Kitten with a Whip (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: May 16, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Kitten with a Whip (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Douglas Heyes

Release Date(s)

1964 (January 7, 2022)

Studio(s)

Universal Pictures (Imprint/Via Vision)
  • Film/Program Grade: D
  • Video Grade: B
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: B

Review

[Editor’s Note: This is a REGION-FREE Australian Blu-ray import.]

Remembered mostly for being lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000, 1964’s Kitten with a Whip was one of many female-led juvenile delinquent films from this time period, but in this case, produced by a major studio. Helmed by Douglas Heyes, a writer and director known for his TV work (helming only one other film, Beau Geste from 1966), the film was mostly a vehicle for Ann-Margaret, who at that point was famous for her work with Elvis Presley and wanted more dramatic roles than the singing and dancing fare that audiences were accustomed to seeing her in. Kitten with a Whip could also very well have been influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, which was released only a couple of years prior. It doesn’t reach those same heights, nor does it fit snugly into the teensploitation cycle. Instead it’s a mostly awkward and unfulfilling narrative.

David Stratton (Forsythe) is on his way to becoming a major politician, but winds up in a difficult position when he finds a young woman named Jody (Ann-Margaret) in his home while his wife and children are away. She initially tells him that she’s a wayward soul, having escaped a juvenile detention hall, and is seeking help. After giving her some money and putting her on a bus, he comes home to find her there again. This time, she sings a different tune. As it turns out, Jody is a fugitive from the law, and threatens to wreck David’s marriage and career if he doesn’t do what she says. Inviting her fellow crooked friends over for a car ride, things don’t go so well, and David wonders how he’s going to get out of this situation.

Kitten with a Whip was shot by director of photography Jospeh F. Biroc on 35 mm film with Mitchell BNC cameras, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.00:1. Via Vision Entertainment brings the film to Blu-ray as #100 in their Imprint line of titles. It’s obviously a much older Universal master with heavy grain, as well a touch of DNR. Some sections of the film are cleaner than others, but throughout there’s minor instability, speckling, and scratches on display as well. It’s an otherwise decent presentation with excellent gradations of black and white. A fresher scan would have yielded more detail, but it’s definitely a watchable presentation.

Audio is included in English 2.0 mono LPCM with optional English subtitles. It’s a surprisingly potent single channel track with excellent support for dialogue and score, and nowhere near as flat or narrow as many other tracks from this period in time.

The Blu-ray of Kitten with a Whip sits inside a clear amaray case with new artwork featuring stills of Ann-Margaret on the front and a still from the film featuring her and John Forsythe on the inner sleeve. Everything is housed in a slipcover featuring the original US theatrical poster artwork for the film. The following extras are included on the disc:

  • Audio Commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicolas and Josh Nelson
  • Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! The Rise of Delinquent Girls in Film (HD – 28:30)
  • She Reached for Evil: Dissecting Kitten with a Whip (HD – 17:45)
  • Photo Gallery (HD – 29 in all – 2:24)

In the audio commentary with film scholars Alexandra Heller-Nicolas and Josh Nelson, they excitedly examine the film, portraying it as an underappreciated art film of sorts, but also explore the careers of the filmmakers, and compare the film to others of the era. It’s an excellent listen. In Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, writer and podcaster Kat Ellinger delves specifically into the history of films portraying delinquent young women, highlighting the many double standards there within. In She Reached for Evil, author Andrew Nette dissects the film and explores how it relates to 1960s counterculture, the explosion of the teensploitation genre of films being made at that time, and its thematic material, which he feels isn’t understood all that well. The Photo Gallery contains 29 on-set stills and the film’s theatrical poster.

As the commentary mentions, John Waters, Quentin Tarantino, and Joe Bob Briggs have all championed Kitten with a Whip as more than the sum of its parts. I’m personally not a fan of it, but those who are will find this disc a vast improvement over its feature-less US DVD and Blu-ray counterparts. The presentation is decent and the bonus materials argue the film’s qualities with fine expertise. It’s a nice release, overall.

Kitten with a Whip (Blu-ray)

- Tim Salmons

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