Sep 19, 2022


AIP’s Vincent Price vehicle Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine was one of the first Sixties Bond parodies I ever heard of, long before I actually saw it. In a way, that was a good thing, because it afforded the movie years to percolate in my imagination, growing far beyond a potential it could possibly live up to when I finally saw it. Ultimately I was bound for disappointment, because, let’s face it, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is a far better title than it is a movie. But because of all those years that it lived in my mind as pure potential, I went into it for the first time after college (during college I had tried in vain to track down a 35mm print to program on campus) with a pre-built nostalgia, and nostalgia is a wonderful—and possibly essential—cushion for a movie like this. If you remember it from your childhood, you’ll probably enjoy it more than it deserves to be enjoyed. And the same can be said if you’ve somehow approximated such a nostalgia like I did. But even after that lengthy apologia for liking the movie, I have to admit that I only really like certain parts of it. Most of it is pretty bad.

Made at the height of the Sixties (and here I’m grudgingly conceding that that phrase, which I usually use very positively, can also have negative connotations), Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is a as much a blend of what was popular then as those Seltzer and Friedberg “parody” movies (usually with “movie” in the title) were in the early 2000s. (Though to be fair it’s a lot better than those!) And since it was made by American International Pictures, it’s a blend of its time that particularly reflects that studio’s output. Therefore it’s as much a parody of their two bread-and-butter genres—Frankie and Annette beach movies and Poe-inspired Vincent Price horror movies—as it is of James Bond. While I’m indifferent to beach movies, I do love those Poe movies… so I’m not being an espionage chauvinist when I say that the only bits that really work are those inspired by the spy craze. And even then the hit-to-miss ratio is probably 50/50... at best.

Appropriately, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine opens with one of the strangest title sequences of any Sixties spy movie. Under a rather great and undeniably infectious theme song performed by the Supremes (available on the stellar Ace Records Sixties spy theme compilation Come Spy With Us), instead of the Bond-style credits most spy spoofs opted for, Bikini Machine treats us to Claymation, courtesy of Gumby creator Art Clokey. And the entire Claymation sequence is built around the stupidest thing in the whole movie: a pair of stupid gold elf shoes with little bells on their pointed toes that Price’s character wears to justify his name, Dr. Goldfoot. I’m aware that I just used the word “stupid” twice in that sentence, but that’s because these shoes are seriously stupid. I don’t know whose idea they were, but I sure am glad that Ken Adam wasn’t struck by a similar necessity to equip Gert Frobe with jingling golden thimbles.

After the titles, we meet an attractive robot woman (Susan Hart) in a trenchcoat and fedora walking through the streets of San Francisco. We learn that she’s a robot woman through a series of stupid gags (there’s that word again… are you detecting a pattern?), like a car crashing into her and getting wrecked (because she’s metal, get it??), or two bank robbers escaping and crashing into her and getting knocked down (because she’s metal!), then shooting her full of holes with no discernable result (because… you’ve figured it out by now, haven’t you?). Then we meet Frankie Avalon being annoying in a restaurant and sporting a really annoying helmet of hair. (Uh-oh. There’s another word that bore repeating twice in one sentence!) The robot woman comes in and drinks a sip of his milk and then spouts out gallons of the white stuff (all from that one sip, apparently) through the “bullet holes” in her body. (John Cleese would recycle the same questionable gag years later in that Schweppes commercial on the original Licence to Kill VHS.) Despite her leakage, the holes (which aren’t visible) don’t seem to have damaged her mechanics one bit, and in minutes she’s successfully picked up Avalon and is heading back to his apartment with him.

Avalon is Craig Gamble, a bumbling agent of Secret Intelligence Command (or SIC, which I think is supposed to pass for a joke) who decorates his walls with a picture of Sherlock Holmes, apparently for inspiration. The robot woman is named Diane, and she talks with an annoying put-on Southern accent and, we and Gamble soon come to learn, wears only a gold lamé bikini underneath her fashionable spy trenchcoat! (The latter makes up for the former.) But what made her pick him?

The answer comes back at Dr. Goldfoot’s lair, where we meet the diabolical mastermind and his sidekick, Igor (occasional Elvis cohort Jack Mullaney). While Vincent Price deserves an iconic entrance in any movie he makes, it’s kind of undercut here by those stupid gold shoes, which really are quite stupid. (Have I mentioned that?) I am not a production designer, nor a fashion maven, but I am confident I could have designed much better gold shoes for the same purpose. And regular readers will know that I am not given to making such claims. Anyway, it transpires at Goldfoot HQ that the idiotic Igor programmed poor Diane to go after the wrong man. While Gamble hasn’t got two pennies to rub together, she was supposed to be seducing Avalon’s beach buddy Dwayne Hickman, as millionaire playboy Todd Armstrong. (As either an inside joke or laziness, Hickman’s character is named after Avalon’s character in Ski Party, and Avalon’s Craig Gamble is named after Hickman’s character from that movie.) To Igor’s credit, the two actors do look a lot alike (in a very generic Sixties heartthrob way), and that fact actually makes the movie a little bit confusing. The fact that Gamble turned out to be a secret agent was just bad luck—or bad scriptwriting. Luckily Dr. Goldfoot can operate Diane by remote control, and he’s able to reprogram her to suddenly walk out on Craig and set off to lay a trap for Todd.

Diane’s trap for Todd involves bending over and pulling her trenchcoat far enough aside to expose a glimpse of that golden behind as she pretends to inspect a flat tire. It also involves Dr. Goldfoot somehow taking remote control of Todd’s car, and driving him backwards until he sees Diane. (Dr. Goldfoot possesses a magical universal remote long before its time, and uses it primarily for making cars drive the wrong direction and various things blow up. He also threatens people with it a lot, though I’m not sure if he’s threatening to blow them up or to reverse them.) One glimpse of Diane, however, is enough to make Todd forget that it might be a little suspicious and just a tad weird to find yourself suddenly pulled backwards by an unseen force while driving. Their meeting also offers the movie’s choicest bit of dialogue—and, yes, it’s every bit as sexist as you would expect/hope for from a movie called Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.

“Thank heavens you came along, darling, I’m completely flat!” declares Diane as she opens the front of her trenchcoat.

“Well, I wouldn’t say that,” replies Todd, ogling her gold bikini-clad breasts jutting out of the London Fog.

So what’s all this about? Well, sadly all of Dr. Goldfoot’s ingenuity is expended on a simple gold digging scheme. Diane is supposed to get millionaire Todd to marry her and then make him sign over power of attorney to her (which is of course the same as signing it to Dr. Goldfoot). Honestly, I find it a little disappointing that Dr. Goldfoot has the ingenuity and the wherewithal to build perfectly human-looking robots and universal remotes that control anything, and yet the best scheme he can come up with is gold digging. Why not aim higher, Dr. G? Why not strive for world domination? (Well... that's what sequels are for!)

Anyway, Igor’s error with the target has accidentally tipped off an agent of SIC to the mad doctor’s big gold digging plot. Fortunately for Dr. Goldfoot, though, he’s not a very good agent.

Gamble’s code number is only Double O and a half. “Why they won’t even let you carry a gun until you get a digit instead of a fraction!” yells his boss and uncle, Uncle Donald (genuine comic genius Fred Clark, of Zotz! and Hammer's Curse of the Mummy's Tomb). Donald’s not really in any position to berate his nephew, though, because he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer himself. When Igor shows up in his office dressed in what looks like a Sherlock Holmes Halloween costume (deerstalker and Inverness cape) claiming to be SIC director Inspector Abernathy, Donald believes him despite Gamble’s protestations.

The gags in this movie are mostly lame (as opposed to lamé), and recycled for the hundredth time. When an upper file cabinet drawer is closed, a lower one pops out knocking someone on the head. A beautiful girl robot is mis-programmed (Igor!) and starts talking like a Brooklyn gorilla. When Igor tries to spy on his boss using a periscope, Dr. Goldfoot splashes some ink on the top end giving Igor a black ring around his eye from the viewer. (Actually, that one's still kind of funny.) Even the spy-specific jokes tend to fall flat a lot of the time. Igor shows Dr. G a new attaché case (pronounced the American way, not the British “attachee”) with its own From Russia With Love-style gadgetry. What surprises does it have in store?  Would you believe a fist with a boxing glove that pops out and punches someone when they open it? (Neatly and obviously accomplished by situating a stuntman underneath the table the case is set on, easily able to reach through a hole in the table and the case.)

While the jokes often fall flat, highlights come in the form of random outbursts of go-go dancing, whether from Dr. Goldfoot’s bikini girls (whose default mode seems to be set as “go-go,” befitting their gold bikini costumes) or in nightclubs. (There’s a odd number from a band all dressed up as Fred Flintstone credited as Sam and the Apemen and accompanied by—you guessed it—go-go girls. But for some reason the go-go girls aren’t dressed in fur bikinis, just regular bikinis.)

Price himself camps it up to the extreme (surprise, surprise), parodying his own other AIP performances and even donning costumes from a few of them at times. To that end, the movie becomes more and more of an AIP in-joke as it proceeds (complete with an Annette Funicello cameo), and eventually Gamble and Todd end up in Dr. Goldfoot’s torture chamber, getting a tour that includes portraits of all his illustrious forebears (again bearing certain resemblances to famous Price roles past) and lots of familiar torture implements. It’s poor Todd who ends up strapped down beneath the swinging pendulum from The Pit and the Pendulum.

But then, in its final act, something unexpected happens. The movie becomes… really fun! The undisputable high point of the film is the fifteen-minute-long final chase through the streets of San Francisco in which the heroes and villains keep changing vehicles. It’s accomplished mostly through obvious rear projection, but the San Francisco scenery is quite real. The heroes (Gamble and Todd) start out in a gadget-laden Cadillac spy car whose gags include inflatable seats that inflate when you don’t want them to and a steering wheel that switches sides between the driver and the passenger at inopportune moments. The villains start out in a motorcycle and sidecar that become detached in the course of the chase and eventually manage to re-attach themselves. When Dr. Goldfoot uses his magic remote control device to blow up their spy car, the heroes swipe a red convertible (a Sunbeam Alpine, like Bond drove in Dr. No), and when the motorcycle and sidecar end up smashed on the front of a train, the villains (their faces coated in black soot, just like a cartoon character’s after surviving such a collision) appropriate an E-Type Jag. Eventually the heroes are on a bicycle while the baddies commandeer a San Francisco cable car—and manage to drive it right off its tracks and all over town! By the end the good guys are in a boat on a boat trailer careening wildly down San Francisco’s steep hills. It’s all pretty fun, really, in a typically zany way.

The end titles feature those stupid gold shoes again (though not Claymation this time), performing a disembodied dance (accomplished simply—and effectively—enough with a dancer dressed all in black dancing in front of a pitch black background) alongside gold bikini-clad go-go dancers—and similarly disembodied writhing gold bikini tops and bottoms. (That’s actually a really cool effect!) All of which handily beats (and makes up for) the Claymation opening in my book.

Even though Doctor Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine leaves things open for a sequel with Dr. Goldfoot and Igor surviving their cable car crash (and subsequent bombardment by gunboats) and turning up on the plane winging our victorious heroes off to Europe, the end credits instead tout the next beach movie, The Girl in the Glass Bikini. Which kind of brings us back to this movie’s title. Say it out loud to yourself. Think about it. Based on that title more than my (or any) review, I suspect you already know if this movie is for you or not.