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Car-Sploitation Movie Spotlight: ‘Daddy-O’ (1958)

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A classic Cadillac with an air of mystery
Do you smell teen spirit? I certainly do…
Photo: Pixabay via CC

There’s no shortage of car-themed movies in the world. In fact, some of the earliest footage ever shot over 130 years ago involved cars and other vehicles. As cinema has evolved, so has the use of cars in film, with some results being better than others. And when a car movie hits that perfect balance between low-budget badness and cheesy enjoyment, it officially becomes an exploitation flick. Or, for our purposes, a “car-sploitation” flick. This spotlight will focus on one of the earliest films that fits this description: 1958’s Daddy-O.

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Reviewing ‘Daddy-O’

The 1950s was the decade in which teenagers became a legitimate demographic. Movies aimed at — and starring — young people were pumped out at a quick pace. These cheap flicks had everything a 50s teen could want: rock and roll, romance, the occasional giant bug, and of course, fast cars.

Enter Daddy-O, a musical teen-centric comedy that offered pretty much everything on the aforementioned list except the giant bugs. The film, produced on an ultra-low budget, told the story of a hip teenage hunk named Phil “Daddy-O” Sandifer, who drives trucks by day and belts out rock tunes by night. Phil, played by B-movie actor and musician Dick Contino, is an upstanding guy with a big heart, and while he enjoys the occasional road race, he’s always careful to follow the rules of the road.

Unfortunately for Phil, one particular race goes awry when his friend’s car swerves off the road, taking his life. Despite being innocent, Phil is reprimanded by the police and stripped of his license. Unable to continue driving trucks, he takes a singing gig at a shady night club. When Phil gets suspicious of his new employer, he teams up with a spunky racer named Jana to uncover the truth behind his friend’s death and clear his name.

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Despite its low budget, Daddy-O is an energetic and enjoyable watch. Its fast cars and catchy soundtrack make it an entertaining time capsule to the 50s, and car enthusiasts will no doubt have fun picking out all the classic models. And speaking of the soundtrack, here’s a bit of trivia: this was the first film scored by the legendary John Williams! So, if you ever wondered what he was up to 19 years before Star Wars, now you know.