From December 26 through December 31, Daily Grindhouse is celebrating the rapid approach of 2020 with a look at films taking place during New Year’s Eve. So read on about some of our favorite movies that ring in January 1 with…
The new year is a time for reflection, as we look back on our past and reminisce about the times we’ve had. And what better way to spend it than with a film that calls back to a more innocent time, featuring one of the friendliest, most likable teenagers in comic book history, from the director of one of the classics of the ‘60s American independent film scene? What could be more wholesome, especially when the plot concerns our hero seeking out love on New Year’s Eve?
Yes, 1974’s A HARD DAY FOR ARCHIE features everyone’s favorite teenager in love, Archie, at the turn of the new year. As narrated by his best hat-wearing (and always hungry) buddy, the film finds him having to deal with his Betty withholding affection, on what’s not only New Year’s Eve, but the day of the big varsity basketball game! Will Archie convince Betty to allow him to come over to her parent-less house for the holiday? Only time will tell, but Archie helps matters that morning by parking at a stadium lot with Betty and fucking her in the front seat but then isn’t allowed to finish because Betty suddenly feels guilty about her karma.
A HARD DAY FOR ARCHIE, later released under the title HOT TIMES (the moniker that stuck with it during its big-box VHS run from Monterey Video), features thinly-veiled versions of all of your favorite Archie Comics characters in a teen sex comedy about Archie trying to get successfully laid. If that’s not odd enough, it comes from Jim McBride, the director of the groundbreaking mockumentary DAVID HOLZMAN’S DIARY and later the person who helmed the ill-conceived BREATHLESS remake and the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic GREAT BALLS OF FIRE.
To make it even more of strange menagerie of styles, it’s produced by William Mishkin, whom most Daily Grindhouse readers will recognize as the man behind both creating and destroying Andy Milligan’s output. (Mishkin’s post-Milligan output consisted of this, the insane FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE and Chuck Vincent’s A MATTER OF LOVE, proof that Milligan wasn’t the only weirdness he could unearth)
Distorting the “innocent” nature of Archie Comics has been a tradition in pop culture almost as long as America’s most lovable red-headed teen has been around. (The truth is that Archie has been just on the “safe” edge of salaciousness so many times that there’s a blog devoted to their lustful debauchery.) Harvey Kurtzman, notably, lampooned Archie on a couple of occasions—in MAD Magazine as “Starchie!” in 1953 and as part of recurring series in the subversive humor mag Help! In 1962, a satire of Hugh Hefner that led to a lawsuit. Hell, the year after A HARD DAY FOR ARCHIE, National Lampoon published “Groupie-Doo,” a thinly-veiled Archie parody done by Archie Comics artist Stan Goldberg.
The fact that sex movies had already started invading the funnies with 1972’s SEX IN THE COMICS and, er, 1973’s BAT PUSSY (soon to be shortly followed by Fred Lincoln’s SOUPERMAN in 1976 and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers-inspired UP IN FLAMES in 1978) must have made the connection between subverting the “prototypical American teenager” by finally getting able to see his ass a natural.
Under some circumstances, the results would be nothing to write about (UP IN FLAMES surely isn’t), but in the hands of McBride, A HARD DAY FOR ARCHIE—well, it doesn’t exactly become good, but it certainly becomes more interesting.
The film essentially takes the leading five characters in the comics (Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and Reggie) and throws them in some zany sexual situations commonplace in the teen sex comedies of the era. (Mike McPadden wrote a whole book about this. You should read it.) There’s also a Dilton Doiley surrogate who’s really into new age, tantric sex, mostly with Betty. Sorry, that’s “Bette” for copyright reasons, as well as “Ronnie” and “Mughead.” Archie and Reggie are allowed to keep their names.
Archie “Anders” doesn’t sport red hair (or at least it doesn’t appear he does—the VHS version is pretty washed out) though he does have the traditional bow tie and sweater vest. Mughead (who has curly hair so big you can barely make out his hat) and Reggie exchange Polish and Italian jokes. Mughead, whose asexuality is more alluded to here than in Riverdale, also narrates, spewing out malt shop wisdom like “ My pal Archie. What a palooka!“. (The actor who plays him, Steve Curry of McBride’s GLEN AND RANDA, also does a great impression of Howard Morris’ voice as Jughead in the Archie cartoons that were airing at the time.) Bette is a good-ish girl (except when the vibes are right), and Ronnie looks like she just walked out of FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL… KILL! (“She’s cold enough to spit ice cubes!” explains Mughead.)
The curious thing about A HARD DAY FOR ARCHIE is the attempt to have the film correspond to as many decades possible simultaneously while also setting the film firmly on the final day of 1973. The characters and a lot of the dialogue are from the ‘40s and ‘50s, but the world they inhabit is clearly the ‘60s and ‘70s–including a recurring bit with a cab driver who’s like a mixture of Joe Spinell and Richard Belzer with long monologues about his personal history and talks about how disappointed he is that he missed the sexual revolution by a year.
This mixture is even evident in the way sexuality is presented—while there’s plenty of nudity and references to sex (Mughead even reads Screw Magazine), profanity is beeped out with a “cuckoo” noise and erections are indicated by a “boiiiiing” sound effect. It’s like a ‘60s nudie cutie version of a ‘70s sex comedy starring ‘50s characters.
The actual sex sequences wouldn’t be out of place in any teen sex comedy. Archie hides in a garbage can to peep on the girls in the locker room before getting caught and having the girls pull off his shirt (!). Reggie pays a buck to feel up an “underage” prostitute (she looks 30) under a bridge. Archie goes to a sauna and has a sexlessness-inspired trip sequence where he and a girl run around the sauna naked. Archie assists Ronnie in making some hotel room porn. Even in these sequences, however, McBride sets up little jokes that deliberately reduce any sexual nature of the scene—a woman getting out of the shower randomly picks some stuff off of her breasts, or an actor in the porn shoot wearing a fake nose and glasses.
The historically most interesting moments are the actual turn of the new year sequence itself, shot (likely without permission) at Times Square on New Year’s Eve just as the year turned to 1974. (A theater marquee shows THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN, which had just debuted a week and a half earlier.) Archie wanders through the crowds looking for a single lady under the advice of the cab driver, surrounded by festive, drunken New Yorkers, and it’s about as close as you’ll be able to get to being there. The rest of the plot barely mentions New Year’s Eve outside of the narration — I can only theorize, but it’s very possible they just added the Times Square footage when they realized they could get it and formed the rest of the movie around it. (It’s not dissimilar to the St. Patrick’s Day parade sequence in Larry Cohen’s GOD TOLD ME TO, though not nearly as lengthy.) The actual new year is never shown, but if you start A HARD DAY FOR ARCHIE at about 10:59pm, you should hit it about right.
And it’s the perfect way to spend New Year’s Eve, if your idea of celebrating the new year is with a film that features references to Kinky Friedman and Henry Miller as well as America’s favorite teenager sexually assaulting Ronnie in a phone booth. Or if you want a movie where a character mentions that he lives by Sydney Smith’s quote that “Soup and fish explain half of the emotions of human life” as well as another character peeping on their sister in the shower. Maybe that’s you? I’m not going to judge. You may be able to find it on video, where the cover compares it to AMERICAN GRAFFITI (which was probably released while this was in pre-production already) and makes no connection at all to the comics that inspired it.
As far as attempts to shift the famous teen characters into a new time and place, A HARD DAY FOR ARCHIE is really no stranger than the 1990 made-for-television (and completely authorized) ARCHIE: TO RIVERDALE AND BACK AGAIN that featured a middle-aged Jughead rapping a version of “Sugar, Sugar.” (It’s even got end credits that show the entire cast, which is always a plus.) In this age where Archie Comics has leaned in to more modern and diverse depictions of its characters, A HARD DAY FOR ARCHIE doesn’t seem that far off from the likes of Riverdale, except with less drama and more nudity. And if A HARD DAY’s goofy softcore antics and censored profanity aren’t enough for you, you can always check out BEAVERDALE, which is a thing that exists and no doubt also retcons Jughead’s asexuality.
Tags: 1974, A Hard Day For Archie, Amy Farber, Archie Comics, Bob Lesser, Gail Lorber, Henry Cory, Hot Times, Jim McBride, Jughead, Lew Mishkin, New Year's Eve, Riverdale, Sexploitation, Steve Curry, Times Square, William Mishkin