Ivy League Killers (1959)

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A rare Canadian noir set among bikers and their molls!
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vt The Fast Ones
Canada / 68 minutes / bw / Ivy League Dir: William Davidson Pr: Norman Klenman, William Davidson Scr: Norman Klenman Cine: William H. Gimmi Cast: Don Borisenko, Don Francks, Barbara Bricker, George Carron, Jean Templeton, Patrick Desmond, Barry Lavender, Igors Gavon, Art Jenoff, John Ringham, John Paris, Gertrude Tyas, Jack Blacklock, Boyd Jackson & The Black Diamond Riders.

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Apparently the producers of Ivy League Killers, Norman Klenman and William Davidson, were eager to establish a commercially successful movie industry in Canada, and so they rather cynically tailored this teen melodrama as an attempt to cash in on the US fad, begun with movies like Rebel Without a Cause (1955), for dramas featuring juvenile delinquents. Whatever their motives, Klenman and Davidson succeeded in creating, out of a minuscule budget and a group of unknown actors, a movie that is actually rather fine, and one that could quite reasonably be considered a film noir.

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Nancy (Jean Templeton) and Don (Don Borisenko) in the face-off with the rich kids.

Four rich kids in posh sports cars—Susan Grey (Bricker), Andy (Francks), Charlie (Desmond) and Bertie (Lavender)—exchange words with a biker gang, the Black Diamond Riders, led by Don Gibson (Borisenko). Andy, the leader of the posh kids, is pretty rude to the bikers, and Don is rather reluctantly goaded by his jittery deputy, Bruno (Carron), into running the sports cars off the road.

The dimwitted Charlie and the unstable Bertie are Andy’s sycophants, willing to do whatever he tells them. They’re not even shaken in their loyalty by the knowledge that he kinda maybe coulda drowned “that waitress in Florida” when she’d outlived her sexual usefulness—to the contrary, they’re impressed by this as a demonstration of his Leopold-and-Loeb-style toughness. But Susan, whom Andy has considered his subservient girlfriend, is a freer spirit. She goes after—and gets—Don, much to Andy’s psycho fury.

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Andy (Don Francks) struggles to face the fact that he may have lost Susan.

Don’s girlfriend Nancy (Templeton) is not exactly delighted either; the longish scene as Don and Nancy admit to each other that their relationship is breaking up is very sensitively handled, and the emotional highlight of the movie.

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Nancy (Jean Templeton) and Don (Don Borisenko) quietly break up . . .

Nancy soon pairs off instead with Bruno, who plans to take over not just Don’s girl but his leadership of the Black Diamonds.

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. . . and so Bruno (George Carron) and Nancy (Jean Templeton) promptly become an item.

Obsessed with revenge, Andy devises a scheme whereby he and his two cronies, disguised as Black Diamonds, will rob the Palace Pier Dance Hall of its night’s takings at a time when the real Diamonds will be having a private beach party and thus lack an alibi; Don will surely be arrested for the crime, and thereby separated from Susan by prison bars. The plan goes without a hitch except that Andy runs over and fatally injures a parking-lot attendant, Daniel Taylor (uncredited), while making his getaway. All the better, Andy seems to think on learning of Taylor’s death, for making sure Don gets put away for a long time.

ivy-league-killers-5-l-to-r-bertie-andy-and-charlie-in-biker-guise-at-the-pier-palace-dance-hall

From left to right, Bertie (Barry Lavender), Andy (Don Francks) and Charlie (Patrick Desmond) in biker guise at the Pier Palace Dance Hall.

Susan overhears the three “Ivy League killers” talking about their cleverness and starts a train of events that climaxes in the killers preparing to drive a truck containing all the incriminating evidence of their crime—including a captured Susan—off a high clifftop. No prizes for guessing that it’s Don, with the cops in hot pursuit of him, who saves Susan in the nick of time.

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Susan (Barbara Bricker) tries to persuade Don (Don Borisenko) that he’s in danger.

The only cast member here who ever became remotely a household name was Don Francks, whose many credits included playing Nikita’s devoted friend Walter in all 96 episodes of the TV series La Femme Nikita (1997–2001). Probably his most famous big-screen role was as Woody Mahoney in Finian’s Rainbow (1968). After a really rather remarkable life—among other things, for his activism he was honored by being made an honorary Cree—he died in April 2016.

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Don Borisenko in moody mode as biker Don.

Don Borisenko, adenoidally cool with a capital K here as the biker leader, became known as Canada’s James Dean, but his career never really took off. Barbara Bricker impresses as the girl who wants to rebel against her life of privilege—even though, because of her fashionably tight skirts, Susan has to ride sidesaddle on the back of Don’s bike!—but was another to have only a modest screen career. One of her two husbands was (for a matter of months) William Campbell; after their divorce, she acted with him in Night of Evil (1962), a movie that I hope to tackle here soon. Similarly Jean Templeton, who played the heart-stopping Nancy in the current movie, didn’t have much of a screen career before her early death in 1978.

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Barbara Bricker as Susan.

The Black Diamond Riders, portrayed in Ivy League Killers as being, like, all black leather jackets and improbably beautiful chicks in improbably unflattering pants, was a genuine biker gang. The gang cooperated in the making of this movie, and several of the riders appear in supporting roles.

Aside from the fact that it’s a neatly made, very watchable piece of borderline noir that builds up to a gratifyingly tense climax, Ivy League Killers has some interest as a social document. The juke joint where the bikers hang out, overseen by the unflappable Champ (Jenoff), serves saucily risqué drinks like ginger ale . . . and you know what your mom said about ginger ale. Unusually for the era, in this movie it’s the rich, educated kids who’re the baddies, and implicitly racist with it, while the untutored bikers—or at least some of them—are, despite their obvious flaws, on the side of good. The movie’s two songs, written and performed by Igors Gavon—an artist of whom I confess I had not heard—are called “Get Hep” and “Easy Rider,” titles that in themselves convey a slice of social history.

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Igors Gavon sings.

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Each month Rich Westwood hosts “Crimes of the Century” at his Past Offences blog, and the year chosen for coverage in January 2017 is 1959. (Go here for more information.) This is my humble contribution to that doughty effort.

It could also be considered as a sort of dress rehearsal for the imminent O Canada Blogathon, to be hosted in about three weeks’ time by Silver Screenings  and Speakeasy. (Go here for more information, or click on the image below.) My own contribution to that blogathon will be appearing here in due course.

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5 thoughts on “Ivy League Killers (1959)

    • Good point — although, to be fair, it was me who pinpointed them as teens rather than the movie itself. That said, there are lot of indications in the movie that these are kids — say 21 years old max — and Bruno in particular looks, as you say, mid-30s. The women could certainly be 18 or 19.

  1. Yes indeedy! This is an excellent dress rehearsal for the O Canada blogathon. And it sounds like an intriguing film besides. I see a copy of it is available on YouTube.

    Just wondering if Don Francks year of death should be changed to 2016…?

    • Just wondering if Don Francks year of death should be changed to 2016…?

      How tentatively put, Ruth! I think you may just possibly, very possibly, be right. I guess it shows I’m still living in the previous century . . .

      Many thanks for picking that up!

  2. Pingback: ‘The admiration that existed for all things American’: 1959 books | Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

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