By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Mad dash for money.
When rich toy inventor Milton Parker (Vincent Price) dies all of his relatives gather for a reading of his will hoping to get a giant share of his 200 million dollar estate. There’s his greedy sister Mildred (Cloris Leachman) along with her child-like grown son Georgie (Richard Masur) and shyster lawyer Stuart (Richard Benjamin) his servants (Cleavon Little, Roddy McDowell, James Coco, Stephanie Faracy) a dimwitted cab driver (Richard Mulligan), his nephews Kenny (Dirk Benedict) and Jeff (Willie Aames) as well as his son-in-law Henry (Tony Randall) and his four children. At the reading they are given a list of items each having a certain point total and told that whoever can collect the most items by the end of the day will be given the inheritance. Everyone then splits off into five teams and scours the city of San Diego looking to collect everything from a fat person, to a toilet and even an ostrich.
The natural inclination would be to write this movie off as being lame right from the beginning as the characterizations are quite broad, the action very cartoonish and the humor at an almost kiddie level, but farce/slapstick is a legitimate movie genre, so lambasting it simply for being silly isn’t really fair. Yes, you will have to park your intellect at the door to enjoy this one, but I found myself laughing more than I thought and it is great mindless escapism for the whole family without ever being crude or offensive. It also has Cloris Leachman who adds to her already legendary and eclectic resume by playing another extreme character and flying with it.
The film has a few hilarious bits including the servants stealing a toilet inside the bathroom of a post hotel and then later on while in a science lab getting attacked by a ‘giant soufflé’. Benjamin’s confrontation with an angry gang of bikers led by Meat Loaf is pretty good and the wild car chase that ensues at the end isn’t bad either. The film successfully interweaves moments of cynical humor as well, which helps make it more agreeable to older teens and adults.
There are also a myriad of famous faces in bit parts that are funnier than the main cast. I loved Ruth Gordon as a tough talking old lady and Robert Morley as the lawyer heading the estate whose facial expression when Leachman hugs him is a gem. Henry Polic II appears as a motorcycle cop who comes into contact with laughing gas and then loses his uniform and there is Arnold Schwarzenegger as an overzealous fitness instructor. I also really liked Scatman Crothers who appears for a while as Mulligan’s partner and then disappears only to come back in a pivotal part at the very end and even sings over the closing credits.
The only thing that really got on my nerves was Richard Masur as the overgrown man-child named Georgie. Acting wise he does it pretty well, but there is never any explanation why a grown man would be acting so infantile. Was he mentally challenged, or just mentally ill? It is never explained, but comes off more as creepy than funny. I also didn’t like Faracy initially as the dumb French maid, but she grew on me and eventually I came to adore her especially when she tells off Coco. Randall, as a beleaguered father is pretty much wasted, but I did like Julie Ann Haddock as his oldest daughter who later went on to play Cindy Webster on the first three seasons of ‘Facts of Life’.
African American director Michael Schultz shows quite the flair for variety. He started his career doing black-themed films like the classic Cooley High and Car Wash only to turn around and direct the Bee Gees in Sergeant. Pepper’s Lonely Club Hearts Band and then this one, which is in every way diametrically different from his earlier work, but still an accomplishment for his ability to take on such varying works and genuinely be successful at them.
Filmed entirely on-location in San Diego this film can be great fun for kids of all ages even those that are over 40.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: December 21, 1979
Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes
Director: Michael Schultz
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Available: VHS, YouTube