Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Comedies - Hal Horn ""

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Favorite Underrated Comedies - Hal Horn

Hal is a longtime contributor to RPS and has excellent taste. Check out his blog The Horn Section:
He is a great resource for interesting rarer films that haven't surfaced on dvd yet.
On twitter here:

After many years of nothing but public domain bootlegs from Wheeler and Woolsey‘s RKO run (1929-1937), Warner Archive has come to the rescue. Thanks to WA, we now have 14 of the team’s 21 films available on DVD, topped off a 9-movie box set that just arrived last month. That’s the great news.

Now, the bad news. COCKEYED CAVALIERS remains unavailable. Whoa-Ohh!! This is probably the team’s finest film. Director Mark Sandrich later made his name directing Fred Astaire musicals and memorable songs provided the biggest highlights for both of his Wheeler & Woolsey efforts. The film begins with five minutes of inventively sung dialogue introducing us to all of our 17th century characters, and both “The Big Bad Wolf” and “Dilly Dally” will stick with you the way that HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY’s “Keep Doin’ What You’re Doin’” did. Dorothy Lee masquerades as a boy (a nod to Garbo’s QUEEN CHRISTINA), our heroes end up posing as physicians (to lecherous Duke Robert Greig) and Noah Beery makes a wonderfully buffoonish heavy. Best of all, Thelma Todd (who, like Woolsey and Sandrich, also died way too young) is here, in a much better role than she had in the similar period piece THE DEVIL’S BROTHER.

Wheeler and Woolsey’s fortunes would take a tumble with the establishment of the Motion Picture Production Code (this was their last Pre-Code film) and an ill-advised multi-film teaming with director Fred Guiol, but COCKEYED CAVALIERS captures the team in peak form. IT’S A GIFT and TWENTIETH CENTURY are the only 1934 films that are funnier IMO. Still not out on DVD while the Guiol films are? Talk about underrated!

George S. Kaufman famously remarked that satire closes on Saturday night. In the case of Norman Lear’s directorial debut, satire sat unreleased for two years and THEN closed on Saturday night. In an effort to combat bad publicity tobacco executive Bob Newhart convinces invalid COTB Edward Everett Horton to offer $25 million to any city in the U.S. that will give up smoking entirely for 30 days. Newhart likens the gesture to Alfred Nobel’s Prizes, never dreaming that they’ll ever have to actually pay. But minister Dick Van Dyke and mayor Vincent Gardenia urge the 4,006 citizens of depressed Eagle Rock, Iowa to take up the challenge. When the unthinkable starts to look realistic, shady Newhart heads to the Midwest to thwart the small town’s rejuvenation effort.

Lear did his best work on the small screen, and the finale’s impact is muted by sloppy execution. That said, he was decades ahead of his time in anticipating "reality TV" and satirizing the self-serving “American Way” underneath the feel-good surface. Everyone from executives and newscasters to doctors and holistic healers asks, “What’s in it for ME?”. The town prostitute might well be the most noble professional around. Lear made very wise decisions in hiring Randy Newman for the soundtrack and using Greenway, Iowa for filming. In addition to Newhart, Van Dyke and Gardenia, the great cast of TV stalwarts includes Jean Stapleton, Barnard Hughes, Pippa Scot, Paul Benedict, Tom Poston and the legendary radio team Bob and Ray. Also predates BLAZING SADDLES in depicting on-screen flatulence, by Horton (his final role).

SO FINE (1981)
Andrew Bergman followed his 1979 classic THE IN-LAWS with this side splitting screenplay that also featured his debut in the director’s chair. Professor Ryan O’Neal is kidnapped by 7’2” loan shark Richard Kiel, who is owed a seven figure debt by O’Neal’s father Jack Warden. Warden’s failing business (Fine Fashions) could use some “new blood” in Kiel’s view. Meanwhile, impotent Kiel has a wife with a wandering eye (the wonderful Mariangela Melato) who takes a shine to the opera-loving Professor. Melato won’t take “no” for an answer, and danger be damned--O’Neal doesn’t really want her to. The teacher unknowingly creates a potential business saver for his father, but resolution of Warden’s potential bankruptcy might well be easier than finding one for the newly created love triangle.

Co-writer of BLAZING SADDLES in addition to THE IN-LAWS, Bergman was no stranger to the kitchen sink approach, and SO FINE pays homage to influences as diverse as A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE and O’Neal’s own WHAT’S UP DOC? Jack Warden is every bit as profane, quotable and hilarious as he was in USED CARS. Melato was never sexier, and SO FINE was her best Hollywood role by far. If that isn’t enough to entice you, you have Richard Kiel disco dancing and lip-synching to “Walk Like a Man”.

Ryan O’Neal’s star had faded considerably by the dawn of the Eighties, and comedy at the box office circa 1981 was all about SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alumni anyway. Bergman’s gem fell through the cracks as a result, but if you’ve never heard of SO FINE, by all means check it out--you’re in for a real treat of a discovery. It’s out now via the aforementioned heroes at the Warner Archive.

I know the last decade has more or less been the Age of Apatow, but yours truly hasn’t really been drinking the Kool-Aid. To name two examples, I have yet to give KNOCKED UP or THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN a second viewing. But there is one film in his canon that would make any list of my rewatchables: this riotous spoof of virtually every music bio Hollywood has produced since THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY. John C. Reilly is pitch perfect as the titular character, burdened with the responsibility of becoming “double great” for him and his deceased brother (whose death he feels responsible for).

Yes, WALK THE LINE seems to be the biggest inspiration for the first decade of Dewey’s superstardom, but Mr. Cox crosses paths with as many music genres as movie clich├ęs before his STORY ends,. In the process he becomes a Forrest Gump for a half century of popfrom rockabilly to rap, providing one gut busting laugh after another for WALK HARD’s lean 97 minute running time. The satirical targets are varied and inspired: fifty-ish Kevin Spacey’s insistence on playing the twenty-ish Bobby Darin at all life stages of BEYOND THE SEA; Gary Busey and Company winning over an all African-American audience in the Fifties; LSD’s not-so-positive effects on musicians not named The Beatles. Through it all, Reilly brings his A-game on and off the microphone. It’s helped a great deal by Apatow’s ceding of the director’s chair to Jake Kasdan, who eliminates some of the former’s usual excesses (even if he includes a few penis jokes too many in the final cut). The director’s cut (23 minutes longer) is even more worthwhile, with some priceless digs at the disco era (including cameos by Patrick Duffy, Cheryl Ladd and Cheryl Tiegs!) that theatre audiences missed.

As is the case with others on my list, you’re likely to find a new highlight the first several times you watch, whether it’s John Michael Higgins’ impatient record executive, Tim Meadows’ unconvincing drug warnings, or the life-saving power of blankets. Whether the failure of WALK HARD to light up the box office was poor timing (a Christmas weekend release?) or improper marketing focus, it is a “so dumb it’s smart” classic that certainly ranks as the best spoof movie of the past decade. Buy the director’s cut. It isn’t edited quite as well, but you’ll get your money’s worth. Great soundtrack too.

SEX DRIVE (2008)
THE SURE THING for the 21st century. Josh Zuckerman plays a virginal teen who may or may not be falling for a “Catfish” online. With his unlikely Casanova of a best friend Clark Duke and female bud Amanda Crew (who secretly likes him) in tow, he ‘borrows’ homophobic brother James Marsden’s sweet GTO and sets off from Chicago to Knoxville to meet the online hottie (Katrina Bowden). While hoping Bowden is all that she seems, Zuckerman stays one step ahead of Marsden and other pitfalls of the American road trip circa 2008.

SEX DRIVE barely rated a blip at the box office in October 2008, but can stand toe to toe with any AMERICAN PIE film with the possible exception of the original. There’s more than enough twists on expectations and raunchy laughs to warrant watching this breezy yet cerebral Sean Anders comedy more than once. However, this is the reverse of WALK HARD in that the theatrical cut is the one you want--the 130 minute unrated director’s cut is WAY too self-indulgent, with gratuitous nudity and plenty of dead spots.

That aside, Anders keeps the good-natured tastelessness coming in a way that will satisfy any fan of that fondly remembered post-ANIMAL HOUSE era of comedy in the briskly paced 109 minute theatrical cut. Seth Green, Alice Greczyn, David Koechner and rock group Fall Out Boy are on hand for just a few of the many amusing cameos and supporting roles. And if you’ve never heard of “rumspringa”, this film may be downright educational. Well, sort of. Anders went on to write HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (also with Duke) and to direct THAT’S MY BOY, but don’t hold the latter against him. SEX DRIVE is worthy of a better title. 

1 comment:

Marty McKee said...

Dammit, Hal, you stole my SEX DRIVE suggestion! I recommend the unrated cut though. Yes, it's absurdly long (as are the male sex organs seen in disturbing closeup), but I like its anarchic spirit, the way it leaves in bloopers and periodically throws in CGI naked ladies as a bonus.