A Moment of Comedy Bliss with Tim Conway and Harvey Korman


cracked rear viewer

As the world still mourns the loss of Doris Day yesterday, another great has left us  – TV comedy genius Tim Conway, who died today at age 85. Tim rightfully deserves a tribute post of his own, and he’ll get it, but until then, enjoy this classic bit of comedy gold from THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW (and watch Harvey Korman try to keep a straight face!):

Tim Conway (1933-2019)

View original post

Celebrate Life Day With The Star Wars Holiday Special!


Happy Life Day!

The Star Wars Holiday Special was first aired in 1978 and, over the years, it has achieved a certain amount of infamy.  Some people say that it’s the worst thing to ever be made for TV.  To those people, I say that 1) that’s not a good attitude to have on Life Day and 2) have you seen Disco Beaver From Outer Space?

Anyway, this is a musical Star Wars extravaganza.  One thing that makes it interesting is that Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher were all ordered to appear in it.  Seeing as how Harrison Ford tends to come across as being grumpy on a good day, I can only imagine how he reacted to filming The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Also, a few years ago, Val reviewed the Hell out of this thing.  Be sure to check out her review.

And now, for those of you looking to experience a dubious piece of pop culture history on this Christmas, we present to you …. The Star Wars Holiday Special!

Flat Broke In The ’70s: Americathon (1979, directed by Neal Israel)


The year is 1998 and America is flat broke.  Paper currency is now worthless and, to the joy of Ron Paul supporters everywhere, all transactions are done in gold.  After the country ran out of oil, people started using skateboards and bicycles for transportation and many turned their cars into homes.  While the citizenry spends their time consuming a steady diet of sitcoms and reality television, the government tries to figure out how to pay back the loan that it took from Sam Birdwater (Chief Dan George), a Native American who made billions after buying Nike.  Birdwater wants his money back and he is prepared to foreclose on the entire country.

Newly elected President Chet Roosevelt (John Ritter) is not helping.  A combination of Jack Tripper and Jerry Brown (who was gearing up to challenge Jimmy Carter in the Democratic primaries when Americathon was first released), Chet Roosevelt is a spaced-out former governor of California who speaks in 70s self-help slogans and who is more interested in getting laid than leading the country.  Roosevelt governs out of The Western White House, a condo in California.  When an ad exec named Eric McMerkin (Peter Reigert) suggests a month-long telethon to raise the money to pay off the loan, Roosevelt leaps at the chance.

Hosted by Harvey Korman, the telethon (which is called, naturally, the Americathon) features a wide variety of acts.  There’s a ventriloquist.  Jay Leno boxes his grandmother.  Meat Loaf destroys a car.  Even Elvis Costello and Eddie Money make brief appearances.  While Chet falls in love with one of the performers, his chief-of-staff (Fred Willard) plots, with the leaders of a new Middle Eastern superstate, to sabotage the telethon.

Based on a play by the Firesign Theater, Americathon has a big, talented cast that is let down by Neal Israel’s uncertain direction and a script that is only rarely funny.  The idea of America hosting a tacky telethon to pay its debts sounds like a good SNL skit (especially if Bill Murray played the host) but the premise is too thin for a feature film.  Like Airplane! or The Naked Gun films, Americathon is a movie that tosses every joke it can against the wall to see what will stick.  If the jokes are good, like in Airplane!, that formula can lead to a comedy classic.  If the jokes are bad, not even John Ritter, Harvey Korman, and Fred Willard can make them funny.

Today, if Americathon is remembered, it’s because it supposedly predicted several future events.  Americathon does take place in a future where China is an economic superpower, Nike is a huge conglomerate, and reality game shows are very popular.  But, even with those correct predictions, Americathon is a such a film of its time that it was probably dated from the minute that it was released.  Just the sight of John Ritter in a condo permanently marks Americathon as a film of and about the ’70s.

George Carlin does score a few laughs as the narrator and Elvis Costello performs both Crawlin’ To The USA and (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea.  Eagle-eyed viewers might want to keep an eye out for the tragic Playboy playmate, Dorothy Stratten, who has a brief non-speaking role.  Otherwise, Americathon is as hopeless as the country it’s trying to save.

A Movie A Day #192: Betrayal of the Dove (1993, directed by Strathford Hamilton)


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Ellie West (Helen Slater) has a 7 year-old daughter (Heather Lind), a sleazy ex-husband (Alan Thicke), a vampy best friend (Kelly LeBrock), and a pair of inflamed tonsils that need to come out.  When she goes in the hospital for what should be a routine procedure, she nearly dies on the operation table.  Something went wrong with the anaesthesia.  But what, why, and how?  Fortunately, Doctor Jesse Peters (Billy Zane) was there to save Ellie’s life.  Even as Ellie, with the encouragement of her best friend, starts to go out with Jesse, she still suspects that someone is trying to kill both her and her daughter.

While the title may sounds like an early 90s Merchant Ivory production, Betrayal of the Dove is actually just another “erotic” thriller, the type that used to show up exclusively on late night Cinemax.  The only thing that distinguished Betrayal of the Dove was the cast, which mixed B-movie stalwarts like Kelly LeBrock and Billy Zane with actors who usually did not appear in movies like this.  Alan Thicke was surprisingly good as a sleazy, abusive alcoholic and both Stuart Pankin and David L. Lander were cast in serious roles.

Perhaps the most surprising casting was that of veteran television comedian and Mel Brooks regular, Harvey Korman.  In the role of Ellie’s boss, Harvey not only played a serious role here but, at the end of the movie, he also got to save the day.  I’m not sure if Harvey did his own stunt work but if you have ever wanted to see Harvey Korman as an action hero, Betrayal of the Dove is as close as you’re going to get.

Or you could just watch Blazing Saddles again.

 

A Movie A Day #20: First Family (1980, directed by Buck Henry)


first-familyLike any newly inaugurated President, Manfred Link (Bob Newhart) faces many new challenges.  The biggest challenge, though, is keeping control of his family and his White House staff.  His wife (Madeline Kahn) is an alcoholic.  His 28 year-old daughter (Gilda Radner) is so desperate to finally lose her virginity that she is constantly trying to sneak out of the White House.  General Dumpson (Rip Torn) wants to start a war.  Press Secretary Bunthorne (Richard Benjamin), Ambassador Spender (Harvey Korman), and Presidential Assistant Feebleman (Fred Willard) struggle and often fail to convince everyone that all is well.

President Link needs to form an alliance with the African country of Upper Gorm, a country that speaks a language that only one man in America, Prof. Alexaner Grade (Austin Pendleton), can understand.  The President of Upper Gorm (John Hancock) orders that the kidnapping of Link’s daughter.  Holding her hostage, he demands that Link send him several white Americans so that the citizens of Upper Gorm can know what it is like to have a minority to oppress.

First Family not only featured a cast of comedy all-stars but it was also directed by one of the funniest men in history, Buck Henry.  So, why isn’t First Family funnier?  There are a few amusing scenes and Newhart can make a pause hilarious but, for the most part, First Family feels like an episode from one of Saturday Night Live‘s lesser seasons.  Reportedly, Henry’s first cut of First Family tested badly and Warner Bros. demanded that certain scenes, including the ending, be reshot.  Perhaps that explains why First Family feels more like a sitcom than a satire conceived by the man who wrote the script for The Graduate and whose off-center perspective made him one of the most popular hosts during Saturday Night Live‘s first five seasons.  Famously, during one SNL hosting gig, Henry’s head was accidentally sliced open by John Belushi’s samurai sword.  Without missing a beat, Henry finished up the sketch and performed the rest of the show with a band-aid prominently displayed on his forehead.  Unfortunately, there’s little sign of that Buck Henry in First Family.

first-family-2

 

Back To School Part II #3: Lord Love A Duck (dir by George Axelrod)


Lordloveaduck

For my third Back to School review, I watched the 1966 satire, Lord Love A Duck!

Hey hey hey!

I have to admit that, because I’m writing this review in a hurry and because the D and the F key are located right next to each other, I keep accidentally calling this film Lord Love A Fuck.  Somehow, that seems appropriate because Lord Love A Duck is a very odd and subversive little movie that deals with people who are largely motivated by lust and I’m pretty sure that, at one point, Roddy McDowall is seen saying, “Fuck off!” but, of course, we don’t actually hear him say it.  But seriously, Lord Love A Duck is a weird movie.

Hey hey hey!

Roddy McDowall plays Alan Musgrave, a student at a “progressive” high school in California.  Roddy was about 37 years old when he played a high school senior and he doesn’t look like a teenager at all but somehow, it’s appropriate.  After all, Alan is no ordinary teenager!  He’s smarter than everyone else.  He’s wittier than everyone else.  He’s more clever than everyone else.  He’s also totally obsessive and willing to do just about anything to get what he wants.  And you can be sure of one thing: whenever Alan does something borderline insane, you’ll hear a group of singers harmonizing, “Hey hey hey!” in the background.

Hey hey hey!

See, it’s happening already.  It doesn’t matter what Alan’s doing.  He could be kicking a skateboard in the way of a romantic rival.  He could be interrupting the graduation ceremony with a tractor.  He could be going to prison for life.  No matter what it is, it will always be accompanied by:

Hey hey hey!

Anyway, Alan is in love with the innocent, sweet, and constantly flirtatious Barbara Anne Greene (Tuesday Weld).  In fact, almost everyone in the film is in love with (or, at the very least, turned on by) Barbara.  The only person who doesn’t seem to be in love with Barbara is her mother (Lola Albright), a former-beauty-turned-cocktail-waitress whose world-weary cynicism seems to offer a depressing hint of what’s in store for Barbara once she gets older.

Hey hey hey!

But everyone else loves Barbara.  Especially Alan!  In fact, Alan is so in love with her that he swears that he’s going to make sure that she gets everything that she wants.  When she needs 12 cashmere sweaters so that she can join an exclusive girl’s club, Alan helps her to convince her father (Max Showalter) to pay for them.  When Barbara needs a job after dropping out of school, Alan helps her get one as a secretary for the high school’s progressive principal (Harvey Korman).  When Barbara decides she wants to marry the boring but respectable Christian youth leader, Bob (Martin West), Alan keeps Bob’s mother (Ruth Gordon) so drunk that she doesn’t get a chance to reprimand her son for falling in love with a girl from a divorced family.  (As Bob’s mother explains it, she doesn’t believe in divorce.  “We don’t leave our husbands.  We bury them.”)  Eventually, a movie producer decides that he wants Barbara to star in his beach films but Bob says no.  No wife of his is going to be a movie star!  So, of course, Alan decides to murder Bob so that Barbara can again have what she wants…

Hey hey hey!

Lord Love A Duck is a manic comedy that satirizes everything that mainstream audiences in 1966 would have held sacred.  Teenagers, conservatives, liberals, love, hate, murder, justice, marriage, divorce, morality, sex, religion, television, movies — it’s all thoroughly ridiculed in this film.  (It’s not surprising that the film’s director also wrote the script for The Manchurian Candidate, a satire disguised as a thriller.)  To be honest, it’s probably a little bit too manic for its own good.  At times, the film run the risk of becoming exhausting.  But then there’s even more times when the film is absolutely brilliant.

Hey hey hey!

Speaking of absolutely brilliant, Lord Love A Duck makes brilliant use of Roddy McDowall’s eccentric screen presence but, even better, it features one of Tuesday Weld’s best performances.  Weld was a talented actress whose performances often revealed that a fragile soul is often the price that is payed for great beauty.  (There’s no greater insecurity than wondering whether people are responding to who you are or to how you look.  Would you still care if I was ugly is not a question we’re supposed to ask but it’s one that we’ve all wondered.)  It would have been far too easy to make Barbara either totally innocent or totally manipulative.  Wisely, the film does neither.  Barbara may occasionally be manipulative but she always means well.  It’s not her fault that everyone around her is either idiotic or insane.

Hey hey hey!

Though Lord Love A Duck is obviously a time capsule of the culture of mid-60s, it’s also a film that remains relevant even today.  Culturally, we’re still obsessed with fame, youth, and beauty.  In many ways, the satire of Lord Love A Duck still feels more extreme that anything that any contemporary filmmaker would dare to attempt.  I can only imagine what audiences in 1966 thought as they watched this subversive teen film.

Hey hey hey!

Egging The McGufffin: HIGH ANXIETY (20th Century Fox 1977)


cracked rear viewer

higha1

Mel Brooks loves films as much as the rest of us do. After skewering Westerns in BLAZING SADDLES and horror movies in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, Mel set his satirical sights on Alfred Hitchcock in HIGH ANXIETY. The result is a film biff’s dream, with the gags coming fast and furious as Mel and his band of merry pranksters pay a loving but hysterical homage to the films of the Master of Suspense.

05_high_anxiety_bluray

Mel takes the lead here as Dr. Richard Thorndyke, the new head of the Psycho Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. Thorndyke’s aide, the inept Brophy, thinks the former director was “a victim of foul play”. At the Institute, he meets oily Dr. Montague and starched Nurse Diesel, whose S&M/B&D relationship isn’t their only secret. Thorndyke has an ally in his mentor, Prof. Lilloman (say it slowly). The professor works as a consultant, and tries to help Thorndyke conquer his own…

View original post 447 more words