SLIFF 2015 Review : ARCHIE’S BETTY
Here’s an idea that many kids (and adults) dearly wanted (or still want) to do. I’m talking about having such a love of literary characters, that you believe that you could actually visit their homes and towns. For fans of famous prose novels there might be a desire to go to Narnia, Oz, or Middle Earth. DC comics fans would love to live or work in Metropolis or Gotham City (Marvel superhero lovers quickly discover that the actual NYC isn’t filled with Avengers and mutants). Ah, then reality kicks in and we realize that these locales can only exist in our daydreams. But what happens when you hear rumors of a real place that inspired your favorite comics line. This is what happened to film critic and historian Gerald Peary. In his youth he didn’t gravitate toward the spandex crowd, rather he was smitten with Archie Andrews, along with his pals Jughead, Moose, and Reggie. And he was especially with the other two sides of Archie’s eternal “love triangle”, raven-haired rich gal Veronica and fresh-scrubbed blonde next door Betty. They’ve been having adventures in the little idyllic town of Riverdale for nearly 75 years now. Peary decided to follow up on rumors that it was based on an actual town, Haverhill, MA to be exact. As narrator of this entertaining documentary, he relates the story of cartoonist Bob Montana (source of some controversy-many believe he created the Archie feature, while the company insists that its founder John Goldwater come up with the concept) and how he fell in love with the town and high school, though only having lived there a few years. Peary and an Archie expert comb through high school yearbooks, newspaper clippings and the classic comic books and comic strips like a pop culture Holmes and Watson unraveling a mystery. Though Mr. Andrews was a print media hybrid of teen Henry of “The Aldrich Family” radio show and Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy in MGM’s popular feature film series, that ginger lad is all East Coaster. Many of the comics models are tracked down (there’s an old video interview with the real “Moose”), but the surprising reveal of the title “four-color” queen makes for a heart-warming finale.
Peary makes for an entertaining guide through this quaint little town and the journey of this freckle-faced funster first appearing as a humor filler in publisher MLJ’s mostly action hero anthology “Pep Comics” into a media juggernaut that would ultimately take over the name of the company (MLJ became Archie Comics). There’s a lots of original art and classic (very valuable) books plus the merchandising: fashions, toys, a radio show, and a live-action TV movie (little mention though of the smash hit 1968 CBS Saturday morning show produced by Filmation Studios that registered Super Bowl-like ratings numbers and spawned the number one hit record “Sugar Sugar”). ARCHIE’S BETTY is a touching, whimsical ode to a bygone era and a tribute to the folks that created and inspired America’s favorite bunch of immortal ageless teens.
ARCHIE’S BETTY screens at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Theatre on Sunday, November 15 at noon as part of the 24th Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival. Purchase tickets here