Alan Smithee Podcast 71: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956, Alfred Hitchcock) / The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997, Jon Amiel)

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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!

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Episode 56: An American Werewolf in London (1981, John Landis) / An American Werewolf in Paris (1997, Anthony Waller)

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Which is the more forgotten, John Landis or An American Werewolf In London? Which was the more important? The latter, his masterwork sole feature foray into horror. If everyone has one good story in them, perhaps every comedian has one jarring scary story. Before the Twilight Zone: The Movie debacle killed the legitimacy of a career, Landis introduced comedic horror into from the fringes of exploitation into 1980s big budget Hollywoodland and set the precedent for films like Ghostbusters (scored by American Werewolf composer Elmer Bernstein.) Besides genre blending innovations, Rick Baker’s makeup special effects caused such a stir that the Oscars felt compelled to create a new award just to recognize them, right at the cusp of the decade’s special effects renaissance.

However ahead of their time all technical or comedic aims achieved were, they’d be moot if the rest of the film weren’t so meticulously empathic as the horror mounts. The story is deceptively simple in taking the audience along on the experience of being in denial about becoming a werewolf, transforming for the first time and coming to grips with the aftermath. The momentum builds up to and winds down from David Naughton’s first night of lycanthropy as the fulcrum of the movie and this is a brilliant idea.

Praised at the time for giving a passe genre a “contemporary” take – costar Griffin Dunne was cast from a national Dr Pepper campaign – An American Werewolf In London retains a dry laconic wit and sympathetic story that hasn’t aged a day. After a diminished legend in tandem with the industry’s near-abandonment of practical special effects in favor of CGI, this film deserves renewed esteem as a modern classic of the newly humorous and splattery direction mainstream horror films took off into afterward.

The splatter boom of Freddy and Jason was long over and recently deconstructed by Scream when the ill-advised sequel An American Werewolf In Paris was finally released in 1997. Unlike the similarly belated but goofy and genial Escape From LA, Paris involved none of the original cast or crew. The film is barely even be recognizable as a sequel except for the clumsy mis-reuse of Landis’ subplot about werewolf victims haunting people as undead corpses. In deference to diminished attention spans in the intervening 16 years, there are a lot of werewolves this time around. The only titular American werewolf, Tom Everett Scott, is an obnoxious bore compared to David Naughton. They transform constantly thanks to a special serum, and their transformations are CGI video game sequences of the totally cheap and gratuitous kind made possible by recent technology.

An American Werewolf In London has been slated for remake in 2011 through Dimension Films and penned by coincidentally British hack Fernley Phillips (an upperclass twit of the year name) whose only previous credit has been the Jim Carrey laughingstock The Number 23.

We assure you, we don’t find this in the least bit amusing.

NEXT EPISODE: KING FEATURES SYNDICATE SPECIAL! FLASH GORDON (1980, MIKE HODGES) & POPEYE (1980, ROBERT ALTMAN)

Episode 55: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper) / The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1994, Kim Henkel) aka Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1997)

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Some tales are told, then soon forgotten. But a legend…is forever.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been synonymous with the horror genre for almost 40 years now and there’s probably nothing new left to say about it, but that won’t stop An Alan Smithee Podcast from trying! Fortunately one of us brings a fresh pair of eyes to the spectacle, while the other has seen it more times than is healthy. If you’re a regular listener you can probably guess who’s who. This imbalance brings up many elementary points of discussion around the film which have been taken for granted so long that they’ve fallen into neglect: Hooper’s exquisite compositions, the subtle omission of any explicit gore, and the insidiously disturbing reappearance of a friendly character we didn’t yet know was part of Leatherface’s crazy family. Even the annoyances of Franklin, apparently everyone’s least favorite wheelchair–bound lamb to the slaughter, get debated as the podcast’s longstanding TCM fan defends the character’s relative whininess (given his circumstances) against the average moviegoer’s initial take on him. Finally, we’re just like Siskel and Ebert! Even if you’ve seen this film before – and you should – now you can vicariously experience the film’s famous shocks all over again through a TCM virgin’s first bloodletting.

After thoroughly chronicling the tumultuous history of Cannon Films and New Line Cinema’s attempts to turn Leatherface into the next Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, we turn our attention to the most ill-begotten Chainsaw sequel of all.

The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was held on the shelf for three years before finally being shortened and released as Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. The delay was due to stars Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey hitting in big in the interim and their agents throwing a fit over what this movie could do to their careers. Easy as it is to hate those who would blacklist the horror genre itself, this movie really is wretched. The story is a sparse rehash of the original with nothing to add but lame attempts at over-the-top humor, mostly supplied by an unrestrained McConaughey whose face-biting antics would’ve been much more useful in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past or Fool’s Gold.

The only compelling idea Henkel introduces is an infamous last-act twist involving a left-field appearance by the Illuminati, favorite brand name conspiracy of international global domination conspiracy enthusiasts. The revelation of their secret involvement with the chainsaw clan at least explains the absence of continuity between sequels (each movie was some kind of separate Illuminati attempt at a hilarious prank.) We do our best to square Henkel’s intentions against the results, which may or may not have sucked on purpose. Can this documentary reveal the answer? Does it matter? Who will survive and what will be left of them?

NEXT EPISODE: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF SPECIAL! AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981, JOHN LANDIS) & AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS (1997, ANTHONY WALLER)

Show Notes: Episode 3: The Trial of the Incredible Quentin, Part 1 of 2

This episode, Matthew and Andrew start their examination of Quentin Tarantino–discussing his “original trilogy” of RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN, as well as his steady screenwriting work during the 1990s.

It surprised me we never got around to discussing Tarantino’s iconic soundtracks, but they fall under my basic rubric for the guy: he appropriated other peoples really cool stuff so that his name would forever be associated with it.

- Chip

Films discussed:
Maximum Potential (1987), Reservoir Dogs (1992), True Romance (1993), Natural Born Killers (1996), Pulp Fiction (1994), Four Rooms (1995), From Dusk ‘Till Dawn (1996), Curdled (1996), Girl 6 (1996), Jackie Brown (1997), Clerks (1994), Badlands (1973)