Attaboy, Luther!: Don Knotts in THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN (Universal 1966)

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When the conversation turns to great screen comedians, Don Knotts doesn’t get a lot of respect among the cognescenti. Talk to his loyal fandom, including celebrities like Jim Carrey and John Waters, and you’ll hear a different tune. They all agree – Knotts was a talented and funny comic actor, the quintessential Everyman buffeted about by the cruelties of fate who eventually triumphs against the odds. Following his Emmy-winning five-year run as Deputy Barney Fife on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW , Knotts signed a movie contract with Universal, and his first feature for the studio was the perfect vehicle for his peculiar talents: a scare comedy titled THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN.

Knotts plays Luther Heggs, a meek typesetter for his local newspaper in the small town of Rachel, Kansas. He’s also somewhat of the town laughing-stock, bullied by the paper’s ace reporter Ollie, his rival for the affections…

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Dirty Boulevard: George C. Scott in HARDCORE (Columbia 1979)

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Cracked Rear Viewer: “Back in the day….”

Dear Readers: (groaning) “There he goes again. Another history lesson!”

CRV: “B-but it’s important to put things in their proper historical context!”

DRs: (sigh) “We guess you’re right. Sorry.”

CRV: (beaming) “No problem! Now, like I was saying…”

Back in the day, every major urban city, and many smaller sized ones, had what was known as a “Red Light District”, where sex workers plied their trade. These streets were loaded with sex shops, peep shows, massage parlors, strip joints, and Triple-X movie palaces, with hookers and drug dealers hawking their wares. New York City had its Times Square/42nd Street area, Boston had The Combat Zone near Chinatown, and Montreal the infamous St. Catherine Street. For Los Angeles, the action was on Sunset Boulevard, and it’s into this seedy milieu that writer/director Paul Schrader plunges George C. Scott in 1979’s HARDCORE, which isn’t about…

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #59: Hardcore (dir by Paul Schrader)


“Turn it off…turn it off…turn it off…TURN IT OFF!” — Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott) in Hardcore (1979)

Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott) is a businessman who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He’s a deeply religious man, a sincere believer in predestination and the idea that only an elite few has been prelected to go to Heaven.  Jake is divorced (though he occasionally tells people that his wife died) and is the father of a teenage girl named Kristen (Ilah Davis).

One of the first things that we notice about Jake is that there appears to be something off about his smile.  There’s no warmth or genuine good feeling behind it.  Instead, whenever Jake smile, it’s obvious that it’s something he does because that what he’s supposed to do.  Indeed, everything Jake does is what he’s supposed to do and he expects his daughter to do the same.

When Kristen goes to a church camp in California, she soon disappears.  Jake and his brother-in-law, Wes (Dick Sargent), fly down to Los Angeles and hire a sleazy private investigator, Andy Mast (Peter Boyle), to look for her.  A few weeks later, Andy shows Jake a pornographic film.  The star?  Kristen.

Jake is convinced that Kristen has been kidnapped and is being held captive.  Wes tells Jake that he should just accept that this is God’s will.  Andy tells Jake that, even if he does find Kristen, Jake might not want her back.  Finally, Jake tells off Wes, fires Andy, and ends up in Los Angeles himself.  Pretending to be a film producer and recruiting a prostitute named Nikki (Season Hubley) to serve as a guide, Jake searches for his daughter.

The relationship between Jake and Nikki is really the heart of the film.  For Jake, Nikki becomes a temporary replacement for his own daughter.  For Nikki, Jake appears to be the only man in the world who doesn’t want to use her sexually.  But, as Jake gets closer and closer to finding his daughter, Nikki realizes that she’s getting closer and closer to being abandoned.

Hardcore is a pretty good film, one that was shot in location in some of the sleaziest parts of 70s Los Angeles.  Plotwise, the film is fairly predictable but George C. Scott, Season Hubley, and Peter Boyle all give excellent performances.  (The scenes were Scott pretends to be a porn producer are especially memorable, with Scott perfectly capturing Jake’s discomfort while also subtly suggesting that Jake is enjoying himself more than he wants to admit.)  And, even if you see it coming from miles away, the film’s ending will stick with you.