Sing it, Duke!
Jerry Lewis is an acquired taste for many. His unique comic persona isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, especially among the highbrow set (except in France, where for decades he’s been hailed as a genius). He was zany, manic, childlike, and the last of the great slapstick comedians, his career spanning over eighty years. He was a comic, writer, director, actor, singer, businessman, innovator, and philanthropist. Jerry Lewis is a true American icon, and the embodiment of the American dream.
Joseph Levitch was one of those “born in a trunk” kids referenced in many a classic movie. His father was a vaudevillean, his mom a piano player, and by the time he was five Lewis was appearing with his parents onstage at Catskill Mountain resorts. A high school dropout, Lewis did what was known as a “record act” as a teen, where he’d lipsynch popular tunes of the day with comic results. During…
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The wait is finally over, my new DirecTV receiver has arrived and is all hooked up! Unfortunately, all my DVR’d movies have vanished. And since it was filled to about 70% capacity, that’s a lot of movies! Needless to say, I’ve got to load up the ol’ DVR again. Thanks to TCM, I re-recorded one of my old favorites the other day, FOUR FOR TEXAS, an action-packed Western comedy I’ve seen about 100 times already (ok, that’s a slight exaggeration). This combines the two leaders of the Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin , with the talents of director Robert Aldrich. The result is an all-star, slam-bang entertainment that is loads of fun for film fans.
The pre-credits sequence looks like we’re about to watch a traditional Western, with a gang of outlaws led by Charles Bronson riding out to ambush a stagecoach. But wait, that’s Frankie and Dino…
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
The time and the place is the old west. Growing up, Chuck Jarvis (Rock Hudson) and Billy Massey (Dean Martin) were best friends. When the lovely Kate (Susan Clark) chose Chuck over Billy, the two of them go their separate ways. Billy becomes a notorious train robber. Chuck becomes the sheriff of their hometown. After Billy returns home, it is up to Chuck to not only capture him but to also protect him from not only his former partners but a gang of vigilantes as well.
There’s nothing surprising about Showdown, a strictly by the numbers western that, if not for a few bloody gunshot wounds and some dialogue about cattle “humping,” could have just as easily been released in 1953 as 1973. The only thing that makes Showdown special is that it was the last western made by both Rock Hudson and Dean Martin. Dino is his usual fun-loving, half-soused self but Rock Hudson looks absolutely miserable here. If Rock’s role had been played by Frank Sinatra (or even Peter Lawford), Showdown would probably be remembered as a minor classic. As it is, it’s for Dean Martin completists only.
It’s an older, more world-weary Dean Martin we see in MR. RICCO, a fairly gritty but ultimately unfulfilling 70’s flick that would’ve made a decent pilot for a TV series (maybe in the NBC MYSTERY MOVIE rotation with Columbo and McCloud), but as a feature was best suited for the bottom half of a double bill. This was Dino’s last starring role, though he did appear in two more movies (THE CANNONBALL RUN and it’s sequel), and this attempt to change his image from footloose swinger to a more *gasp!* sober Martin doesn’t really cut it.
Dean’s a defense lawyer, a “lily white liberal” who gets black militant Frankie Steele (Thalmus Rasulala ) off a murder rap. When two cops are blown away in an ambush, the witness provides a description of Steele, causing friction between Ricco and the police, especially his friend Detective Captain Cronyn (Eugene Roche, an underrated character actor who’s really good here). The…
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A legendary Hollywood stuntman, Hal Needham moved into directing in the 1970s and proved that all he required to make a successful film were willing stuntmen, fast cars, Coors beer, and Burt Reynolds. Following that logic, The Cannonball Run may very well be the ultimate Hal Needham movie.
The Cannonball Run follows several teams of racers as they compete to see who can be the first to reach California from Connecticut. Trying to stop them is Arthur J. Foyt (George Furth), who represents the Safety Enforcement Unit and who believes that cars are a menace. However, Foyt is no match for these racers, who include:
- J.J. (Burt Reynolds), who is racing in memory of his father, and his mechanic Victor (Dom DeLuise), who turns into Captain Choas whenever he is feeling threatened. J.J. and Victor are driving an ambulance and are accompanied by crazy Dr. Van Helsing (Jack Elam) and a fake “patient” (Farrah Fawcett),
- Bradford Compton (Bert Convy) who is riding a motorcycle and who, because of the weight of his mechanic, has to pop a wheelie for the entire race,
- An Arab oil sheik (Jamie Farr) who is racing for “the glory of Islam” and who would probably not be in the movie if it were made today,
- Sidney Goldfarb (Roger Moore), the heir to a mattress fortune who has had extensive plastic surgery to make himself look like Roger Moore,
- Jackie Chan and Michael Hui, called “The Japanese team” even though they both speak Cantonese throughout the entire movie,
- Terry Bradsahw and Mel Tillis because why the Hell not?,
- Marcie (Adrienne Barbeau) and Jill (Tara Buckman), using their cleavage to get out of speeding tickets, or at least they do until they’re pulled over by Valerie Perrine,
- And Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., pretending to be priests and apparently drunk throughout filming.
Based on a real life (and very illegal) cross-country race that was held four times in the 1970s, The Cannonball Run is profoundly stupid movie that, if you’re in the right mood for it, is also profoundly fun. It’s a movie that really has no plot but it does have a lot of cars, a lot of stunts, a lot of cleavage, and a lot of politically incorrect humor, some of which has not aged well. Despite being hated by the critics, The Cannonball Run was a huge box office hit and it still remains a nostalgic guilty pleasure for a lot of people, myself included. One person who did not like The Cannonball Run was Burt Reynolds who, in an interview with the New York Times, once said, “”I did that film for all the wrong reasons. I never liked it. I did it to help out a friend of mine, Hal Needham. And I also felt it was immoral to turn down that kind of money. I suppose I sold out so I couldn’t really object to what people wrote about me.”
Burt has a point but, in defense of The Cannonball Run, what other movie actually features Jackie Chan beating up Peter Fonda?
Or Roger Moore playing someone who thinks that he’s Roger Moore?
Or Jack Elam playing a mad scientist?
Or Sammy and Dino, phoning it in one last time?
Or Captain Chaos?
Like most of Hal Needham’s films, The Cannonball Run ends with outtakes of Burt Reynolds blowing his lines and hitting people.
Tomorrow’s movie a day will be a film that Burt Reynolds is presumably much more proud of, Sharky’s Machine.
I was doing a search on YouTube for Christmas specials, Christmas songs, and Christmas scenes when I came across The Dean Martin Christmas Show, which originally aired on December 21st, 1967. It’s a Christmas show starring Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and their respective families. Sure, some of the jokes may be corny but c’mon — it’s Frank and Dino!
Now, the video is occasionally a little rough. I assume that this was copied from a VHS tape. But no matter! Not only does this special serve as a time capsule but it also serves as a valuable reminder that Christmas is even better when it features a little Rat Pack swagger!