John Ervin: An ungodly hour in “Mad Men”-ville


On Wednesday, Oct 1. the world premiere of my latest feature film “The Tiki War” will take place at the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival at Saint Anthony Main Theaters. The following Thursday, Oct 9, I will hold the Chicago premiere of “The Tiki War”, which happens to be set in that fabled city, at the Landmark Century Centre CInema. Both of these events take place at respectable theater-going hours, 5 pm and 7 pm, respectively, unlike the ones that take place in the movie itself … 3 a.m., Thursday, January 19, 1961.

This is a Community Voices submission and is moderated but not edited. The opinions expressed by Community Voices contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the TC Daily Planet.

The Chicago of “The Tiki War” is the one just prior to the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. It is also several years deep into the twenty-one year mayoral reign of Richard J. Daley, Sr. Memories of Al Capone and the bloody playground he and his rivals turned the city into still linger for the characters who make up this Minneapolis-shot film noir. More immediate are memories of the days when Havana, Cuba was a free-for-all for the mob and for Americans seeking pelvic-oriented thrills not available in the states.

Stan Ridgeway (Guy Messenger) and Ray Conniff (Scott Carson) are co-owners of The Tiki Room, the downtown Chicago club where the film’s bullet-riddled confrontations and drug-fueled deceptions take place. Before opening this dining, drinking and entertainment venue with his fellow veteran from the Korean War, Ray enjoyed several lucrative years shipping rum between the US and Cuba for a Santiago distillery run by a mob kingpin, Don Valdez (David Perlman). Valdez, who had to move his operations to Florida after Castro took over, is on his way over to Chicago to visit the club for the first time within a matter of hours.

Another character with connections to the island – and many other territories – is Ruby Delgado (Helen Chorolec) who runs a nearby rival night spot, The Cha. She arrives at The Tiki Room at this ungodly hour to pick up her house pianist and fiance, Dominic Frontiere (Steve Wothe). Ruby is the widow of another Cuban mob kingpin, Eddie Delgado, and also had to flee the island after Castro’s “bearded, beatnik Commie vermin” ended the party. Consequently, she is determined to lead an invasion to make the country safe for all-night gambling and live sex shows. As it happens, she is close friends with the incoming US President, whose inauguration the following day she and Dominic are scheduled to attend, and whose plot to invade the former adult playground JFK has revealed to her.

Dominic, however, barges into The Tiki Room for reasons that have nothing to do with politics or entertainment. He has come to save Dionne Belmont (Rachel Grubb), house singer at The Cha, and the lover he is plotting with to kill Ruby after he marries her and inherits her fortune. Dionne, in turn, has come to pick up her latest stash of heroin from her dealer, Ray Conniff. Ray has been keeping the struggling Tiki Room afloat by dealing drugs as well as pimping out the waitresses to high-paying customers. These are skills he acquired not in Cuba, but during his service with Stan during the Korean War.

I, as Tiki War Correspondent for TC Daily Planet – and director of the film in question – was inspired by many consequential real-life events to write this screenplay, which I originally wrote as a live show for the 2010 Minnesota Fringe Festival. I also wanted to pay tribute to film noir classics of the 1950’s and 1960’s, such as “The Asphalt Jungle”, “The Man With The Golden Arm”, the original “Ocean’s 11”, and the inspired B-movies of director Sam Fuller. And let’s not forget the more recent phenomenon called “Mad Men”.

The music of “The TIki War” is influenced in large part by KFAI FM’s Jet Set Planet which features Rat Packers, jazz masters and easy-listening hacks from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. This Friday-night playback also spins vynil by Xavier Cugat, Perez Prado and other favorites of Batista-era Havana show rooms. The swinging sounds that fill the soundtrack of “The Tiki War” are highly reminiscent of Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. The Red Dragon, a Minneapolis restaurant and bar where the film was shot last February, sports Polynesian decor and furnishings from the 1950’s that would be at home in mob-soaked Chicago or even mob-ruled Havana.

So if you happen to be in Minneapolis on Oct 1 or Chicago on Oct 9, check out one of the premieres of “The Tiki War”. You may not agree with my feature film’s strange (read: fictitious) spin on recent history, but you gotta love the tuxes, gowns, tropical decor, Naugahyde booths and smokin’ jazz that make it swing!

For more information on these and future screenings of “The Tiki War” go to