Bite Size: The Mini-Skirt Mob (1968)

Maury Dexter was a reliable low budget journeyman, churning out cheap B features throughout the 60s, ranging from westerns(The Purple Hills) to sci fi (The Day Mars Invaded Earth) to anti drug cautionary tales (Maryjane). 1968’s The Mini-Skirt Mob was the first of his two attempts to cash in on the biker film trend cycle.

Shayne (former Warner Brothers ingenue Diane McBain) is the blonde bouffant sporting queen bee of a biker gang who proudly proclaim themselves “The Mini-Skirts”. Far from an actual mob, the gang is your standard bunch of mildly colorful characters, and their weaker minded hangers on. Shayne’s kid sister Edie (Oscar nominee Patty McCormack, who also sings the film’s theme song) is mostly just along for the thrill of the ride. You could say the same for second banana Lon (Jeremy Slate) and hillbilly caricature Spook (Harry Dean Stanton, in a character role even his considerable talents can’t save). It’s just that in their case, it’s the girls of the group they are hoping to mount.

When champion rodeo rider Jeff Logan (Ross Hagen, The Sidehackers) has the unmitigated gall to marry someone else, Shayne doesn’t take it very well. No man walks out on her, let alone to marry a boring brunette bank teller (Sherry Jackson). She gathers her gang and hatches a plan to terrorize the newlyweds on their honeymoon. If she can’t have Jeff, nobody can.

The premise has promise, and the first 15 minutes or so have a nice diet Russ Meyer vibe, all groovy open air parties, revving engines, catfights and big hair. The score is appropriately groovy, there’s some nice panoramas of the high desert, and the gang’s kicky minis and matching jacket ensembles rival Psychomania for schlock moments of speed demon sartorial acumen. However, the plot pretty quickly swerves into an attempt at grim, and it all fizzles into a talky melodrama that lacks any real stakes.

Who’s afraid of Anne Welles in biker babe drag? Why are both of the supposedly sympathetic characters (Jeff and his new bride Connie) weak, whiny and so easily overpowered? What do two beautiful women see in the rather cowardly lion Jeff that is worth a battle to the death?

It doesn’t help that Diane McBain is decidedly miscast. Her specialty was society girls and spoiled brats, not hard bitten blondes who escalate from nuisance to attempted murder faster than their followers can finish a beer. There’s not enough menace or sensuality to her performance to make us believe this group is so game to go along with her increasingly violent plans, or stay willfully ignorant of her selfish motives. Combined with the hair helmet, her habit of calling everyone “sweets” is less gang girl than mod diner waitress.

Patty McCormack fares a bit better as Edie, though she’s obviously meant to be the conscience of the group, so the first two thirds of the film give her little to do aside from look lovely and meekly nag. When she finally gets to do some shooting and seducing for a good cause in the final act, it genuinely seems the actresses cast in the two main roles ought to have been reversed.

As for the gang’s male hangers on? The less said about any of them, the better. The trio of guys may as well be named plot devices one through three, distinguishable only because one dies, one is a comic book hick, and the third has no other role that to be Shayne’s latest sexually frustrated lackey.

The Mini-Skirt Mob seems like it was trying to hedge its bets. There’s just enough exploitation elements to boost ticket sales, but the actual film is clearly trying not to go too far in bucking mainstream sensibilities. For a film about a hard living, fast riding bike gang, The Mini-Skirt Mob doesn’t ever really put its foot on the gas and shift out of neutral.