NEXT EPISODE: THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD COMMENTARY TRACK!
The legend of Roger Corman could be entirely summed up by the 50-plus years longevity of The Little Shop of Horrors, a film shot under the most chintzy of circumstances which has nonetheless lived on as a musical adaptation and as a perennial staple of cult horror-comedy. What’s odd is how despite being made by his usual gang of misfits and dope addicts, it’s a real oddity in his oeuvre as a producer because he so seldom made comedies. Charles B. Griffith’s screenplay for Little Shop, however, is arguably one of the greatest comedy screenplays ever written and Corman’s few other dark comedies – A Bucket of Blood and Gas-s-s-s are quite excellent. Obviously he preferred more financially reliable b-movie genres, which is our loss.
It’s easy to take a movie like Little Shop of Horrors for granted, but as we discuss in this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, irreverent and even mildly “tasteless” humor was in pretty short supply when the film was made and Griffith’s particular brand of weirdo Beatnik by-way-of Borscht Belt humor is a pretty singular achievement. The film has a unique voice and rather than feeling cramped and slapdash by the nonexistent budget, its comedy feels intimate and casual – which is to say, its flaws become its strengths and that’s the surefire miracle which redeems any film of limited means. The weirdest moments concerning the talking plant Audrey Jr, the sadistic dentist Dr. Farb and a deadpan-ad-absurdum parody of Dragnet have an integrity and conviction which wouldn’t have been present in a more polished film. Little Shop of Horrors paved the way for dozens of weird horror-comedies over the years; its influence can be felt from Spider Baby to Basket Case to less overtly “horror” type comedies that are seemingly populated by genuine crazies – like the films of John Waters or Alex Cox’s immortal Repo Man.
Of course, for a lot of people the only noteworthy thing about Little Shop of Horrors is that it features one of Jack Nicholson’s earliest, and most twisted roles as a masochistic dental patient named Wilbur Force. His two minute scene is certainly the most important part of the film to home video distributors, who were all to glad to trick unsuspecting consumers into thinking he starred as Seymour Krerlboine.
A lame ripoff of the Addams Family theme begins the 1973 Little Shop cash-in Please Don’t Eat My Mother, which is of all things a pornographic remake. Unlike your straightforward pornographic parody film, PDEMM straddles an uncomfortable line between being awful soft porn and simply an unfunny remake of Little Shop. Amazingly, there’s enough resemblance to the original film to strongly suggest that Carl Monson (or at least the writer) was a genuine fan of the Corman movie. Unfortunately everything run through the ringer of Please Don’t Eat My Mother comes out with a filmy, sludgy residue from which no entertainment value can be wrung, let alone titillation.
NEXT EPISODE: SAINT VALENTINES DAY (MASSACRE) SPECIAL! THE ST. VALENTINES DAY MASSACRE (1967, ROGER CORMAN) / SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959, BILLY WILDER)
Have you heard the news, makin’ all the headlines? An Alan Smithee Podcast is workin’ overtime, going bit by bit one way or another and diggin’ into the Chevy Chase quasi-classic Fletch…and its fully reprehensible sequel Fletch Lives.
Chevy Chase’s detractors have always had their work cut out for them: the diminishing returns of the Vacation franchise, the many starring roles he bombed in (Under the Rainbow, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Cops and Robbersons) the five fabulous weeks of The Chevy Chase Show…Chase’s fans, however, are usually split on which was his more successful comedy persona: the smart-alec lothario or the doofy husband. Fans of the latter are stronger proponents of Vacation and Funny Farm while fans of the latter gravitate towards his Weekend Update run on Saturday Night Live or role in the ensemble of Caddyshack as his best work. For fans of the latter, Fletch may well be the apex of his career. For 90-some minutes he dryly narrates, wisecracks and plays dumb through a story that’s rooted in the mystery genre just enough to take seriously, but with a tone that’s lighthearted enough to work perfectly as carefree entertainment. It was all downhill after this for Chase, as every subsequent film and appearance felt like an impossible attempt to meld the smarmy and the bourgeoisie sides of himself into something for everybody.
Fletch actually has a shelf life beyond fans of casual or hardcore fans Chevy Chase. In the nearly 30 years since its release, obsessing on the film’s wealth of quips and one-liners has become a calling and a joke onto itself. This blurb from The Onion in 1999 describes an Area Insurance Salesman celebrating his 14th year of quoting Fletch:
Cutler, who also goes by the name “Dr. Rosenrosen,” dead-panned, “Never mind, just bring me a cup of hot fat and the head of Alfredo Garcia.”
This possibly inspired the New York Post to write an actual short piece about Fletch fandom just a few months later, with some keen insights as to its durability from its makers:
Chase thinks that the movie continues to appeal to college students because of “the cheekiness of the guy … everybody at that age would like to be as quick-witted as Fletch, and as uncaring about what others think.”
The same glowing article also ends with a withering comment from screenwriter Andrew Bergman, however, summing up how Chevy and Michael Ritchie screwed the pooch four years later:
Bergman says that if Chase “hadn’t screwed up the second one, he could have been Clouseau – he could have done that part forever.”
“The second one” is of course Fletch Lives, one of the most execrable bad comedy sequels we’ve ever viewed for An Alan Smithee Podcast – even worse than Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise. The problems are so myriad that it would take less time to describe what the film does right – like casting Chevy Chase again – but those were some bad four years in between and even that decision is debatable. The world got one more Harold Faltemeyer score, and Hal Holbrook got a paycheck, but was it worth it? To quote yet another newspaper on this would-be news reporter comedy franchise, Vincent Canby got it exactly right in his New York Times review:
“Fletch Lives looks less like Fletch 2…than Fletch 7, the bitter end of a worn-out series.”
Ten years after Fletch Lives there was serious talk from Kevin Smith about relaunching Fletch with Jason Lee as the young Irwin Fletcher, and possibly Chase narrating the tale in flashback – a prequel based on Gregory MacDonald’s prequel novel Fletch Won (Won/One, geddit?) The project has changed hands on the writing, directing and starring fronts a half-dozen times since then, with everyone from Ben Affleck to Zach Braff to Dave Chappelle(!) being considered. Another ten years after the first rumblings for the return of the wisecracking reporter, any news that Fletch will, indeed, live another day still seems rather unlikely. Why? BECAUSE FLETCH LIVES WAS THAT HORRIBLE. A very informative Entertainment Weekly article outlines the whole sordid saga here.
NEXT EPISODE: THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960, ROGER CORMAN) & PLEASE DON’T EAT MY MOTHER (1973, CARL J. MONSON)
The Blues Brothers is one of the great all-time overrated “great” ideas (and movies) of all time. Andrew and I wanted to like it, truly we did, but even if the gulf between overhyped expectations and the film itself weren’t so yawningly wide, there’s nothing but sheer scale to recommend – the amount of music, the amount of stunts, the multitudes of wasted cast members – all of which were compiled along the edict of “more is more.” In this way John Landis was somewhat visionary towards the way the film was developing in the new decade of the 80s. The Blues Brothers is the terrible poverty of imagination heralded by “Star Wars,” applied to a non-fantasy film, and to a comedy about “blues men” for heavens’ sake – historically the salt of the Earth. This is a bad live action cartoon before the second dialogue scene has elapsed.
“The Blues Brothers” aren’t real characters; they’re a premise conceived so two white comedians got to do live Karaoke of old music they like. Nothing wrong with that, but expanding that nothing premise into a two-plus hour film is, let’s say, overconfident. This hasn’t stopped any film based on a Saturday Night Live sketch since, which is another grievance to hold against Messrs. Ackroyd, Belushi and Landis. To cover up the lack of content – they don’t even bother developing Elwood and Jake Blues into anything but two dimensional caricatures – there are endless guest stars in every scene, and where there aren’t guest stars, there are explosions and car chases courtesy of Landis, who at this point was still at least two years away from the day his lack of talent killed three.
The wholly superficial nature of the film, with its repeated catchphrases (“We’re on a mission from God” does not does not get any funnier the tenth time), repeated music cues (the Peter Gunn theme is admittedly catchy) and stunts for their own sake are all supposed to be offset by egomaniacal reason behind the film’s creaction: to “re-focus attention” on blues music (as Landis phrased it on the eve of its 25th anniversary.) Ah, the White hipster’s burden; bringing black culture to other, less cool white people than yourself. These delusional jerks actually thought James Brown and Aretha Franklin wouldn’t sell enough white tickets if Landis hadn’t poorly directed cameos for them.
By perpetuating this farce with the lesser (Jim) Belushi after the latter Belushi left this unhip coil, Ackroyd was just as much to blame for the excruciating continuance of the Chicago-deep-dish-style White-guy-”Blues” movement. In the late 90s, after probably his first exhaustively failed attempt to spearhead “Ghostbusters 3″, he resorted to the maybe the feeblest nostalgia cash-in in movie history: Blues Brothers 2000, a 20th anniversary sequel made two years too early and with even less goodwill than if they’d attempted to remake the original film tomorrow. Which, come to think of it, ought to be any day now.
“Blues Brothers 2000″ is every bit as pointless, poorly made, and frantically stocked with guest stars and musicians to mask the pointlessness – except Landis and Ackroyd no longer have even the reckless confidence of youth at their backs.
Sacred cows AND dead horses get what’s coming to them in this highly iconoclastic episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast.
NEXT EPISODE: GODZILLA SPECIAL! GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956, ISHIRO HONDA & TERRY MORSE) / GODZILLA (1998, ROLAND EMMERICH)
Regular listeners of An Alan Smithee Podcast know that we’re pretty shameless when it comes to being topical. When your movie podcast is basically about whatever the hell movies you feel like talking about, you have to be a little topically trendy to catch new listeners. However, don’t assume that this episode’s choice of Nora Ephron’s worst movie (probably) was chosen to dishonor her memory. This is mere coincidence and frankly, we do a fine enough job dishonoring her memory with ad hominem insults (mostly mine, Andrew has class) when we were under the assumption she’d live at least another week or so.
In deference towards Ephron’s M.O. – after the fact – let’s say this episode is sort of about feminism, vis-a-vis the short niche history of romantic farces about women with magic powers and the zany predicaments they put their men into. On stage and screen the concept doesn’t date back much further than Noël Coward’s play Blithe Spirit, in which a séance brings back the ghost of a man’s nagging wife. This play was only produced a year before the 1942 film I Married A Witch, surely one of the most famous romantic comedy fantasies that people know by name without having watched. As a key work in her career’s meteoric rise and fall, Veronica Lake plays heavily into that as the titular witch. In the long run, the film begat Bell, Book and Candle (1958), with Kim Novak as another romantic trickster witch, which then begat the TV series Bewtiched in 1964.
I Married A Witch is a devious, playful and tart treat. Veronica Lake is not an innocent sugar cookie like Elizabeth Montgomery, initially intending to torment rather than marry the hapless Fredric March until literally falling in love with him by accident. The story and dialogue are as brisk and witty as any great screwball classic from Hollywood’s golden age and director Clair, who began in the silent era, devises a good deal of photographic tricks and practical effects to bring the magical elements to life. The battle of the sexes at play here carries a lot more weight than the Grant-Hepburn variety, as essentially March’s soul is on the line. Only March’s bitchy fiancé Susan Hayward makes Lake look likable by comparison, which doesn’t exactly present the ideal picture of womanhood between the two of them. They are both STRONG women, however, which is less than can be said for the women in the bad movie of this episode…
Bewitched is, without hyperbole, a failure on every conceivable level. Worse, one wonders what dramatic or comedic purposes Nora Ephron and her co-writer sister Delia Ephron even had in mind. A Marxist critic in 1942 would probably hate our being asked to identify with an opportunistic politician of family money and connections; Frederic March is running for governor and that’s not exactly necessary for the story of his love triangle between a cold fish and a Satanic nymph. However, only a commoner with no ability for class critique whatsoever could stomach, let alone enjoy the sucking vortex of insulated world views that comprise the scenario of Bewitched 2005. Forget for a moment that literally not a single character in this film is not rich, famous or endowed with magical powers. Could the meta-story of a Bewitched movie being about the remaking of the Bewitched TV show possibly be any more unnecessarily convoluted? Exactly what aspect of this plot could anyone possibly relate to?
Here’s the only corpse kicking that needs to be done: Nora and Delia Ephron wrote a story in which the unlimited powers of witch Nicole Kidman and her warlock father Michael Caine are unconsciously represent the privileged life they grew up in. Mister and Mrs. Ephron were East Coast professional screenwriters who moved lil’ Nora and Delia (those NAMES, good gravy!) to Beverly Hills as small children, where they proceeded to graduate from Beverly Hills High School. Afterwards, Nora fled back across flyover country to one of the most snobby elitist schools in America, Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She then interned at the JFK White House, presumably performing executive maintenance functions alongside Mimi Beardsley. After starting her career as an essayist, she married Carl Bernstein and divorced him before finally following in mom and dad’s footsteps as a screenwriter. She then defined the modern brainless-in-Seattle rom-com chick-flick with When Harry Met Sally and, yes, Sleepless In Seattle. Phillip Wylie, Robert Crumb and Rush Limbaugh combined couldn’t conceive a more exaggerated parody of a liberal feminist Jewess than this woman’s life.
In Bewitched, Nicole Kidman wants the execrable Will Ferrell to love her LITERALLY because he’s a “helpless” dope and as a super-powered witch dabbling in civilian life, any helpless dope will do – even if he’s a movie star. After using her magic powers to conjure a home worth millions in Los Angeles, she resolves not to use her powers to make Ferrell fall in love with her, except she changes her mind about that, twice. Ferrell and his Hollywood ilk in this film are vulgar Hollywood stereotypes, not like those sophisticated and literate New Yorkers who agree to write the scripts for meta-remakes of 1960s sitcoms. So far as Ephron’s feminist street cred, Kidman’s utter lack of personality whatsoever should posthumously wipe the record clean. She’s merely a cipher for Ferrell, whom Ephron presumably had more interest in working with. Arguably the show itself was similarly constructed – with Dick Powell and Dick York getting all the laughs in reaction to Samantha’s antics – except Ferrell doesn’t even know Kidman is a witch until the last 20 minutes of the horrific 101 minute running time. So there’s no farce, and at least Elizabeth Montgomery had some kind of charm.
Presumably, had Bewitched been a hit, Ephron’s version of I Dream of Jeannie would be about Billy Crystal finding a real genie to star on an off-broadway musical remake of the TV show, who then blogs about it on The New York Times Magazine website. Blecchhh.
NEXT EPISODE: SPACE BABE SPECIAL! BARBARELLA (1968, ROGER VADIM) & GALAXINA (1980, WILLIAM SACHS)
In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, we party like its 1985 and try to keep our intellectual hats on – much like the authors of our two films, Real Genius and My Science Project. As discussed in our Revenge of the Nerds episode, there was a formative period in the decade of Reagan towards the social acceptance and respect for geeky, gawky intellectuals, at least so far as they could get down and party like the rest of us. This bra bomb better work, Nerdlinger!
Real Genius has built a considerable reputation as a cult comedy classic, surprisingly so, in that the film was not a financial success at the time and remains relatively unknown today. However, most everyone who has seen one or two scenes of Val Kilmer retains fond memories of his peak comic abilities, cast in the mold of the Bill Murray anarchic-slacker archetype who has ruled movie comedies arguably until present day.
Kilmer represents the best that archetype can be in Real Genius, a smart aleck who is actually smart, loves the ladies, defends the underdogs, and is not opposed to authority per se, but to authority figures like William Atherton who – whaddya know – was also a dickish authority figure in Ghostbusters the year prior.
Real Genius also was ahead of its time to the degree that some of the nerds in the film are quirky in ways that are true to life, rather than possessing cheap sitcom quirk, whether they’re Michelle Meyrink’s OCD nerdette or Robert Prescott as the bully-nerd Kent. Gabriel Jarret’s main character is also a sensitively portrayed wimp, and he probably hates Val Kilmer forever (geddit) for stealing the show and taking center stage on the awful theatrical poster, which misconstrues the film as some kind of madcap yuppie misadventure.
From a smart film pretending to be dumb to vice versa, My Science Project is a film with a lot of confidence and no brains whatsoever to get in the way of Fisher Stevens. Released by Touchstone, the story definitely has a kind of Disney-esque whimsy that could have made an entertaining movie for kids in more competent hands. Unfortunately, writer-director Jonathan R. Betuel of “The Last Starfighter” writing fame (and “Theodore Rex” infamy to come) doesn’t seem to know whom he’s making the movie for, let alone why his own film even needs to exist.
The main characters are high schoolers with less believable personalities than the cast of Saved By The Bell and despite the film’s Ghostbusters inspired poster promising a special effects extravaganza, the titular science project doesn’t begin to go haywire until halfway through the run time. Which means there’s plenty of time for the one-dimensional characters to twiddle their thumbs as Dennis Hopper earns a paycheck and star John Stockwell wishes he were still being chased by Christine.
All this, plus a tyrannosaurus rex (Bethuel really likes dinosaurs), props for the underrated Jonathan Gries (a basement dweller in Real Genius), and serious consideration of how special effects usually hurt comedies rather than help them in this young, fast and scientific episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast.
NEXT EPISODE: SUPERGIRL (1984, JEANNOT SZWARC) AUDIO COMMENTARY TRACK!
This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we return to a magnificent obsession that began with our first good-movie / bad-movie episode, the wonderful world of Mannequin. In keeping with that milestone, this is also our first non-special commentary track. Yes, we just did one for Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 but that was for Christmas and this isn’t for National William Ragsdale Appreciation Month or anything.
The first Mannequin is sort of fondly remembered by pubescent fans of the very non-threatening Andrew McCarthy. What pubescent girl is going to dream of William Ragsdale? This is an important question as the target audience for the McCarthy-less Mannequin Two surely must have been undiscriminating girls being taken by their moms to the Saturday matinee. Or Andrew Wickliffe, whom it turns out was at such a screening in the unholy year of 1991. Even Kim Cattrall knew to stay away from this one, much to the chagrin of Crow T. Robot, since she can always brighten up dark stains on cinema like City Limits or Split Second. Or not.
Among topics discussed in the film’s excruciating 95 minutes are consumerist fantasies, 80s teen heartthrobs, Comedy Central’s movie programming in the 1990s, the city of Kill-adelphia, the awful filmography of Stewart Raffill, Meshach Taylor’s courageous portrayal of African-American Homosexual-American “Hollywood” Montrose, Terry Kiser’s awfulness, real dolls, the semantics of Two/Too/2 in the titles of unrelated 80s sequels, excising homosexuality through film editing, the lamented career of Zach Galligan, and much much more!
NEXT WEEK: WHIZ KIDS OF 1985 DOUBLE FEATURE! MY SCIENCE PROJECT (1985, JONATHAN R. BETUEL) / REAL GENIUS (1985, MARTHA COOLIDGE)
In the several most recent episodes of An Alan Smithee Podcast, Andrew and myself have agreed to pairings of films that actually made sense. No more pairings of Mannequin 1: Not Yet On The Move and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but rather the clean through-line of Poltergeist with Poltergeist II: The Other Side, or even Roger Rabbit with Cool World. This week’s episode is a dip back into the slough of disparate. You’ll have to forgive us simply because this pairing of titles was too convivial to resist. Most conveniently, The Man Who Knew Too Much is a very darn well made piece of entertainment while The Man Who Knew Too Little is an unmitigated piece of shit. The extended suffix to both of these lengthy titles could have been, “about filmmaking.”
In keeping with the spiring of Hitchcock, I confess the shift in An Alan Smithee podcast’s format was brought about just as much by frustration connecting the themes, ideas or incidental details of unrelated movies in these write-ups as the desire to increase listenership through coherence in discussion. Yet as seems to happen, there’s more in common with two marginally related movies – i.e, they were actual movies that were once made, like The Stranger and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back – than at first glance. The Man Who Knew Too Little is not a parody of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Bill Murray’s vehicle had several arbitrary possibilities for a title bandied about, the most charming of which was probably the official German title, Agent Null Null Nix.
The face of each respective film, Alfred Hitchcock and Bill Murray, were on the precipice of a dark turn. In Hitch’s case, this film and North By Northwest were his last “family entertainment” films, if you’ll pardon the hacky marketing term. The Man Who Knew Too Much even stars a young boy and makes the reunion with his mother (played by Doris Day, ’nuff said) the emotional core of the narrative, even after Jimmy “James” Stewart has finished uselessly chasing the kidnappers. Compare this benignly oedipal comfort food a moment to several of Hitchcock’s next films: the obsessive insanity of Vertigo, the original oedipal slasher Psycho, and The Birds wasn’t exactly family viewing either.
Then there’s the trouble with Billy. A goodly portion of our discussion is devoted to deconstructing Murray since there’s so little to consider within The Man Who Knew Too Little except that it was his last attempt to remain a star in the American comedy mainstream. It’s like when Steve Martin decided early to switch to safe family comedies instead of being funny. In 1998 he starred in Rushmore, which is a great movie but marked the continuing fluctuation between indie™ Oscar bait and godawful paydays like Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. Bill Murray is more popular than ever, even though he’s never been less funny.
Simultaneously and possibly unintentionally by Murray, hipster syndicates anointed him the funniest living man in America and a pop-art icon, like Marilyn Monroe in the hands of Andy Warhol. You’ll hear our conclusions regarding this phenomena, but as you read these words consider the angle that Bill Murray’s deification by hipsters as the greatest comic actor in history rests upon the same film as any normal person’s recollection of Murray – that air thin miracle Ghostbusters – and every hipster wishes they could be Dr. Peter Venkman, a dryly sarcastic and emotionally barren asshole who nonetheless has all the best lines and ultimately gets the girl after her first impression of him is that of a total creep.
NEXT WEEK: MANNEQUIN 2: ON THE MOVE: THE COMMENTARY TRACK!
This may well be the worst episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast since the last worst episode. That alone should make for required listening. We are defeated by overestimating the entertainment value of a Hollywood “legend” whose golden years may not have been all that amusing, even in what is considered to be her best film.
The icon is Mae “Come Up And See Me Sometime” West, and the nominally good film is She Done Him Wrong (1933). By the time we get to the more auspiciously dire swan song Sextette (1978) our spirits are already broken and discussing the not-so-fine art of double entendres becomes insult to injury.
West’s life would probably make a better film than any films of her own. West worked her way up in vaudeville, rebelling against stuffy social bigotry and sexual repression like every other young punk in the 1920s and crafting the stage persona she came to be known for onscreen: a brassy, wisecracking maneater who dominated and manipulated all those around her and constantly joked between the lines about her sexual prowess. This proto-post-feminist shtick was heady stuff for the time, as were her drag queen inspired fashion choices and shimmy-shawobble hip movements inspired by black nightclub dancers.
What’s headier to think of today is that West was thought of as a sexual object of desire and not merely a comedian – which is exactly how she liked it. People come to see her on Vaudeville for the raunchy laughs while her nudity-free act let her revel in skits and songs about her sexual power as a universally irresistible man magnet. She wasn’t the most attractive broad in show business but there wasn’t yet an official middle ground between glamourous and funny women performers. Women weren’t even legally ruled funny by the Supreme Court until 1927. Her breakout Broadway play Diamond Lil was a saucy melodrama set in the “Gay 90s” at the turn of the century, and by the end of the roaring twenties everyone in New York knew of West.
When she arrived in Hollywood, Diamond Lil was prepared for the screen as She Done Him Wrong, much to the consternation of the Hays censorship office who’d already caught wind of West’s reputation. This was a big factor in my urging of the film as West’s “good” movie for Alan Smithee Podcast – if the Hays office hated it, it must be good, right? Joe Bob Briggs even featured it in his book of essays on sexually liberating milestones in film, Profoundly Erotic. I can’t blame him for recognizing the cultural significance of Mae West and her best known work outside of My Little Chickadee with W.C. Fields, but he should have affixed the same warning that he gave Blood Feast in the similar tome Profoundly Disturbing – this film is more fun to talk about than it is to actually watch.
At just over an hour, She Done Him Wrong crawls like a snail. A film so short shouldn’t need musical numbers but there’s almost as much padding as the inside of Mae’s girdle. The story revolves around her headliner status at an 1890s saloon and dancing hall, which means the songs featured were considered kind of corny even in 1933. Mae’s songs are about as sexy as a slow ready of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.”
You can count the number of sets on your hand as the obviously stagebound nature of the original play relegates everything to either mustachioed fops onstage or West hamming it up with cocktail napkin quality zingers in her private backstage boudoir. Some of her come-ons are directed at young Cary Grant, who had acted in a few prior films including Blonde Venus with Marlene Dietrich, but whom West would claim “discovery” of for the rest of her life.
Mae West’s life after She Done Him Wrong was an experiment in aging timelessness. Far ahead of the cultural curve, West was absorbed into collective consciousness almost immediately by cartoons, quotations and parody. By the 1940s she was already considered old hat and muzzled by stricter Hays Code regulations on the depiction of promiscuity. She left Hollywood, making sporadic television appearances over the years and otherwise supporting herself with live performances around the world. At some point the warm tide of nostalgia that made W.C. Fields and The Marx Brothers hip again revived interest in and respect for her libertine overtones and she returned to film Gore Vidal’s other infamous contribution to cinema besides Caligula (previously discussed in this episode), the infamous Myra Breckinridge (1970). At the age of 77, her looks and timing obviously weren’t what they once were, which is why it may have taken another eight years before two young, eager and likely homosexual fans from Crown International Pictures approached her about filming her last attempt at Broadway, the 1961 farce Sextette.
There are two forces at work in Sextette which have rightfully qualified the film for previous inclusion on “Razzie Award” lists of “the worst films ever made” and the like. The first is obviously that West is, uh, not well. She’s playing herself the only way she can, far past not only the cultural expiration date of her act but that of her corporeal husk. This results in line readings of corny innuendo with pauses so awkward, rumors have persisted for years that she was being fed her lines through earpiece microphones under her wig. This leads to some real ickiness between her and Timothy Dalton, giving his all as her newest husband (the sixth) who can’t wait to make the kind of proper Englishman love to West that she hasn’t had since Cary Grant.
The film would’ve been enough of a mess with her running around on Dalton while occasionally stopping for disco-infused songs. Elevating the film the true clusterbomb status is the gaggle of guest stars playing West’s former husbands who all happen to be staying in her honeymoon hotel, with great wackiness and misunderstanding. The guest star ensemble method of casting had reached a tacky nadir by the late 70s and Sextette combines vintage 70s celebrity scenery chewers sprinkled with West’s geriatric Hollywood pals doing her a favor: Keith Moon AND Ringo Starr, George Hamilton, Tony Curtis, Walter Pidgeon, Alice Cooper, George Raft and who else but Dom Deluise as West’s right hand man. Some acquit themselves admirably, like Dalton. Deluise sings and dances on a piano.
Unfunny comedies are hard to appreciate even if they’re historically significant. Our next attempt to class up Alan Smithee Podcast won’t rely so heavily on dated hipness and sultry sirens. Future bad-movie selections, however, will probably include Dom Deluise again at least once.
NEXT EPISODE: WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988, ROBERT ZEMECKIS) / COOL WORLD (1992, RALPH BAKSHI)
Nerds came of age in the 1980s. Marginalized for decades prior in a variety of insufficiently descriptive monikers like bookworms and poindexters, the sudden advent of personal computing and mounting intrusion of technology into the everyday lives of socially healthy people were bringing bespectacled geeks into cultural consciousness. This meant they were no longer marginalized: nerd characters were becoming a part of TV and movie casts as fully rounded stereotypes of many traits. In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast we discuss the epochal Revenge of the Nerds, which acknowledged the pile of nerd stereotypes accumulated since at least the breakout performance of Eddie Deezen in Grease and as blaxploitation films of the 70s did for black stereotypes, attempted to make nerds kind of cool through comic exaggeration and emphasizing their underdog status.
After 1984, far fewer movie nerds were mainly the butt of jokes – rather becoming humanized like Crispin Glover’s George McFly in Back to the Future, Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science or stupid Patrick Dempsey in Can’t Buy Me Love. The common denominator is of course their desire to get laid, which is universal to the male moviegoer and made more attainable when even “Genuine Nerd” Toby Radloff (of American Splendor fame) could find his Bride of Killer Nerd in the 1992 Troma film of the same title.
American Splendor comics actually featured a story of Radloff going to see Revenge of the Nerds which was recreated in the Paul Giamatti film years later. To be sure, the joke of the scene is how the nerds in the film are ultimately the creations of Hollywood and not entirely comparable to real life – their happy ending triumph over the bullying jocks is preordained – but genuine nerds like Toby needed that fantasy in 1984. They needed to see the jocks as villains for once, and were willing to look the other way on the occasional spot of movie bullstuff like the nerds having a robot butler in their frat house and working virtual magic with the pitiful computers of their day. For once, normals were invited to laugh with these guys and not at them. The relationship of lead nerds Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards is established from the beginning as one of longtime mutual endurance in the face of social intolerance. Their sensitivity towards one another anchors the story from the start in the reality that lots of nice young men don’t fit in because they’re awkward, not because they’re inferior people.
The film’s secret weapon may be the broader categorization of “nerds” as anyone who doesn’t fit into the social hierarchy. The stunningly cohesive ensemble cast is an even split of classic nerds (Timothy Busfield, Andrew Cassese, Edwards & Carradine) and simple misfits: Brian Tochi the Japanese exhange student, Larry B. Scott as the openly gay black guy, and Curtis Armstrong as the immortal “Booger.” Armstrong’s character is the perfect distillation of qualities which make someone unpopular with the in crowd without actually being too smart, too unfashionable or too shy to the degree that classic nerds are. He’s merely rude, crude, lewd, dry, gross and underachieving. Hard to believe that 15 years later, guys like Seth Rogen and James Franco would be more or less honing their “Booger” personas on the movie career launching pad of Freaks & Geeks.
While the effect of Revenge of the Nerds on the rest of pop culture began almost immediately, 20th Century Fox didn’t have clue one as to why the film was popular – let alone worked – when they signed a different director and writer for the 1987 sequel Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise. The extent of creativity for the follow up was literally “let’s send the nerds to Ft. Lauderdale, where hijinks ensue.” Nerds In Paradise does what the first film didn’t, which is to play the nerds as near-total goons from Mars incapable of normal human behavior. The jokes are seldom based on performance or character, instead a turgid series of encounters with wacky ethnic stereotypes or comical misunderstandings lurch by while three-fifths of the returning cast from the first film were presumably getting soused between takes. Even the jocks are more two dimensional this time around; the cruelty of Ted McGinley in the first film had a realistic nuance compared to the bigger-is-funnier pranks of Bradley Whitford which ultimately culminate in stranding the nerds on a freaking desert island.
Probably worst of all for the average non-nerd moviegoer in 1987 was the total lack of nudity compared to the rather ribald Part One: Nerds In Paradise bears the rating of PG-13, resulting in nothing appealing for any audience except perhaps preadolescents too young to watch the first film and not discriminating enough to realize what they’re watching isn’t funny.
NEXT WEEK: TWILIGHT ZONE THE MOVIE SPECIAL! TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983, JOHN LANDIS & STEVEN SPIELBERG & JOE DANTE & GEORGE MILLER)