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Psych Out (1968)

Psychout “They’ll ask for a dime with hungry eyes, but they’ll give you love for nothing!” ran the sensational blurb on its release. Psych Out was easily the most successful movie depicting San Francisco during the legendary “Summer of Love” although lets not get too excited here.

While the world watched on in varying degrees of intrigue at the antics of the love generation, few filmmakers ventured out to catch the lightning on Haight Ashbury’s streets, leaving Psych Out as the sole dramatisation of the period. Psych Out’s producer, TV pop impresario Dick Clark, was evidently keeping a watchful eye on the hippy phenomena, and despite his Hollywood leanings, he managed to lift a sizeable chunk of ambience from the hippy hangouts of San Francisco.

The cast took a young Jack Nicholson, by then on the cusp of moving from Biker B-flicks to the mainstream, and Susan Strasberg, whose innocent beauty was enough to secure a fair amount of love interest on screen. The plot concerns Strasberg’s deaf alter ego arriving in town in search of her renegade brother. With nowhere to stay, she’s picked up by Nicholson and his band of musos, who act as her guide and mentor around San Francisco. With her elusive brother playing an intricate game of hide and seek, she ends up being dosed with STP, a concoction known to fry even the wackiest of brains. Although this all might sound a trifle sensationalist, there’s little to offend here.

AIP, the film’s producing agent, had been badly burned after their previous effort, The Trip, ran into all manner of problems with the censors due to its veiled promotion of LSD. As a result, Psych Out held back on any obvious drug promotion or slap and tickle. Visually, there’s fair bit of visual vox pop from the Haight, while The Seeds and Strawberry Alarm Clock offer up some psychedelic intrigue for the soundtrack. Within a year, Nicholson would lift off into stardom, leaving behind the likes of Psych Out to be picked over by historians of the period.

(c) Simon Wells 2007

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