Wednesday, June 22, 2016

façade: Mimsy Farmer

One of the minor icons of the 1960s and '70s, the fascinating Mimsy Farmer flitted from Hollywood ingenue to biker-flick staple to jet-setting international attraction with an adjustable breeziness that made her credible in each morphing and that explains the small, select cult that never lost interest in the blonde actress.

Deceptively all-American and wholesome-looking, Farmer shrewdly subverted her first major role - as the assertive Claris Coleman in Delmer Daves' "Spencer's Mountain" in 1963 - by playing it with a shockingly candid sexuality and idiosyncratic line readings that made everything sound, well, dirty. If Warners was grooming her to be Natalie Wood's successor - and it's apparent that the studio was - you can appreciate both its reasoning and its misjudgment. She didn't wait. Farmer used her debut to undercut the powers.

A couple year's later, she did the same thing in Harvey Hart's "Bus Riley's Back in Town" (1965), nominally written by William Inge but credited to "Walter Gage" after the studio decided to showcase Ann-Margret, enlarging her role. That was good. Apparently, no one paid any attention to Farmer who got in under the radar and, again, quietly and effectively stole the film - and reduced Ann-Margret - in a matter of a handful of scenes.

Then came the biker flicks for Farmer, the most memorable for me being 1967's "Hot Rod to Hell," starring Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain, before she  headed to Europe where she made the drug-laden "More" for Barbet Schroeder in 1969. The film was written by the former New York Times movie critic, Eugene Archer, with Farmer responsible for "additional dialogue." "More" was the head film of its time, Farmer became the darling of the Croisette and she pretty much stayed in Europe, returning to the United States for some occasional TV work.

Her most popular film during this time was Dario Argent's horror film, "Four Flies on Grey Velvet"/"4 mosche di velluto grigio"(1971), which expanded beyond art houses to become a mainstream hit here.

Although seen only sporadically here over the past five decades, Farmer managed to make about 50 films, just about all of them in Europe. In retrospect, she seems like a not unpleasant mirage, an image that now seems at once blurred and vivid. I miss her and regret that I didn't have the time, energy or inclination to keep up with her unusual career. Thank heaven for film, video and DVD. I can always create my own Mimsy Farmer Film Festival which, in addition to the titles already mentioned, would naturally include those three biker films - "Riot on the Sunset Strip," "Devil's Angels" and "The Wild Racers."

Now, whatever happened to another singular actress, Kaki Hunter?

Note in Passing: Check out Dave Kehr's comments on the DVD release of "Hot Rods to Hell" in his 2007 essay for The New York Times.


Margaret said...

Interesting... I never heard of her. Are these movies available on Netflix?

joe baltake said...

"Spencer's Mountain" is available on DVD, and it's likely that "Bus Riley," "More" and "Four Flies on Velvet" are also avaiable. I'll have to check. BTW, "Hot Rods to Hell" has been on Turner a couple of times. Classic junk, pure fun.

Alex said...

Yes, yes. Kaki Hunter. Loved her in Alan Rudolph's "Roadie."

Kiki said...

Never heard of her! Or saw any of her movies and when I saw the photo . . . .I thought it was Mia Farrow!

joe baltake said...

Kiki- Farmer looked like an all-American girl (sort of a blonde Natalie Wood), only wildly counterculture. Deceptive and bracingly different.

Near-Genius Nephew said...


Mimsy even stood out in her early TV appearances (Perry Mason--twice, particularly the one where she's the teenage bride of Richard Carlson's sleazy director--and, in her last foray into small-tubedom, as a wanton/willful socialite-in-training in a Honey West episode that actually delivered some of the flavor in the novels (the episode was written by Tony Barrett, who'd been all over "crime scene TV" in the immediate past, e.g. PETER GUNN).

She clearly found her version of the sixties "G-spot" and could convey a rotten innocence in a way that simply hadn't been seen before.

Best, Don Malcolm

joe baltake said...

Don- Thanks! Terrific insight. -J

charles said...

You mention Kaki Hunter. Here she is on YouTube: