Commies and Clam Shells: SHACK OUT ON 101

Terry Moore was quite angry that Lee Marvin stretched out her yellow sweater.

In SHACK OUT ON 101, sour, bland middle-aged Lovejoy is portrayed as some kind of 1950’s hunk of man every red-blooded American gal would go for. He’s the kind of dad girls run to the movies to escape for a couple hours. Here he plays a scientist at a nuclear research installation who drops by to share shells and nuclear secrets with Lee Marvin, who plays a commie-lovin’ burger flipper. Keenan Wynn owns the joint and Terry Moore “works” there, though there are never more than two or three customers at once.

Is Frank a turncoat? Do you care? No!

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No, seriously, they think this guy’s the hunk of the moment.

Most of the fun with this movie is trying to figure out why it was made. It feels like a play, an attempt at another BUS STOP or THE PETRIFIED FOREST, but there’s no center to it. Lovejoy is our hero, sort of, but most of the screen time is devoted to Keenan Wynn and Whit Bissell as veterans, quite possibly the first examples of PTSD in American B movies. They moan about how rotten it is that Bissell can’t get any pleasure from the thought of killing, the poor dope, and how a trip to Mexico to do some spear fishing is going to make everything better.

Terry Moore exists in this movie to be lusted after by every male in the cast. She supposedly works at the shack but spends her time sunbathing and studying for the civil service exam. She’s bland, and just kind of stands there while everyone pretends she’s a hot “tomato.”

Someone thought America wanted to see Lee Marvin and Terry Moore comparing legs.

SHACK OUT ON 101 is a terrible movie I find strangely involving. It’s like a crime movie without a crime. Lee Marvin is passing secrets to the commies and making soup, and we’re just marking time until the government closes in. Meanwhile, he and Keenan Wynn lift weights.

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Ew, mom and dad makin’ out.

The movie was directed by Edward Dein, who did a lot of AIP junk. There’s not a lot there in Floyd Crosby’s flat photography. It’s got an unusual cast of people you’ve heard of before, and that’s probably why it’s remembered at all. By me and maybe five other people.

I keep telling you “This is a bad movie,” and yet I like watching it. It’s…odd. Whose idea was it to not hire a couple of background extras so we get the idea this is an actual, operating diner? Who cobbled together this collection of characters who all HATE each other?

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You’ve got a whole empty diner and you’re stumbling around in five square feet.

This might be Lee Marvin’s VAMPIRE’S KISS. Nicholas Cage used that movie to push himself, to go over the top and see what was an acceptable level of Out There. Here Marvin tries to be kittenish, funny, romantic, and he’s fascinatingly awful.

Keenan Wynn berates Marvin, constantly insulting him, then pouting about his lust for The Tomato.

Maybe I’m nuts, but if you like such loopy flicks as BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS, you might like this. If you do, don’t thank me.

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You can touch my knee, you bad boy, you.

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John Stephen Walsh

Writer of neo-noir (The Ruthless Son), end of the world/quasi-zombie horror (The Year of Silent Light), humor (Ebollionaire), and a short story collection (Love Has A Taste) on Kindle. Have worked in social services, retail, video, etc. etc. I love movies, film scores, and painting poorly.