Mimsy Farmer, Danger Girl

    Like my entry on the writer Ted Lewis, I am going to write about somebody who is not a musician but is definitely rock and roll. Mimsy Farmer is my favorite actress, and the mere fact that she had a prominent role in the film Riot On Sunset Strip makes her Lost in the Grooves worthy. Here's my take on the wild-eyed girl from Chicago:

    Mimsy Farmer has led a charmed life as an actress. At age 22, the native Chicagoan scored a part in Riot on Sunset Strip, one of the hippest films made in the Summer of Love. Moreover, she got what was arguably the most dramatic moment in the movie, playing the victim of a bad trip in the obligatory acid freakout scene. Then, when the 60’s were over, rather than stooping to taking roles in schmaltzy 70’s films or just fading into obscurity, she got in with the European set, moved to Italy and spent the next two decades starring in a slew of cult Euro horror and crime films, directed by Dario Argento and the like.

    As much hipster credibility and critical acclaim Riot and all the horror flicks might have gotten her, though, none of these films were among the ones which defined Mimsy as an actress. She had a Great Trilogy, three films which represent the nadir of her acting life.

Mimsy Farmer is a danger girl. Her natural beauty calls attention to her, and once you get a close look you see that there is something volatile lurking behind the pretty eyes and inside the head covered by the cute page-boy haircut. Film directors clearly recognized this unstable facet of Mimsy’s being, as they were always casting her in peril-filled, if not outright violent, roles and scenes. Sometimes she was the victim and other times the perpetrator, but in either case there was just always trouble surrounding her.

    Hot Rods to Hell, the first in the Great Mimsy Triolgy, came out in 1967, the same year as Riot on Sunset Strip, but had a decidedly 50’s-ish feel to it. Dana Andrews plays a Ward Cleaver type who experiences trauma as he, his wife and teenage daughter move to a new town, where they are terrorized by a trio of young delinquents. Mimsy portrays Gloria, the mercurial moll of the little gang. In the most memorable scene of the film, Mimsy, her boyfriend and his best friend are sitting in a parked car at a Lover’s Lane kind of locale. Mimsy’s boyfriend, after having an argument with her, gets out of the car and goes over to talk to Andrews’s pretty teenage daughter, who is sitting by herself near some water and looking pensive. Mimsy responds to this by first slamming her fists on the steering wheel, then biting her own finger. Next, just when you think she’s going to start crying or maybe go after her boyfriend, a psychotic smile suddenly spreads across her face. She reaches over and starts pulling her boyfriend’s friend’s hair, and when he cries uncle she lays a passionate kiss on him. After that he’s hers. The best bit of dialogue in the film comes across when Mimsy talks to her former boyfriend about what might have been possible for them if they’d been able to stay together, bringing out his response, “What’d we ever have that wasn’t gonna wind up in Splitsville?”

    More (1969), Barbet Schroeder’s (Barfly, Reversal of Fortune, Single White Female) directorial debut, and the middle piece of the Great Mimsy Trilogy, has become a cinematic footnote for the fact that it features a soundtrack by Pink Floyd. But this a great, under-appreciated film which was looking a few years ahead of its time in depicting the downfall of 60’s hipster drug culture. Stefan is a German student who’s just finished his studies and is looking to spend some time tramping around Europe, experiencing life and enjoying his freedom. While at a party in Paris he locks eyes with a pretty blonde (Mimsy, of course). They share a round of margaritas in the kitchen, and from there he is stuck on her and about to be led into a downward-spiraling adventure which will take him through drug addiction, sexual depravity, petty crime and general personality deterioration. Stefan’s friend in Paris tries to warn him off Mimsy, telling him she’s a junkie and a thief who has already seen several guys like Stefan to their decay, but the dangerous Mimsy is irresistible to the hapless student. This film is worth watching if not just for the beautiful shots of Ibiza, where Mimsy flees, giving Stefan an out to avoid the hazards she knows she will bring him; he doesn’t take the offer and follows her there, setting up the film’s tragic climax.

    The third and final title in the Great Mimsy Trilogy is the best film she ever acted in. The blurry, existential, voice-over happy Road to Salina (1971) is another overlooked mini-classic. Robert Walker, Jr. (Walker, Sr. portrayed the creepy Bruno in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train) plays a drifting hippy who’s wandering along a quiet West Coast town when he spots a house with a water well out in front of it. Thirsty and in need of a washing, Walker indulges himself, not knowing that this is the house that will change his life. As he’s splashing water on his face, he is confronted by the matron of the house, a clearly unbalanced woman (played by Rita Hayworth, who sadly foreshadows her real-life future here – she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, becoming a confused shadow of her former self in her latter years) who takes him to be her long-lost son, Rocky. Walker recognizes that this is a precarious set-up, but finds that he can’t turn down the promise of a hot meal and a bed to take a nap in. And when he wakes up he starts to think that maybe it’s not such a bad thing that the batty marm thinks he’s her son. It seems that all she wants from him is his help in pumping gas and serving lunch and beer to the locals (the house is also a business, a kind of combo gas station/weekend café). The rest of the time he’s free to eat and sleep and shower and go to the beach. And all he has to do is pretend to be her son and let her dote on him. If all of that doesn’t totally sell him on the house, his “sister” does. Mimsy, once again playing a wild-eyed femme fatale, eventually shows up at the house and is introduced to Walker as his sibling. But this is a weird kind of sister: one who likes to let her brother see her naked and who takes naps with him and sleeps with him under a tent on the beach. Walker’s head-trip is magnified immensely as he tries to determine whether Mimsy really believes he’s her brother of if she’s fucking with him – and he’s trying to sort all of this out as he’s falling in love with her. Pop this film in on a rainy Sunday afternoon and you won’t walk away from it. Plus, you’ll get to see Hayworth and the senior Ed Begley do the frug.

    Between Riot on Sunset Strip and More, Mimsy Farmer temporarily got out of acting and became involved in something called “psychedelic therapy,” a fringe school of psychological treatment where the “counselors” apparently dosed old drunks in hopes of getting them off the sauce. Mimsy seems to have regarded this experiment as a failure, but the acid appears to have inspired her; having already tuned in and turned on, she dropped out of her native country, citing the moneyed shallowness prevalent in American life. She met and married a European man and never looked back. That’s a set of circumstances that could be the makings of an interesting film, one starring a daring, tempestuous, willful woman – a part perfectly suited for an actress like Mimsy Farmer.

    Mimsy’s present whereabouts and doings are unknown. In her bio on the Hot Rods to Hell website, for current residence it simply says, “Europe.” A 1997 feature article on her in Fuz magazine reported that, since 1989 (the year of her last known film role) she’d been living in semi-retirement in France, with a new husband and new daughter, and suffering from some sort of health problem. That’s all vague and maybe a little sad, but there’s also something triumphant in the way that Mimsy has let herself fade from the public eye quietly and gracefully; a good actress knows when it’s time to tone things down.

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