I am admittedly ignorant to the praise and mocking this 1964 ditty has received over the decades. From a treatment on MST3K in America, to a cult following, “Kitten with a Whip” is that rare piece of cinema fodder that is a completely obvious chunk of sixties conservative propaganda demonizing the youth, free spirits, and sexuality altogether. Setting aside the context, “Kitten with a Whip” is a dumb movie. It’s sometimes very ridiculous to the point where this can just be deemed as a fantasy or a cartoon of a sorts. The vivacious Ann Margret coming off of “Viva Las Vegas” slums it and mugs it for the camera in this cliché youth gone wild quasi-thriller that is something of a fractured romance beneath the hilarious camp and utterly absurd dialogue.
There’s not a single action taken in this movie that doesn’t elicit a genuine eye roll but you can also sense the motivation behind character David’s actions in the process. Jody is a runaway juvenile delinquent with a history of violence who ends up at David’s house in the middle of the night and breaks in to… sleep. Yes, sleep. So after a party David arrives home to find her there. Instead of calling the cops, trapping her in the room until the police arrive, or just throwing her out in to the night, he decides to… let her stay. And he buys her a dress. Why? Well quite obviously, though it’s never explicitly stated, he is very sexually attracted to Jody. And who wouldn’t be? Ann Margret is that despicable entity here who you loathe with immense passion but are still somewhat infatuated by her. And that’s what occurs here. David’s common sense is constantly at war with his sexual urges as he endures physical and mental abuse by Jody who holds him hostage at threat of tarnishing his character if he dares to snitch or rat her out.
Because she knows as much as we do that he’s evidently doomed because he’s a victim of his own compulsion toward Jody from the minute he sees her. And Jody knows clear and simple that he has less than pure intentions toward her upon the initial assumption she was nothing more than a dumb kid he could likely take advantage without anyone noticing. Margret is in rare form giving a deliciously over the top performance as this bi-polar psychotic sex cat who flashes her smiles and curves to lure David in and shows him her fangs when she has the slightest inkling her sense of security is threatened. Margret, utterly sexy in all of her glory, is just moronic here and warrants some genuine groans from the audience with her bellowing and maniacal chuckling in response to every convenient plot twist. Meanwhile writer Heyes is never sure how to portray Jody at all. Sometimes she’s a manipulative shrew, sometimes a lovelorn sexpot, sometimes a masterful juvenile, and sometimes just a misunderstood youth.
Heye’s attempts to deify Margret to a certain extent undercuts David’s intentions trying to portray him as an honorable father figure when it was pretty apparent from the start that he fully intended to have something of a fling with this young girl and hold her at a sort of emotional ransom before she turned the tables. In the end we’re never sure what any of these characters actually intended and when the ultimate fate of Jody is revealed, it’s never quite crystal clear what the message of this movie is beyond preaching against the dangers of free wheeling and dealing. Overall, “Kitten with a Whip” is a ridiculous piece of sixties hokum, but at least we get to look at Margret. It’s an ancient relic of the sixties filled with genuinely terrible dialogue and over the top performances matched with a lame finger wagging story about the dangers of living free and without rules, but there’s at least Ann Margret who is just absolutely ravishing as this enigmatic young girl with a burning sex appeal not even the most modern male can resist.