some may be looking for earlier films that show cheerleading
in this light – this isn’t it. The cheerleading in The Pom Pom Girls is rudimentary at best though probably accurate for its era (it was 1976, remember). To expect a lot of flashy moves or dancing here would be unrealistic, even if the cheerleaders
were the focus of the movie. Instead, expect very primitive moves when even shown
cheering (which isn’t much – a pep rally scene ends in a fight on this one).
However, all the
problems in this movie probably had little impact on its actual audience. If
they were kids at a drive in circa 1976, chances are they probably saw this with a beer in one hand and a joint in the other;
that is unless they were on a date, in which case they were trying to get laid in the back seat during the movie. The film, by some reports, was a sleeper hit at the time and would later find a home in the late 70s and
1980s on independent TV channels to fill late late show airtime (where I first came across this film during the summer of
1986), though in retrospect it pales in comparison to later movies like Fast Times
At Ridgemont High, Heathers, or even Porkys. In that light (and with the intended audience of the time), plot or a lasting story
may have been considered an afterthought by both studio and movie goers (especially teens at a drive in circa 1976) alike.
So what does one
make of a movie like The Pom Pom Girls? Basically
it’s something you see at your own risk. If you’re searching for
a movie that accurately examines the ups and down of U.S. teen life, this ain’t the
movie to get. However, if you want something that either unintentionally shows
the dark side of high school jockdom or just something to watch while you get wasted, this movie may be something you’ll
find interesting. I’ve tried to be as complete as I could without giving
too much of the movie away. But it is interesting to see Robert Carradine play
the type of character who would’ve mercilessly tormented the character he’d become most known for a decade or
so later (Lewis Skolnick in the Revenge of the Nerds movies) or Gammon years before
he'd play the coach in the Major League movies of the early 1990s and might pique some interest for that alone. It isn’t really a good movie but some readers might find it useful as mind candy
if not to see just how far we might have come in the last 32 years culturally.