Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Film Appreciation - Momentous!


Priscilla Tuboly and Cody Hamman have a dance party with 1988's The In Crowd for Film Appreciation.


Teen dance party programs were a television sensation in the 1960s. The most popular was the nationally broadcast, Dick Clark-hosted American Bandstand (which began in the '50s and ran until 1989), but there were local variations on the concept being shot in cities all over the country.

In Baltimore, a young John Waters regularly watched such a program called The Buddy Deane Show, which inspired him to make his movie Hairspray more than twenty years later.

Meanwhile, Mark Rosenthal was getting a rock 'n roll infusion from multiple sources in Philadelphia, the city American Bandstand originated from. Locally there was The Hy Lit Show and Jerry Blavat's The Discophonic Scene, on the radio was DJ Joe Niagara, in syndication was The Lloyd Thaxton Show. Rosenthal's youth was spent listening and dancing to rock, and after breaking into the film industry as a screenwriter in the '80s, scripting such films as The Legend of Billie Jean, The Jewel of the Nile, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace with collaborator Lawrence Konner, Rosenthal decided to make his directorial debut on a tribute to the music programs he grew up with.

The setting of Rosenthal's film is Philadelphia, 1965.

When the school bells ring at 3pm, some of the kids aren't rushing home. Some of them are headed for the WPHY television studio in the city, where they're dancers on the show Perry Parker's Dance Party. Broadcast live every weekday at 3:30, Perry Parker's Dance Party is just what the name says: host Perry Parker (Joe Pantoliano) gives an intro to some of the best songs of the day, which are then danced to by a group of teenagers who are the titular "In Crowd".

For one song every episode, things are slowed down for the For Lovers Only "lovers spotlight", which features "your favorite couple" Vicky (Jennifer Runyon) and Dugan (Scott Plank) slow dancing in close-up.


At his home in the suburbs, high school senior Del Green (Donovan Leitch) watches Perry Parker's Dance Party every afternoon, dancing in front of the TV and pining away for Vicky. It's Del's dream to get on Dance Party, and he'd be willing to die on his 18th birthday in exchange for just one slow dance with Vicky.

I think it's really cool showing that boys were into those dancing shows as well. I would've thought that it was mostly a girl thing, like they show in Hairspray. Glad to be proven wrong. And Del puts a lot of effort into it, he even has a jacket on while doing the dance.

Del's neighbor/antagonistic childhood friend Gail (Wendy Gazelle) is not supportive of Del's Dance Party dreams, putting them down as hoodlum fantasies. She questions the dancers' intelligence, calls them psychos and creeps, and  advises Del to just focus on going to medical school.

Gail thinks the show and everyone on it are beneath her and Del. She's really uptight and has narrow visions about their future. They're to go to medical school, and in her mind that doesn't go with music and dancing shows.

Del and Gail's interactions are kind of odd in these early scenes. They act much younger than they actually are. When she upsets him, Del chases Gail around like they're little kids rather than teens about to graduate.

I used to have a neighbor who was really my best friend for years, and he's a boy. So, when you grow up that close to someone, it's hard to realize you're not kids anymore, especially during those awkward teenage years. Not just that, but in this case specifically, it's pretty clear that Gail has a crush on Del. And he not only doesn't feel the same way, but also boys tend to take a while longer to mature, and to Del Gail was pretty much "one of the boys" then. So, that explains their interactions in those first few scenes.

Gail is so certain that nothing will ever come of Del's determination to dance on the show that she makes him a bet he has no interest in: if Perry Parker allows him on TV, she'll clean his room naked.

Del's response is one of the funniest lines in the movie.

That's more like I'd expect from kids their age.

Friday after school, Del heads down to the WPHY studio and finds himself just one of many people who are waiting outside, hoping Perry Parker will pick them to be on the show. An encounter with a couple of city kids who want to beat him up looks like trouble at first, but Del uses it to his advantage, a diversion that enables him to sneak into the studio.

Luck is on Del's side, he happened to come to WPHY on the perfect day. He manages to pass himself off as a member of the In Crowd, he just needs a girl to be his partner. Coincidentally, the station manager has just barred Dugan from Dance Party for life due to legal troubles. "No more Vicky and Dugan, our best couple." Which means Vicky needs a new partner. All of the guys in the dancing troupe are too afraid of Dugan to be her partner, but Del isn't.

I'm pretty sure there was a WPHY studio scene that was cut. It never explains how or why Del seems to know the piano player in the hall, and it feels a little rushed.

I would think Peter Boyle originally had more to do as WPHY's cowboy entertainer Uncle Pete, too. He's only seen for a few seconds.

Del's dream comes true. He dances on Dance Party, and does so with Vicky. He's an instant hit with girls who are watching, and he continues to impress when the guys in the troupe try to sabotage him for "hogging the camera" and he turns the attack into a dance move that gets a cheer from the studio audience. Watching from home, his friends are shocked.

I love all of the bright and colorful shirts, ties and suits. I almost wish those were still in style these days. 

This first dance number is my favorite, due to a couple of facts. One is that the song "The Real Thing" by Tina Britt is a favorite, and on top of that, one of the key dancers is Michelle Johnston, who's known for being an amazing choreographer. But to me she'll always be Bebe Benson from A Chorus Line, which is also a movie I used to watch all the time growing up. Since Jennifer Runyon didn't seem to be a great dancer, I can almost picture Johnston giving her some dancing tips.


After the show, Vicky compliments Del's dancing, and he asks her out on a date. Vicky clearly doesn't want to go out with him, but Perry Parker encourages it and basically forces it to happen.

Dick Clark had moved the production of American Bandstand from Philadelphia to Hollywood in 1964, and this plays into the story of The In Crowd: Perry Parker wants to position himself as the obvious replacement for Dick Clark in case the Hollywood version of Bandstand should happen to fail. Unfortunately, Dance Party's ratings are low, and Parker is looking for a way to boost them. Creating a romance between Del and Vicky just might be the way.

That night, Gail arrives at Del's room wearing nothing but a coat, ready to make good on her bet. Del stops her before she can unbutton. She puts down the In Crowd some more and invites him to a Saturday night James Bond double feature, but he's got other plans. The date with Vicky.

Gail cannot wait to get naked in front of Del. And he stops her... what a gentleman!

Watching a James Bond double feature would be a lot more fun than what he experiences on this date. Actually, it'd be more fun than most alternate activities.

I love the scene where it shows Del kicking the toy car to the side and opening up the garage to get the real, grown up car. The clear representation of all the maturing he's about to do for the rest of the movie.

Del heads out of the suburbs and into the city. When he picks Vicky up at her home, she - after crying her eyes out while watching the ending of Splendor in the Grass - introduces him to her mother. Vicky's father isn't home, so she tells her mom to tell him that she met Del, he gets straight As, and she liked him very much.

Vicky's mom is really strange. She says nothing, not even to Del, and just does what her daughter tells her to.

And it seems like she had a really bad nose job. Were plastic surgeries popular back in the '60s? I wonder.

Vicky wants Del to seem like a vast improvement over Dugan, who her police officer father does not approve of because Dugan "made a mistake once" and stole a car. Vicky defends Dugan; he's not a thief, he just needed the car so he could take her out on a date.

Del gets to know Vicky a little bit more during their night out. She has no plans to go to college: "College? Del, I'm a girl!" But she does dream of running off to Hollywood to be the next Natalie Wood. Becoming a Hollywood star is a dream she shares with Dugan.

Vicky and Del go to an In Crowd party being held in their usual hangout, an abandoned train station. There's music, dancing, and when Dugan shows up on his motorcycle, Vicky leaves with him. Del, rather than going home -

And catching up with that James Bond double feature.

- waits at the train station for Vicky, then takes her home when Dugan brings her back.


Del and Vicky talk about the situation outside the door of her home, and soon the door opens to reveal her hulking father, Tiny, who's played by a guy credited as Concrete Cowboy. Having heard good things about Del from his wife, Tiny encourages/forces Vicky and Del to kiss goodnight.

Tiny hates Dugan so much that he's willing to pimp out his daughter to a complete stranger. I love it.

Something kind of neat, kind of freaky I noticed here: while Vicky and Del's faces are being mashed together by Tiny's massive hands, their jawlines and heads kind of form the shape of a heart.

During my hundreds of viewings of The In Crowd, I had never noticed that until Cody pointed it out. So cool.


Back in school on Monday, Del finds that he has become much more popular. People look at him as if he's a star, whisper about him in awe, girls drool over him. His sudden stardom has the opposite effect on his group friends, however. They're not happy that he has ditched them in favor of Perry Parker and Vicky.

I love it that by being on the show once, Del is famous overnight. All the girls are crushing on him.

Popular or not, Del also still has to sit through English class, taught by a teacher known as "Ming the Merciless". He's in Ming's class learning about Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities when Perry Parker and his right hand man show up looking for him. Ming demands that Parker leave his classroom, but refuses to let him exit when he attempts to take Del out with him. So Parker sits down and waits out the class.

The specific subject of the day is the climax of the love triangle in A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton giving his life so Charles Darnay can escape Paris with Lucie, the woman they both love. Hurting from the Vicky/Dugan situation, Del says he'd run off with the girl and let the other guy die rather than give up his own life. Perry Parker has a different read on the idea of dying for love. Actually dying for it is too momentous of an idea for teenagers, but there is nothing wrong with feeling like you could die for love. "That way you'd cherish every dance and you'd never waste a kiss."

This gets applause, even from Ming.

Joey Pants does a great job delivering this speech, a nice comment on romance, in the unique Perry Parker way.

It is a very lovely scene. One of my favorites for sure.

Parker came to talk to Del to ask him to continue dancing on the show because the station has been receiving hundreds of letters from female fans raving about him. Del has no interest, not even if he gets paid $20 a week, not even with Vicky wanting to keep dancing with him. But when Parker confides in them that the show is slipping in the ratings and asks Del to save his life and possibly save dancing for the entire world, Del agrees to be on the show.

How fast was the postal service back then? The show aired on Friday, and this is Monday. The show received hundreds of letters that fast how?

Plus... girls are so fickle, they forget all about Dugan just like that.

Being on Dance Party with Vicky, even in the Lovers Only spotlight with her, isn't the only thing Del continues doing. Vicky needs to keep seeing Dugan, she says she'll kill herself if she doesn't get to, so Del keeps picking her up at her house and taking her to the train station to meet Dugan.


While waiting at the train station for Vicky's return, Del gets to know a fellow In Crowder called Popeye (Sean Gregory Sullivan), a hyper prankster/jokester who's always copying the laugh of the cartoon character Popeye. Popeye builds up the danger of getting on Dugan's bad side, but doesn't mind instigating an encounter with a group of beefy guys with baseball bats.

Popeye is really silly, dramatic, crazy and funny, and also... he's all talk, because he doesn't know how to fight guys at all, some slapping around only made the guy mad enough to get a bunch of his friends to actually show him how to beat someone up. Poor Del gets caught in the middle.

Del is still sporting a black eye when he has to make a special appearance on the New Jersey boardwalk, where Perry Parker is hosting a dance and trying to sell copies of his "Only for Lovers" album. The day's obligations include Philadelphia Sweethearts Del and Vicky getting their pictures taken wearing a suit and wedding dress as if they're getting married, an advertisement for the Boardwalk Chapel.

Perry Parker is traumatized to see that a boardwalk vendor is selling artistic renderings of Dick Clark, but his right hand man quickly takes care of those.

Vicky and Del are the only In Crowders at the boardwalk event, so local teens get an opportunity to slow dance with their favorite couple. Everyone is charmed when Del asks a shy girl with a leg brace to dance with him. Vicky appears to find it especially heartwarming.

It is a sweet "Isn't Del great?" moment. He was talking tough in Ming's classroom, but he's not really that type of guy.

That's when Vicky starts to realize the kind of guy Del is, and that's when she starts having feelings for him.

The next time Del picks Vicky up at her home, she brings school books along with her. While they sit at the train station waiting for Dugan to show up, Del tutors Vicky in algebra... and they grow closer. Del and Vicky share their first heartfelt kiss. And their second. As it turns out, there was no date with Dugan at all.

The song "When You're Young and in Love" by The Marvelettes makes this scene perfect. And what Vicky says about boys and kissing happens to be true.


Del and Vicky are a couple now, and during an outing with Popeye and Vicky's best friend Ina (Charlotte d'Amboise) they dance and kiss all over Philadelphia.

During this date montage, the movie breaks the dance movie wall of reality a bit with a moment in which a group of people, including a bus driver, join the In Crowders for a dance in the street.

This part of the movie is so upbeat, I love it. It's a very "musical" moment with every one breaking out in dance.

Some people claim that Hairspray star Ricki Lake is in this sequence (and have even added her to the IMDb page), but I don't think she is.

Dugan hasn't been around, but he has seen Del and Vicky getting cozy on "his show" Dance Party. Arriving back at home after a date with Vicky on a stormy night, Del finds that Dugan has broken in and is waiting for him.


Having the physically imposing, knife-wielding lawbreaker in his house is a scary situation for Del, but he stands up to Dugan when it comes to Vicky. Dugan isn't there to hurt Del, and as far as he's concerned Vicky belongs to him and doesn't even have a choice in the matter. He's just there to intimidate him a bit... and to have a dance-off to The Righteous Brothers' "Little Latin Lupe Lu".

At first it seems like Dugan might be wanting to give Del a beating, but when it turns into a dance-off, it makes it that much more interesting, and I have a hard time picking a "winner".

The dance fight ends when Gail shows up. Dugan forces a kiss on her and makes his exit.

Gail is starring in the high school presentation of the comic opera Mikado, and Del attends the show with Vicky as his date. She also accompanies him to the after-show dinner with his parents, Gail's parents, and their group of friends.

Gail's parents are insufferable snobs, and during the dinner scene, it becomes clear that she was under a lot of pressure, trying to be what her parents wanted her to be.

Blown away by Gail's performance in Mikado, Vicky is very nice and complimentary. Looking down on her, Gail and her friend Lydia are incredibly rude to Vicky in return, laughing at her expense and bashing Natalie Wood. Everything falls apart when Vicky mentions that Del has given her a "friction" book to read. "Oh my God, I think she means fiction." Vicky leaves the table crying... but gives Gail one last compliment before she goes.

This is a really sad, uncomfortable scene to watch. I feel bad for Vicky.

I actually feel worse for Gail, because even though Vicky was insulted, she ended up being the classy one by leaving Gail with a compliment.

The next school day, Ming's English class is disrupted again when Vicky shows up to see Del. She has gotten back in contact with Dugan and is planning to run away with him that night before Tiny can arrest him. Del loves her, but she feels she has to go.

And so Del comes up with a plan to help Vicky and Dugan escape Philadelphia. But first, he wants to have one last dance with her on the Perry Parker show.

Del and Vicky's last dance is pretty intense. It's almost sad. The idea that it's all coming to an end is evident.


As Del and Vicky have their last slow dance, Perry Parker, who has previously shown himself to be resistant to change, rejecting the idea of letting the new wave of long-haired rockers on his show, is informed that Dance Party has been cancelled. It's being replaced by a show called Psychedelic Shack, broadcast live from San Francisco.

Parker then goes out onto the set and joins the In Crowders in a lively dance, even getting the entire studio audience involved. This chaos leads to the last broadcast of Perry Parker's Dance Party being taken off the air due to "technical difficulties".

This seemed like a major overreaction from the powers-that-be. Why take it off the air? It's only people dancing, like every episode, there just happens to be more of them this time.

It was the '60s, and Perry Parker was "mad". They didn't want to take any chances.

After all the wild dancing, Vicky leaves the studio with her hair perfectly done. How is that possible?

With his parents' car in the shop, Del has to go to Gail that night and ask for her help. He needs to borrow her dad's precious new Cadillac.


Del picks Vicky up at her home in the Caddy and takes her to the train station, where they're met by Dugan. Before she leaves, Vicky returns the book he gave her, one that made him cry at the end. A Tale of Two Cities. Del, Vicky, and Dugan have been living out a teenage version of the Dickens love triangle, and now Del is making the sacrifice he said he wouldn't.

Tiny shows up before Vicky and Dugan can get away from the train station, so Del smashes the Cadillac into his police cruiser to buy them time.

Vicky is gone. Perry Parker's Dance Party is no more. Del is stuck in the suburbs, in trouble for the Caddy, and with no interest in watching Psychedelic Shack. Then Gail comes over, sporting a whole new style of dress and hair. And she's brought over an album she wants to listen to with Del. A more intelligent type of rock 'n roll.

Gail finally becomes her own person now. She's able to stop trying to please everyone else by being what they expect of her, instead of what truly makes her happy. I love the meaning of it all. Del is not the only one coming of age; Gail is going through that as well.

By doing that, it feels like they'd be a better match than ever before. I think they ended up together.

Gail puts on the album, sits down on the couch with Del, whose hair is starting to get a little shaggy, and the music begins. "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan.

It's worth pointing out that Donovan Leitch is the son of musician Donovan, who was rising to fame in 1965. Donovan's early work shared some of the same influences with, and was influenced by, Bob Dylan.

America has entered a new era, and the movie has reached its end.


Not only did John Waters' and Mark Rosenthal's cinematic tributes to the dance programs they loved as kids come out in the same year, Hairspray and The In Crowd even came out in the same month, February of 1988, with The In Crowd's release coming a few weeks earlier. But while Hairspray has been kept alive with a stage musical and a remake based on the stage show, The In Crowd has kind of gotten lost in time for some reason. I don't know why, but it has never gotten a DVD or Blu release. It's barely available these days, unless you're lucky enough to catch a TV airing or find it streaming somewhere.

I can't remember if I watched or read it, because it's been a few years, but Donovan Leitch blamed Dirty Dancing for The In Crowd's lack of popularity in an interview. He said that since both movies came out around the same time, and were somewhat similar, people were just watching Dirty Dancing instead.

While I do think there are a couple of things alike about Dirty Dancing and The In Crowd, like being coming of age movies with amazing soundtracks, and even sharing a great song ("Do You Love Me" by The Contours ), I refuse to believe that one of my all time favorites is to blame for another one of my favorites not being as successful as it should've been. 

I wasn't familiar with The In Crowd until Priscilla brought it up in conversation one day, and had never seen the movie until she showed it to me when I took a trip to Brazil last September. During my first viewing of it, I did have some trouble following the plot strands. It seems simple enough, but The In Crowd doesn't always handle things the way you'd expect, which was enough to throw me off. Del gets on Dance Party, but once he does he doesn't want it. He gets the girl, but she doesn't want him. What is going on here?

I don't even know how many people I've talked to over the years who had no idea this movie even existed. Actually, it became the expected answer any time I'd mention it to anyone. The one time, and I mean only one, I talked about it and heard "I know that movie, it's really good" back, was a few years ago, when I started talking to my now husband Esten. He was the one who got me a decent copy off of TV. Other than that, no one seems to know about The In Crowd at all.

And yes, I see how the movie might be a tiny bit "confusing" at first, but really... Del never stopped wanting Vicky, but he didn't appreciate being used, he wanted her to want to be with him, instead of using him to sneak out of the house. 

Watching it again (a few times), I see that The In Crowd is actually a great, well told, emotional story, and a well structured film. There's some good set-up and pay-off, like the new Cadillac introduced in the first act coming into play in the third act, and I enjoy the Tale of Two Cities element. The fact that the end of the movie signifies the transition of America from an "age of innocence" to a more turbulent time is an excellent touch.

The In Crowd really is deeper than what you'd expect, since it has a very grown up message being passed on as the story unfolds. Sure, all the dancing and other fun aspects make it a light watch, but there's more than that going on, and I think that's what makes it so unique and special.

Thinking about it, the Cadillac was almost like an extra character. I still wonder how they all fit in it at the beginning. It had to be like, eight people!

The soundtrack is fantastic, and the dancing, choreographed by Jerry Evans, is fun to watch.

It's one of my favorite soundtracks, period. I used to watch the movie sometimes just to listen to some of the songs back in the late '80s. I'd rewind the VHS tape a lot, it's amazing that it's still in such good condition. Thanks to the internet, I don't have to do that anymore, I have the soundtrack right here on my computer.

I really like the cast as well, and it's unfortunate that none of the leads, aside from the already established Joe Pantoliano, ever really had breakout success. Some of them never worked again at all. Donovan Leitch is very likeable as Del and does fine work carrying the film.

I love Leitch as Del. I can't think of any other actor who'd bring such charm to the character. It's a shame he didn't get too many important roles. Even back then, I always thought he'd make it big as an actor.

Pantoliano has always been great, and he was the perfect Perry Parker. What a touching performance by him.

Jennifer Runyon, best known for a brief appearance in Ghostbusters, might be a little weak in the role of Vicky, or it could just be the fact that her character is a little weak, but comes off well enough overall. You really grow to care for her as the movie goes on.

I don't think there was much for Runyon to do as Vicky. The character is pretty limited. That being said, I've seen her in a few other movies and TV shows, and she didn't seem to have too much range. But I think she had what the role asked for, which was this certain innocence and sweetness. I have no complaints as far as her acting in The In Crowd goes.

Wendy Gazelle worked steadily up until 2009, but doesn't appear to have gotten a starring role very often. Seeing her work as Gail makes me think she should've had a much bigger career than she has.

Funny, The In Crowd is the only thing I've seen her in as well. I'd love to check out some of her other roles.

Scott Plank delivers one of my favorite performances in the movie as Dugan, and he is one of the actors who worked the most after The In Crowd. I was sad to find out he died in a road accident in 2002.

The only movie I've seen Plank in is The In Crowd. I'd like to see more of his acting. He's great as Dugan, everything about his performance just works perfectly.

The In Crowd seems to have been under-seen and under-appreciated, but thanks to Priscilla I have seen it, even though I was nearly thirty years late to the party, and now I have appreciation for it. I hope whatever is holding it back from getting an updated home video release will be worked out so more people will be able to see this momentous movie.

I grew up watching The In Crowd. My VHS tape was recorded off of a video store tape by my dad, and I remember bringing it to my friends' place and watching it with them at a very young age. We'd have the best time watching, and even trying to dance like they were doing in the movie. We weren't even 10 years old, and we all had crushes on either Del or Dugan. So, The In Crowd has always been dear to me, and it's definitely one of my most watched movies. I still can't go too long without giving it a rewatch. I think it's a fun movie, with a nice message...one that says you're never too young to know the true meaning of love, which means you would do just about anything to make sure that the person you love is happy.

3 comments:

  1. You just made my day. First, thank you both for writing this. It's great.

    I was a young carpenter on the scenic crew that built sets for this movie in the summer of 1986.

    I had a hand in building Del's living room, and well remember my puzzlement at why the posts at either end of the low wall behind the TV set had to spin. (I soon learned.) Also built the Dance Party set, which involved several of us on the crew taking a trip to vacant former studio where the real American Bandstand was recorded to take its measurements. (The Dance Party set is an almost exact re-creation of the AB studio.)

    Another fun memory is watching the filming of two dance numbers -- 'Shake a Tail Feather' and 'Mickey's Monkey' -- from a catwalk above the soundstage.

    When the movie came out, I thought it was the worst movie I'd ever seen. (If you look closely during one scene in Del's living room -- can't remember which one -- a boom microphone enters the frame from the top of the screen.) But over the intervening 30 years I have come to realize what an under-appreciated gem it is -- now even more so after reading this post.

    Thanks again for writing this. Loved it.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for the comment and the stories from behind the scenes! It's truly awesome to know that someone who worked on the film has read our article.

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  2. thanks so much for this article. i first saw the In Crowd around 1995 and it quickly became a favorite. at that time i was just getting into early 60s r&b, soul, and rock, and was also getting familiarized with philadelphia via a long distance relationship with a guy from south jersey. this movie sort of compounded my love for that city, music, style and era, and i have been watching it ever since. eventually i moved to that area for about 6 years, where it was occasionally shown on local tv (must be a cult fave there).
    i used to visit Val Shively's R&B records in Upper Darby, not far from the Tower theatre where Perry Parker's show was supposed to have broadcast from, to buy records of songs from the movie like tina britt's "the real thing". now, like you, i can just download them from the internet. there are places in the philly region where that style of dancing is still alive and well, parties hosted at various venues by local djs like bob pantano and "the geator" - jery blavat - whom perry parker was based on.
    anyway
    again, just wanted to thank a fellow in crowd fan and say hey. :)
    ...liz moreland in illinois.

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