Steve Guttenberg Hits the Scene in 60’s-based 1970s Teen Comedy.



May, 1969.  Political upheaval.  The Vietnam War.  Mass protests.  And Steve Guttenberg can’t get laid.  

One of those crises is the foremost through-line of director Francis Simon’s (1968’s The Queen) adaption of Paul Diamond’s novel, The Chicken Chronicles.  Made and released in 1977 but harkening back less than eight years prior, this PG-rated horny high school comedy does have more on its mind than its disposable contemporaries from Crown International Studios, American International Pictures, or the like (The VanThe Pom-Pom Girls, etc.).  But not by much.

Guttenberg, in his debut starring role, plays David Kessler, a high school senior who’s a track star with a flair for shenanigans.  He steals the official hall-pass punch-clock and a stack of passes, enabling him and his friends unlimited freedom during school hours.  He rigs up a red smoke bomb under the hood in the principal’s (Ed Lauter) car.  He spends his work time at a local fried chicken place (owned by an over-the-top pervy old crow played Phil Silvers) smoking pot and shooting free throws with the uncooked goods into a sloshy vat of breading dough.  On the whole, David is supposed to be a pretty happenin’ dude.  He’s even dating the prettiest cheerleader in school (Lisa Reeves).  So why can’t he lose it already??

Although David drums up a political hot potato article for his school newspaper (a piece called “Summer in Saigon”, immediately rejected as the institution doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers), he and his Beverly Hills cadre of pals and gals are shielded well enough from the realities of the draft and civil rights unrest that only the occasional radio news interruption breaks their focus on the prom and scoring.  (“Scoring”, be it “the really good pot”, sexually, or breaking school records on the track).  

Guttenberg’s charisma and energy goes a long way to elevate The Chicken Chronicles beyond its lowbrow niche, just as it would years later for his star-making role in 1984’s Police Academy.  Throughout the film’s enjoyable ninety-four minutes, he never stops moving and the camera never stops loving him.  For whatever it’s worth, without him, this modest little it-is-what-it-is comedy would not be all that it is, at all.

Though David is far from innocent- for instance, when he calls up a girl that he knows has the hits for him (played by Meridith Baer) when his girlfriend gives him the cold shoulder in bed- we stick with him, because we like him anyway.  Also, it’s clear enough that his rebellious streak is in response to his world.  His absentee parents literally only communicate with him via an intrusive in-home intercom/video security system, and the school officials are always on his case because his sideburns are a quarter inch too long for track & field regulations.  His ever-scheming, enterprising fourteen-year-old little brother has his back… to a point.  With the kid’s shrewd help, will David finally land the ideal love nest that his persnickety girlfriend demands??  Or will his sure-thing tryst end in humiliation and frustration?  Hmmm…

Phil Silvers in The Chicken Chronicles

Kino Lorber Studio Classics has released The Chicken Chronicles to Blu-ray with particularly decent image and sound quality.  Decent, that is, considering its raunchier contemporaries of very similar look, scope, and patina have not looked remotely decent for decades.  The disc has an optional commentary track by the very chatty pair of film historians Lee Gambin and Emma Westwood.  If anything, Gambin and Westwood are altogether too wound up about this particular film.  The Chicken Chronicles is a just-fine movie, but is it really worth being excited about?  

If you are someone who’s excited about the Blu-ray arrival of The Chicken Chronicles, then you too can join the clucking chorus of exaltation.  For everyone else who might be merely curious, just know that while the movie has very little to do with chicken, it remains a fine feathered film of its time and place. 

The images and promotional material used in the review are present only as a reference to the film and are not meant to reflect the actual image quality or content of the Blu-ray.