Dead Pigeons Make Easy Targets: THE CHEAP DETECTIVE (Columbia 1978)


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THE CHEAP DETECTIVE could easily be subtitled “Neil Simon Meets MAD Magazine”. The playwright and director Robert Moore had scored a hit with 1976’s MURDER BY DEATH, spoofing screen PI’s Charlie Chan, Sam Spade, and Nick & Nora Charles, and now went full throttle in sending up Humphrey Bogart movies. Subtle it ain’t, but film buffs will get a kick out of the all-star cast parodying THE MALTESE FALCON, CASABLANCA , TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, and THE BIG SLEEP .

Peter Falk  does his best Bogie imitation as Lou Peckinpaugh, as he did in the previous film. When Lou’s partner Floyd Merkle is killed, Lou finds himself in a FALCON-esque plot involving some rare Albanian Eggs worth a fortune. Madeline Kahn , John Houseman, Dom De Luise , and Paul Williams stand in for Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Elisha Cook Jr, respectively, and they milk it for every…

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A Movie A Day #203: Heartbreak Ridge (1986, directed by Clint Eastwood)


The year is 1983 and things are looking bad for the Second Marine Division of the U.S. Marine Corps.  The officers are almost all college graduates like Major Powers (Everett McGill) and Lt. Ring (Boyd Gaines), men who have never served in combat but who are convinced that they know what it means to be a Marine in the 80s.  Convinced that they will never have to actually fight in a war, the latest batch of recruits is growing soft and weak.  All of the slackers have been put in the Recon Platoon, where they are so undisciplined that they think that wannabe rock star Cpl. Jones (Mario Van Peebles) is a good Marine.  MARIO VAN PEEBLES!

They haven’t met Sgt. Highway yet.

Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Highway (Clint Eastwood) has seen combat, in both Korea and Vietnam.  He drinks too much.  He fights too much.  He has chased away his wife (Marsha Mason), despite his attempts to understand her by reading Cosmo and Ladies Home Journal.  Major Powers may think that Highway is a relic but Highway knows better than to worry about what a college boy thinks.  The Recon Platoon may think that they can defy him but that haven’t seen Highway throw a punch yet.  Everyone may think it’s a waste of time to learn how to fight but little do they know that America is about to invade Grenada.

Heartbreak Ridge is all about Clint Eastwood.  Without Clint Eastwood, it would just be another basic training film.  With Clint Eastwood, it is a minor masterpiece and a tribute to America’s fighting spirit.  In 1986, no one was better at glaring at a young punk or glowering at a clueless superior officer than Clint Eastwood.  Even the running joke of Highway reading women’s magazines works because it is impossible not to laugh at Clint Eastwood intently studying an issue of Cosmo.   Clint may have been 56 when he directed and starred in Heartbreak Ridge but he was still believable beating up men who were less than half his age.  (Mario Van Peebles thinks he’s going to be able to stand up to Clint Eastwood?  Get outta here!)  There is never any question that Highway is going to able to whip everyone into shape.  The only question is how many terse one-liners are going to be delivered in the process.   By the time Highway and his platoon reach Grenada, everyone is ready to watch Clint put the communists in their place and Clint does not disappoint.

Reportedly, the U.S. Marine Corps. initially supported Heartbreak Ridge but, in case of life imitating art, disowned the finished picture, feeling that the film’s portrayal of The Corps was inaccurate and the sergeant’s “training” methods were too old-fashioned to actually be effective.

Thomas Highway would disagree.

One final note: Bo Svenson has a small role as the man trying to steal Marsha Mason away from Clint.  If you have ever wanted to see Dirty Harry and Buford Pusser fight over the Goodbye Girl, here’s your chance.

Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: The Goodbye Girl (dir by Herbert Ross)


Goodbye_Girl_movie_poster

After I watched San Francisco, I decided to watch yet another film that I had DVRed during TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar.  I had several films to choose from and I ultimately decided to watch the 1977 best picture nominee The Goodbye Girl because, in general, I like movies from the 70s.  Add to that, the film was described as being a comedy and who am I to turn down the chance to laugh?

The Goodbye Girl asks the question, “What would happen if two of the most annoying people on Earth were forced to live together and then ended up falling in love with each other as a result?”  Paula (Marsha Mason) is recently divorced and is trying to raise her 10 year-old daughter, Lucy (Quinn Cumming), while also trying to relaunch the dance career that she put on hold when she got married.  As played by Marsha Mason, Paula is probably one of the most humorless characters to ever be at the center of a romantic comedy.  It’s not just that Paula is written to be a very angry character.  (For the most part, Paula has every right to be angry).  Instead, it’s that Mason gives such a totally sour performance that you get the feeling that Paula has probably never smiled once over the course of her entire life.  When, later on in the film, she does smile, it feels forced and unnatural.  You worry that her face is going to split in half.

In the course of one very bad week, she is abandoned by her actor boyfriend (he’s going to Italy to shoot a film) and she discovers that, before he left, her ex also sublet their apartment to another actor.  That actor is Elliott Garfield (Richard Dreyfuss), who is hyperactive, immature, self-centered, and very, very talkative.  He does things like play guitar in the nude and meditate in the morning.

Once Elliott shows up and barges his way into the apartment, a familiar pattern is established.  Elliott does something eccentric.  Paula yells at him.  Elliott yells back.  Paula yells in reply.  Elliott yells some more.  Even if you never quite buy the idea that the two of them would ever fall in love, you’re glad when they do because at least it gives them something to do other than yell.

(Of course, The Goodbye Girl was written by Neil Simon, which means that not only are Elliott and Paula yellers but they’re also very quippy yellers.  And while I guess we should be happy that Elliott tells the occasional joke, the constant barrage one liners is ultimately rather alienating.  Every time you think that the film is about to make an interesting point about human relationships, Elliott says something quippy and ruins the mood.)

Which is not to say that The Goodbye Girl is a terrible movie.  The scenes where Elliott rehearses and then appears in a terrible production of Richard III are brilliantly done and wonderfully satirize theatrical pretension.  As well, during its second hour, the film settles down a little bit.  Or, I should say, Richard Dreyfuss settles down and actually starts to give a performance that’s more than just a collection of nervous tics.  It helps that once Elliott and Paula are in love, they don’t yell at each other quite as much.  There’s even a rooftop dinner scene where the two actors finally show a hint of chemistry.

Ultimately, The Goodbye Girl is an uneven film that feels a lot like a sitcom.  It’s one of those films that you watch and, even though it’s not terrible, you still find yourself thinking, “This was nominated for best picture?”