This one's got it all. The sleazy hang out, the leather jackets, the roaring hot rods, a competent cast and one of the very best scores to emerge from a film of its type.

Hot Rod Rumble handily qualifies for placement at the top of any speed film devotee's 10 best list. From its opening shot of tough guy Richard Hartunian lighting a smoke to the smouldering, sax-driven strains of Alexander Courage's music, Rumble consistently delivers on its promise of cheap thrills. Lensed by journeyman director Leslie Martinson, who the previous year had endowed J.D. filmdom with the unforgettable Hot Car Girl, this flick sizzles along at a four-barrel's pace. Soon after the film's completion, Martinson turned his steady hand to TV, where he shepherded crackerjack dramas such as 77 Sunset Strip and Cheyenne for Warner Brothers. Steamrolling into the 60s, Martinson mounted big-budget flicks like PT 109 and the 1966 Batman feature starring Adam West.

Method-style scenery-chewer Richard Hartunian stars as a misunderstood dropout, hovering on the fringes of the teen in-crowd. Possessed of an oddball intensity, but little credibility, Hartunian does his best Brando, grunting and growling his way through what is, by all accounts, his only film appearance.

Handsome Brett Halsey does a snide turn as Hartunian's antagonist. Nurturing B-movie laurels, such as High School Hellcats and Girl in Lover's Lane, Halsey rivaled heartthrob John Ashley as the drive-in teen-hunk to top.

Weaselly Wright King appears as Hartunian's cowardly, conniving pal. King was better known at the time for co-starring with a passle of puppets in the 50s kid-vid classic Johnny Jupiter.

Believably cast as the desire of every male on the premises, luscious Leigh Snowden brings an unlabored sensuality to the proceedings as Hartunian's girl. Snowden's non-cutsie presence was an invaluable attribute, unusual among starlets of the genre.

J.D. film chicks fell consistently into one of two categories: snarling, kicks-hungry harpie, or squeamish daddy's girl yearning to test the waters. This can't be said of Snowden. She invests the sodden script with a degree of genuine humanity. Prior to this unusual turn as a teen, producers had sought to utilize her earthy maturity and natural beauty in more adult roles.

Impressing producers with an eye-catching bit as a sunbathing babe in the classic Kiss Me Deadly, Snowden found herself cast in adult dramas such as, I've Lived Before, alongside Jock Mahoney and The Rawhide Years with Tony Curtis.

She indelibly impressed cult-film fanatics, lending a much-needed note of sincerety to the final installment of the immortal Black Lagoon trilogy, The Creature Walks Among Us. Following the completion of Hot Rod Rumble, she sought to settle down, marrying accordion ace and Daddy-O star Dick Contino.

The musical element in films of this nature cannot be underestimated. Take, for instance, Teenage Thunder. All the pieces are there. Rebellious youth, souped-up cars, a grudge-match chicken race and a dad who just doesn't get it. But the proceedings are drained of any velocity by a smarmy score comprised of bubbly situational music.

Hot Rod Rumble, however, is a standout. The West Coast jazz clique were on hand to enhance any number of delinquent and horror cheapies with prolific Les Baxter leading the pack. But when it came time to score Rumble, somebody gathered the creme de la creme.

Alexander Courage forever entered the pop consciousness when he composed the Star Trek theme. Twice he was nominated for Oscars, most notably for scoring Doctor Doolittle. But I'm willing to bet he never again worked with musicians the caliber of those who enliven the Hot Rod Rumble soundtrack. Guitar great Barney Kessel is on hand, as are Maynard Ferguson, Pete Condoli, Shelly Manne, Dave Pell and more.

Obviously a vital component of any youth-oriented flick, music was only successfully integrated as a key ingredient into a handful of teen-targeted films. A pair of the most prominent are profiled below:

Hot Car Girl (1958)
Jazz innovator Cal Tjader scored this four-on-the-floor foray for Roger Corman. The plot detailing June Kenney's seduction into teen thug Richard Bakalyan's stolen wheels racket is peppered by Tjader's too-cool, bongo-driven score, reused thereafter in a number of Corman flicks.

Acting: B-
Atmosphere: B+
Fun: B+

Daddy-O (1959)
Squeeze-box king Dick Contino, the man who popularized Lady of Spain (no kiddin') and won the real life heart of Leigh Snowden, takes to the big screen as a fast-driving rockabilly warbler. Dick effectively belts out such confections as Rock Candy Baby and Angel Act, composed for the film by John Williams. That's right, John (Star Wars, Jaws, Close Encounters, Raiders) Williams.

Acting: B+
Atmosphere: C
Fun: A+

"Love is wild, life is violent, death is cheap!"

"It explodes in your face!"
Youth Runs Wild

"Parents may be shocked, but youth will understand!"
Eighteen and Anxious

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