The mission of our “Endless Bummer” feature is to find the weird, the wonderful and the unappreciated among the “summer T&A” genre (also incorporating spring break movies). We’ll hopefully uncover a few forgotten gems, and re-bury some long-dead garbage; and our journey down many odd rabbit holes brings us to “Pick-Up Summer”. There’s a reason there’s only one good pinball movie, and it’s not really about pinball (“Tommy”, of course) – because it’s almost impossible to make a game so heavy with chance into anything dramatic. But they try, gol-darnit!
This film keeps the “super-awful theme music” run going, with a beautiful ditty called “Pinball Summer”. The seemingly random collection of images that accompany this song actually sort of introduce us to the cast and themes – two guys who look like they’re in their late 20s, but have apparently just graduated high school; two women who they either know or want to get to know; a biker gang who try and raid a pinball hall; a rich asshole and his girlfriend; some fast food location or locations (not sure); a simple-looking pervert; and some local politicians. Don’t worry, though, the “local politicians try and spoil the kids’ fun” subplot is dropped at about the halfway point and never mentioned again.
Greg and Steve are the two horndogs, throwing their books out of the window as they’ve done with their last day of high school (I’ll take a wild guess and say they’re not college-bound). Their brightly painted van pulls up alongside the car containing Donna and Suzy, and they act like this is the first time they’ve seen these two smokin-hot ladies, although it would appear two of them (I honestly can’t be bothered separating the four) have been in a relationship, sort of. They don’t leave their home town, just hang around the two shops the town has to offer – a pinball arcade and a burger place. The biker gang, who are a pretty gentle group of ruffians, decide to steal the trophy for the upcoming pinball trophy – incorporating the extremely un-sexist “Pinball Queen” beauty contest!
That’s your plot, really. The biker gang are a mild nuisance, the romances between the main four develop, “Whimpy” stares at womens’ breasts and acts like a complete moron throughout – doing a decent impression of that weird, gross, stupid kid you knew at school, or maybe that’s just how he was; women are carried about so often I began to suspect none of their legs worked properly; there’s at least two old perverts (one of whom who wears womens’ underwear) to go along with the young pervert; and the actual “plot” of the pinball tournament turns up at 1:20 of a 1:40 movie. Only the big tournament isn’t anything of the sort – it’s just the head of the biker gang taking on Horndog #1, with the prize being a trophy and a date with Horndog #1’s girlfriend, who just won the hotly contested title of Miss Dingy Pinball Place.
There are three interesting things to talk about, relating to this movie and the time it was made though. First up is the amount of male closeness– Greg and Steve hug a lot and seem entirely comfortable with being physically intimate; and the biker gang at one point are staring in a window to see Whimpy have sex with a prostitute. One of the bikers gets so turned on he grabs his friend’s ass and starts humping him; five years later, that move would have got him shot, but here all it elicits is mild annoyance.
Second is the video arcade. “Space Invaders” was released in 1979, “Pac-Man” in 1980, “Donkey Kong” in 1981, and the number of video arcades doubled between 1980 and 1982. I would lay good odds on the pinball arcade featured in this movie, in real life, either converting to video games or going out of business in a few years – and that lends it a rather quaint quality.
That quaintness brings me to my last point, and that’s “Porky’s” and the influence it had on this sort of movie. I assumed (correctly, as it turns out) that this movie was originally called “Pinball Summer”, but when the pinball craze died out and the teen T&A craze picked up, a little repurposing was done and this movie was probably re-released. “Porky’s” was insanely popular, mostly due to its worship of its teen male audience – it’s about people like them, but who stand up for themselves, prank the teachers, get illicitly drunk and see naked ladies. Wish fulfilment, in other words. “Pick-Up Summer” is nothing like that, at all – our two heroes are only interested in the two ladies, even the main bad guy is faithful to his lady-friend (who does provide most of the movie’s T&A quotient), and the plot, such as it is, is king. While “Porky’s” was set in the early 60s, this movie could have been made in the early 60s – okay, it’d have had no nudity, but that would have to be the only change.
A couple of random thoughts before we go – firstly, directed to the photo above. To make her horndog jealous after an argument, Donna asks evil biker Bert (Tom Kovacs) to take her for a ride. She starts off secretly resenting it, only doing it to spite her man, but as you can see, she seems to discover something about herself and really gets into it. This potentially interesting subplot is, of course, completely dropped the instant she gets off the bike. Shame, that.
Then we have Whimpy, one of the more repellent characters in movie history. He was played by a guy called Joey McNamara, who hadn’t acted before and never would again (an uncredited role the same year notwithstanding) – yet check out his IMDB page for a couple of photos clearly taken very recently. Respect to whoever decided to update the page of a guy with basically one credit to his name!
Also, in terms of T&A movies, this one gives the women a fair shake. Donna and Suzy drink and smoke weed with the guys, aren’t just there for sex, and are the guys’ accomplices much more than the shrinking violets their sort of characters would be portrayed as in thousands of later movies. Okay, it’s a long way from perfect (the shaming of rich asshole’s girlfriend is a little unpleasant) but it’s at least worth pointing out.
Lastly is the pleasantly surreal ending. The pinball machine that our two competitors have their big match on? It’s called “Pinball Summer” and has pictures of the main cast, their vehicles and stuff from the movie on it. It’s not drawn attention to, really, but it’s a nice touch. Perhaps it was an early directorial flourish from George Mihalka – this was his first movie, he’d do “My Bloody Valentine” the next year and then go on to a long career (still working , most recently on insane Canadian show “24 Hour Rental” in 2014).
So, while it’s all sorts of rubbish, and doesn’t so much have a plot as a central location where people sort of pass through, it’s enough fun to warrant a watch.
Rating: thumbs in the middle