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The Cool and the Crazy

Theatrical release poster
Directed by William Witney
Produced by Elmer C. Rhoden Jr.
Written by Richard C. Sarafian
Starring Scott Marlowe
Richard Bakalyan
Gigi Perreau
Music by Raoul Kraushaar
Dave Kahn (uncredited)
Cinematography Harry Birch
Editing by Helene Turner
Distributed by American International Pictures
Release date(s) 1958
Running time 78 mins
Country  United States
Language English

The Cool and the Crazy is a 1958 motion picture that was distributed by American-International Pictures. The producer of the film, Elmer Rhoden Jr., was president of the Kansas City, Missouri-based Commonwealth Theaters chain, a prominent chain of motion picture theaters with stretched through Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Back in 1956, Rhoden Jr. had seen that teenagers were the best new audience for films (as television was drawing most adults out of theaters), and had come up with the idea of starting his own small film complex in Kansas City to produce low-budget teen exploitation films for these audiences, primarily for showing in drive-in theaters. Already, such teen films as Rebel Without a Cause, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, and Rock Around the Clock had been huge successes. With $45,000 raised with the help of local businessmen, Rhoden Jr. hired Kansas City filmmaker Robert Altman to make the juvenile delinquency melodrama The Delinquents, which was sold to United Artists and released in 1957, grossing $1,000,000 and also firmly establishing Altman as a film director.

After the success of The Delinquents, Rhoden Jr. put up about $170,000 for a second film in Kansas City. Rhoden Jr. began with thinking up a title and nothing else (The Cool and the Crazy) and, because Altman was directing television shows in Hollywood, Rhoden Jr. hired Kansas City writer and a friend of Altman's - Richard C. Sarafian - to write the screenplay for the film. Sarafian went on to direct television shows and films in California during the 1960s and 1970s.


The Cool and the Crazy tells the story of Ben Saul, a reform school graduate who is transferred to a Kansas City high school. There, Ben's clowning in class ticks off the local gang of tough guys, but he soon wins all of their admiration when he begins buying them beer, taking them to dances, giving them "kicks," and then finally turning them on to marijuana. Ben is working as a frontman for a local marijuana ring, but the local police detective is hot on his trail. When a marijuna-crazed addict teenager whom Ben has sold the drug to, dies trying to hold up a filling station for drug money, the police question him and events begin to spiral out of Ben's control. In the dramatic (or melodramatic) finale, Ben ends up killing the pusher for more marijuana only to find that there is none, and gets his just deserts in a fiery car wreck. Then there is an obligatory moralizing segment, where a policeman screams at the surviving addicts, "Is this what you call 'kicks'?! Sooner or later, if you don't wise up you're all gonna wind up like this, one way or the other."


The film was shot in about two or three weeks on-location in Kansas City sometime in the latter part of 1957. The locations included a Kansas City high school, where most of the students got a chance to be in the film, a run-down Aberdeen Hotel in downtown Kansas City, a greasy spoon called Pat's Pig, Penn Valley Park and the Indian Scout Statue overlooking the city, the Blue Note Club, the renowned Kansas City Jazz hall, and several real homes and neighborhoods. Rhoden Jr. had cooperation from many local businesses and also from the Kansas City Police Department, who were contacted for several reasons.

While standing on the street between takes, actors Dick Bakalyan and Dick Jones were actually arrested for vagrancy by Kansas City police. They actually spent several hours in the local jail, before someone explained that they were just acting for a film.

Like with The Delinquents, Rhoden Jr. had The Cool and the Crazy post-production and editing executed under professional conditions in Hollywood by Helene Turner. Rhoden Jr. also now had enough money to order an original music score, which was written and conducted by veteran film composer Raoul Kraushaar. Kraushaar's score featured recurring versions of the film's theme song, some which were done in a fast tempo and beat, and other versions that were performed in a slower, bluesier style.

Rhoden Jr. had apparently already worked out a distribution deal with American-International. AIP made no mention of the drug plot in the trailer or on the poster, and tagged on disclaimers at the beginning and end assuring parents that this was a film made for the purpose of warning teenagers about drugs. The film was released in the spring of 1958, with the "gala world premiere" in Kansas City, which was accompanied by a live radio broadcast, house lights, live music, a dance contest, and a parade of the Kansas Citians involved in the film.

The Cool and the Crazy was a great box-office success, grossing more than $5,000,000 for AIP and was hailed as one of the most popular delinquency films of 1958.

The Cool and the Crazy has recently gained a devoted cult following for its rabid anti-marijuana message and Dick Bakalyan's performance. It first began to be shown on television in the 1970s, when it first began to attract its following, and was released on video the next decade.

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