Rupert Pupkin Speaks: "Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: Hal Horn ""

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: Hal Horn

 Hal Horn is a longtime friend of Rupert Pupkin Speaks and has contributed several lists over the past few years. I love his blog, The Horn Section( and give it my highest personal recommendation!

I’m honored to again be invited to provide Mr. Pupkin with a guest list.  With Bad Movies I Love, it’s hard to narrow it down to just these nine, but here’s my attempt to do so:

They quit making ’em like both of these within a couple of years of DOLLS’ release, as the Hays Code finally fell and Hollywood could finally start giving us profanity and nudity.  THE OSCAR was supposed to be a big event in 1966, but is all but forgotten today, never released on home video in any form and rarely aired despite a name that should lend itself to cable repeats every February.  It’s as if all of Hollywood wishes it never existed, which would be understandable.  Like RAGING BULL, it’s two hours about a louse, but this one (played by Stephen Boyd) is Hollywood’s louse.  At least, after he quits working as a nudie bar host and elbows his way to the top of the “glass mountain” of filmland.  Misshapen metaphors abound as the screenwriters (including Harlan Ellison and erstwhile Oscar winners Rouse and Greene) swing for the fences with every single line, giving us wall to wall head-scratchers like:  “You got a glass head.  I can see right through it.  It’s how I know you’re stupid!”  And:  “You take one from column A and one from column B.  You can an egg roll either way.”

Ellison and co-star Tony Bennett saw their budding big-screen careers end at the beginning here, and there’s no shortage of actual Oscar winners making fools of themselves: Ernest Borgnine, Walter Brennan, Broderick Crawford (as the token bigoted redneck sheriff) and Ed Begley among them.  You’ll get character names like Frankie Fane, Kappy Kapstetter and the immortal Hymie Kelly (Bennett).  One thing you won’t get is profanity.  Since this is 1966 and the Code still rules, Bennett has to call Boyd out on his “birdseed”.  The moral to the story?  Well, if you ruin lives, cause suicides and abortions, step on absolutely everyone and destroy everything you touch out of your own selfishness, you’ll be nominated for an Oscar, but someone else will win it.  THE OSCAR itself ruined careers and received a far worse punishment than Frankie the Heel: 45 years of banishment.  You’ll love it too if you can find it, I betcha.

On the other hand VALLEY OF THE DOLLS has been revered as perhaps the ultimate Bad Movie We Love for 45 years.  The differences?  The screenwriters didn’t try too hard (I didn’t even mention the OCEAN’S 11 style attempt Ellison and Co. made to create a new, hip language throughout THE OSCAR) and actually showed its performers performing, giving us reason to believe that these were talented people even if all the signing was dubbed.  Jacqueline Susann’s trashy novel became a trashy movie, but the only Oscar winners embarrassing themselves were a horribly miscast Patty Duke and Susan Hayward.  The one professional performance is from TV journeyman Paul Burke (NAKED CITY), who manages to  keep a straight face while squeezing Duke’s face and trying to make the 20 year old actress (playing 26) look “thirty-six” with puffy cheeks and bloodshot eyes from the Dolls and booze.  DOLLS’ charm comes from a cast full of TV names, and Barbara Parkins and Sharon Tate are hilariously wooden in contrast to Duke’s hystrionics.  Special mention goes to Martin Milner, who actually appears to be phonetically reading his lines off a teleprompter, even when walking out on Duke’s Neely.  Everyone sleeps with everyone, everyone takes pills, and everyone gets swallowed up by Hollywood.  Still, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS has been forgiven, probably because it’s been a consistent money maker while THE OSCAR was a notorious financial flop.  No matter, they’re both trashy and overblown and like everything else on this list, downright lovable.

Horn Section’s original review of THE OSCAR:
THE SENIORS (1978) and H.O.T.S. (1979)
It’s hard to narrow those R-rated late niters from the OnTV/Preview days of the early Eighties down to just two, because almost all of ‘em were bad movies that I loved.  At least when I was thirteen.   THE SENIORS was scripted by Stanley Shapiro (OPERATION PETTICOAT) and directed by Rod Amateau (DOBIE GILLIS, LOVELINES).  With their involvement, this is a Skinemax comedy with a touch of class, plus a very young Dennis Quaid.  Quaid is one of four college seniors unwilling to graduate, terrified of the prospect of working hard for a living.  They concoct a scheme to stay as graduate students “assisting” in a bogus sex study, first partaking of all the participating young lovelies, then (when the workload gets too great) gradually moving “upstairs” while continuing the study that’s designed to never end.  Their unsuspecting front man is Nobel Prize winner Alan Reed, who is much more warped than the guys realize.  Amateau and Shapiro add lots of wonderful veteran characters to the fun as investors, including Edward Andrews (as the greedy banker), Woodrow Parfrey, Alan Hewitt, and a great Ian Wolfe as the “Seniorist” partner who’s very hard of hearing.  Oh, and long before her stint on THREE’S COMPANY, Priscilla Barnes shows us her all (but doesn’t say a word!).  With all these classy vets, it’s still a T&A flick through and through despite the capitalist satire lurking underneath.  WAY underneath.  Gleefully silly--just check your brains in and enjoy.  Since AIDS was just a few years away and casual sex with total strangers for  science’s sake was the major plot driver, THE SENIORS evokes a particular time and place.  (Personal note: Ryland Merkey has a small role.  He was one of my college drama teachers.)

SENIORS predated ANIMAL HOUSE by a few months; H.O.T.S. followed the Landis comedy and therefore was heavily influenced by it.  Ubiquitous in its day for us adolescents waiting for the parents to fall asleep, H.O.T.S. featured quite an impressive list of nubile lovelies.  Lindsay Bloom, Pamela Jean Bryant, Susan Kiger, the voluptuous Lisa London, and, in an unforgettable cameo, a sky-diving Angela Aames (…ALL THE MARBLES).  The “huddle cam” of topless female touch football players is probably the most memorable image from this one.  Danny Bonaduce’s “Shake It” song (not much lyrical heft, I’ll put it that way) accompanying a wet T-shirt contest ranks a close second.  They couldn’t afford the character actors found in SENIORS, hiring the likes of Ken Olfson (the poor man’s George Wyner) to play the Dean.  Written by Cheri Caffaro (GINGER) of all people.  You had to be there.  If you were, then you already know that some like it H.O.T.S.

Mel Brooks lost something when he stopped collaborating with Gene Wilder and gave himself more time on-camera after the twin triumphs of BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.  The result: SILENT MOVIE and HIGH ANXIETY, both pretty funny but increasingly repetitive and self-indulgent.  It was at this point of diminishing returns that Brooks decided to try the sketch movie,  a genre that even at its best (KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, GROOVE TUBE) is undisciplined by its very nature.  From a filmmaking standpoint, HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART 1 is an absolute mess, with the least successful segment (the Roman empire) lasting the longest and the opening segment building little momentum with one clunker after another.

HISTORY is sloppily made with clumsy attempts to tie things together (“Miracle!”), Brooks mugging shamelessly and giving himself a half dozen roles, and (with collaborators like Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor and Wilder missing) more toilet jokes than ever before.  Why on earth does this effort get some love?  The second half.  No, the narrative doesn’t improve, but Brooks’ Spanish Inquisition by way of Busby Berkeley almost reaches the heights of “Springtime for Hitler”.  Then he gives us a French Revolution that is tasteless, childish and very quotable (“Wait for the shake!” “It‘s GOOD to be da King!”).  It’s never gets any less slapdash, but HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART 1 finally wears you down and makes the jump from painful groaner to guilty pleasure in its final 45 minutes.  “The King and the Piss-Boy” might not quite have the same ring to it as “The Prince and the Pauper”, but Brooks proves that he can’t go wrong even when he isn’t going right.  At least until LIFE STINKS, that is.

DEATH WISH 3 and ROCKY IV (both 1985)
November 1985 began with DEATH WISH 3 atop the box office and ended with ROCKY IV’s record setting opening weekend, making it the ultimate month for 80’s action.  Both featured iconic action heroes embracing the times and becoming larger than life superheroes.  With Paul Kersey’s entire family completely wiped out by his third cinematic adventure, he’ll have to make do by dating a DA young enough to be his granddaughter and avenging an old war buddy who somehow smuggled two Browning machine guns home from Korea (and past the cops’ strict “no gun” policy).  Absolutely nothing in DW3 makes sense: Kersey orders rocket launchers and elephant guns through the mail, executes purse snatchers with the latter to the cheers of an entire neighborhood, and in perhaps the biggest stretch of all, boiling cabbage “smells wonderful“.  A complete riot literally and figuratively from beginning to end, DEATH WISH 3 becomes a little more entertaining with each viewing.  The very definition of a Bad Movie We Love.

Paul Kersey seemingly executed roughly ten percent of New York City’s population in his third outing.  Meanwhile, there’s only one death in 91 minutes during ROCKY IV, but  don’t think the 147 to 1 disadvantage in screen deaths makes Balboa’s fourth outing any less outlandish than Kersey’s third.  After all, Balboa gets more ripped at age 40 than he ever was before, and does it with good old fashioned lumberjack work and mountain climbing while opponent Ivan Drago needs all the steroids he can get despite being 15 years younger, 70 pounds heavier and 10 inches taller.  Gee, if Rocky had only trained in Siberia a decade earlier.  RAMBO aside, Stallone shows us he’s a pacifist at heart, articulating (sort of) that “it’s better for two guys to be killing each other than 20 million” and winning the Cold War singlehandedly.  His post fight speech gets a standing ovation from Gorbachev himself!  Well, okay, the fake Gorbachev, looking like Frank Drebin just got through with him.  More reliant on montages and more exaggerated than ever, ROCKY IV is so high comedy that Brigitte Nielsen’s accent isn’t even one of the 10 funniest things here.   After these antics, both Bronson and Stallone almost sheepishly tried to scale things back with subsequent sequels (though DW4 is pretty funny in its own right).  Still, we can all be thankful these long running franchises simultaneously embraced their inner cartoons for these classic time capsules of Eighties hubris.  Watch them as a double feature, and for maximum recreation of the time and place, spin ZZ Top’s “Afterburner” during intermission. 

Talk about government waste.  Who needs a Department of Homeland Security?  THUNDER RUN shows us that Forrest Tucker can defeat the terrorists single handedly with a train jumping(!) eighteen wheeler and a lonely desert road to fight ‘em on.  Oh wait, Tuck is no longer with us.  Never mind.  The old school action stalwart’s presence alone would make this one lovable to The Horn Section, but this Cannon product from the studio’s heyday is as packed with goofy charms as “Thunder“ itself is with timely gadgets.  (“Hit Number Four!”) Try not to think about how unlikely it is that John Ireland would miss the pickup in the back of the semi while the plutonium is being loaded.  While you’re at it, ignore the exceedingly easy to crack code our government is using at the test facility and the fact that someone thought police were still being called “the fuzz” in 1986.  Instead marvel at the genius of using Volkswagen beetles with heat seeking rockets against Tuck, and his countermove with Molotov Cocktails.  Hey, it worked for him against THE CRAWLING EYE, right?  THUNDER RUN doesn’t make much sense, but it’s as much fun as almost anything else on this list, especially during its second half.  In a perfect world, Tuck would’ve had a second run with THUNDER, preferably with a traitorous redneck sheriff in cahoots with surviving terrorists and Larry Storch as a bearded, accented hitchhiker.  But alas, THUNDER RUN ended up being Tuck’s swan song, as he passed away five months after its release.  We’re still awaiting a DVD in the U.S.  Preferably wrapped in space age plastic, son!

Before his career killing screenplay for THE SCARLET LETTER (also a Bad Movie, but no one loves it) Douglas Day Stewart wrote and directed this equally ludicrous but much more entertaining jaw dropper that vanished from theatres in three weeks and never has made it to DVD.  Kenmont College in California treats debate like most schools treat football, with bleachers packed to the gills with the woofing, fist-pumping student body for mere practices.  Coach Roy Scheider and captain Tim Quill (son of a U.S. Senator) are the Knute Rockne and George Gipp of college debate despite never even winning their conference during the Quill “era“.   Jami Gertz and Kirk Cameron are incoming freshman aces recruited from Chicago and Watonga, Oklahoma respectively, with the latter really struggling with his accent.  To Stewart’s credit, Watonga is a real town in Oklahoma (note: my grandmother lived two counties away) and is therefore one of LISTEN TO ME’s precious few script elements to exist on planet Earth.

Quill, the Ferrari-driving B.M.O.C. who can get any woman he wants, uses “Richard Cory” as an ice-breaker (nothing like a poem ending in graphic suicide to make a lady feel at ease).  Scheider, who runs the campus (like all debate coaches, right?) sets him up as Cameron’s mentor, and they both compete for Gertz’s heart while the two rookies rise quickly.  Meanwhile Quill tries to break away from an almost certain U.S. Presidency that will be set up by father Anthony Zerbe as soon as he debates before the U.S. Supreme Court in the “first National Championship in 15 years”.  Quill normally wouldn’t have much to worry about given that ethics and facts take a backseat in coach Scheider’s approach.  Cameron’s self-described “shitkicker conservative” is even funnier today when one considers the actor’s subsequent political path.  You’ll also be pleased to learn that Christopher Atkins is as wooden as ever nine years after Stewart’s BLUE LAGOON.  Aside from one accurate town name, the only other realistic element in the film might be slimy Zerbe as a U.S. Senator.  I can buy that.  Overwrought, melodramatic and shamelessly manipulative, LISTEN TO ME is a long overlooked treasure trove of unintentional comedy.  


1 comment:

KC said...

One of the greatest regrets in my life is that I fell asleep watching "The Oscar" when I finally managed to catch a showing in a midwest hotel room. Stupid travel fatigue!