Category Archives: Slapstick

Linda Lovelace for President (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Vote for porn star.

The election is only a few months away and there are still no candidates running for President. Then someone suggests adult film star Linda Lovelace famous for her starring role in the porn classic Deep Throat. At first she is reluctant, but then after having a conversation with what she thinks is God she agrees, which then leads to many ‘zany’ and ‘comical’ adventures.

I don’t know where to even begin with this one except to say that it’s crap, pure and unadulterated crap that on any level isn’t worth anyone’s time. The gags are incredibly lame and there’s no real plot to speak. It’s also not very sexy, so if you’re considering checking it out just for that reason you might as well pass.

Lovelace isn’t all that attractive and certainly cannot compare to today’s porn stars. Maybe that sounds cruel and shallow to some, but let’s face it the selling point for this thing isn’t her acting talent. I think my biggest annoyance with her is her blank smile and stare and the way she delivers her lines almost like she is in some sort of hypnotic trance.

Had the film tried to keep things on a more real level and gone through some of the things a person who actually tried to run for President would go through than it might’ve had a chance and maybe even been really funny. Unfortunately we see none of that and there isn’t even any opposing Nixon-like candidate going against her. Instead it’s just a barrage of lame gags one after that other that wouldn’t amuse even a 4-year-old.

Chuck McCann has a few light-hearted moments as a racist senator near the beginning and later as an inept assassin, but otherwise there are no laughs to be had. It’s rare that I would ever suggest a porn flick over a feature film, but in this case I would. It’s been years since I’ve seen it, but Deep Throat even if you take out the sex scenes it’s still far better directed and more creative than this turkey, so if on a slow evening and you’re really desperate I’d pop that one in instead of this thing. In fact I’d rather watch an 8-hour video showing grass growing than this and believe me it would be far more interesting.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Claudio Guzman

Studio: General Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Another Nice Mess (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spiro and Tricky Dick.

This film is an odd, misfired concoction from writer/director Bob Einstein (Albert Brooks’ older brother) who had just won an Emmy for his writing on ‘The Smothers Brothers Show’ and decided to try his creative muscle at filmmaking. The idea might’ve seemed clever at the time, but it has not aged well. The premise has President Richard Nixon (played by Rich Little) and Vice President Spiro Agnew (played by Herb Voland) behaving like Laurel and Hardy and spending the entire runtime going through some of that classic duo’s more famous routines.

If you were alive during Nixon’s administration than this may come off as being a bit funnier than to those who weren’t however, taking potshots at the President is no longer fresh and for the most part even a bit tiring to watch. The vaudeville-like routines are predictable and this thing had me bored two-minutes in and even with its brief running time still was a major drag to sit through.

Voland is much funnier than Little and seems to imitate the comic legend of Stan Laurel far better than Little does with Hardy, but the characters are played up to be completely moronic and having to watch them do and say one mind numbingly stupid thing after another becomes very one-dimensional.

The film Hail was a Nixon satire that came out around the same time, but that film fared much better and was even quite clever at times. The main reason was that they had a plot while this one is just a non-stop gag reel with a first-graders level of sophistication.

If there’s one redeeming quality for watching this it would be in seeing Steve Martin in his film debut playing a hippie. He doesn’t have his patented white hair here and instead it’s long, curly and brown. I probably wouldn’t have even recognized him if it weren’t for his voice and mannerisms.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 6Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bob Einstein

Studio: Fine Films

Available: None at this time.

Hardly Working (1981)

hardly working

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Klutz can’t find work.

Bo Hooper (Jerry Lewis) is a circus clown who finds himself out of a job. His sister Claire (Susan Oliver) and her belligerent husband Robert (Roger C. Carmel) agree to take him in and help him find a new source of income. Things aren’t easy as Bo proves to be a major klutz at everything and gets fired from most of his jobs on his very first day. He finally gets hired as a mailman that after a rough start begins to go semi-smoothly, but will his secret relationship with Millie (Deanna Lund) who is his boss’s daughter help ruin it?

I admit I’ve never been much of a Lewis fan. His routine seems too much like that of a 5-year-old desperate for attention and willing to do any inane thing for a cheap laugh. Peter Sellers and Don Knotts have played similar klutzy characters, but they at least came off as semi-believable adults albeit not very bright ones. Lewis though is this middle-aged man who for no warning or reason will suddenly revert to the behavior of a 6-year-old, which isn’t funny, but creepy, weird and pathetic instead. You start to wonder how this character was able to make it in the adult world as long as he had without being sent away somewhere instead of whether he will get a job or not.

His shtick amounts to nothing more than accidently knocking something over and spilling contents onto the floor, which is about as simplistic and basic as you can get. In many cases he doesn’t even offer to pick it up, which forces others to do it instead. In one instance he knocks over some materials that were lying on top of his boss’s file cabinet and then just lets them remain on the floor only to have the stuff three minutes later magically reappear on the top of the cabinet anyways.

The empty logic of this already threadbare concept is another issue. Why must this circus clown resort to doing jobs he has no experience in? Aren’t there other circuses out there that he could work for? And wouldn’t a man who has spent years working in that industry have built up a network of contacts that he could go to in time of need?

His foray working as a sushi chef where he pretends to be Japanese will be deemed offensive and racist by today’s standards, but the film’s worst scene is the one involving a blimp. He decides on a whim to pilot one despite being on-the-clock as a postman. Since the character is unable to flip even a light switch without causing a catastrophe one would expect his blimp drive to have dire consequences, but instead he pulls it off without a hitch and then somehow doesn’t lose his job or get arrested afterwards.

Filmed in 1979 the production was forced to go on hiatus for 6 months when it lost funding, which may be why Oliver and Carmel, who appear predominantly during the first half, disappear completely without explanation during the second part. In either event Lewis’ ‘big comeback’ after a 10-year absence from the big screen is a complete misfire. His material hasn’t evolved at all and he relies on the most infantile jokes and insipid scenarios imaginable that wouldn’t entertain a bored child let alone an adult.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 3, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerry Lewis

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

Watch Out, We’re Mad! (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Replacing a red buggy.

Kid (Terence Hill) and Ben (Bud Spencer) are two race car drivers who participate in a race that ends in a tie that forces the two to settle on sharing the prize, which is a red dune buggy. The two though want the vehicle all for themselves and decide to settle on who gets to keep it by having a hot dog eating contest at a local bar. As they busily eat their hot dogs a local mobster known as The Boss (John Sharp) orders his men to destroy the place in an effort to get local businesses to leave, so that they can then use the land to build a giant skyscraper. Ken and Ben don’t mind the chaos, but when the mobsters then destroy the buggy they get mad…really mad! They confront The Boss and his equally nefarious psychiatrist (Donald Pleasence) insisting that the buggy MUST be replaced and it MUST be the same red color, or there will be trouble. The mobsters initially scoff, but find that these two men are far more resourceful and determined than they could’ve imagined.

This is the seventh teaming of Hill and Spencer who did their first movie together in the 1967 spaghetti western Blood River. They work well together and it is clear that they share a deep camaraderie. The film is full of all sorts of zany slapstick and I enjoyed most of it particularly the bar scene as well as a bumper car segment at a carnival. The best moment though is when they ram their car through the doors of a ritzy restaurant where the mobsters are dining and proceed to drive the car through every inch of the place while popping hundreds upon hundreds of giant balloons that lay all over.

The biggest issue though it that it doesn’t make any sense why these two would be so cocky and arrogant in the face of otherwise dangerous mobsters. Yes, it’s funny that these two ordinary schmucks seem oblivious to danger and can more than handle themselves, but it would’ve worked better had they been initially intimated and then slowly evolved into being more confident. You also have to question how these men acquired such powerful fighting skills, which made me believe that the characters should’ve been portrayed as police or government agents with some kind of combat training instead of just ordinary car mechanics that would not in any way be able to fight these bad guys off as consistently as they do.

The story is one dimensional and there really isn’t much of a third act with the broad plot simply an excuse to showcase a lot of slapstick. The humor is clearly on a kiddie level, but funnier than you might think even though there are certain routines that go on longer than they should and some that seem to repeat themselves. Still it’s refreshing to watch a film made in an era where slapstick was still considered a legitimate form of entertainment and not simply relegated to kid flicks and cartoons.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 29, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated G

Director: Marcello Fondato

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

Foolin’ Around (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Redneck falls for hottie.

Wes (Gary Busey) is a college student who has moved from Oklahoma to Minnesota to attend the university. Desperate for some extra cash he takes part in a program run by the student science department where he gets strapped to a chair and given an electrical shock every time he gives a ‘right’ answer. The procedure is facilitated by Susan (Annette O’Toole) who’s an attractive coed there. Wes is immediately smitten, but finds himself in an uphill battle as she is already engaged to Whitley (John Calvin) an obnoxious stuck-up social climbing man whose equally arrogant mother (Cloris Leachman) wants her to have nothing to do with Wes and tries to completely shut him out of her life.

Although far from a critic darling this obscurity still manages to have a few funny scenes. The best are Wes’s encounters with Whitley particularly when Whitley tries parking his car in wet cement or trying to subdue an out-of-control carpet cleaner in his office. Wes’s conversation with Susan’s grandfather (Eddie Albert) high up on the edge of a skyscraper under construction is nerve-wracking particularly when Albert walks out to the end of a beam hundreds of feet up and then challenges Busey to do the same. The film also has a unique car chase that features an automobile made to look like a giant hot dog as well as a hang gliding segment through the Minneapolis skyline that is downright exhilarating.

Busey does well as an amiable doofus in a part that seems best suited for his acting ability. O’Toole is at the peak of her beauty and Leachman manages to get a few choice moments as the meddling mother. Tony Randall is fun as a snooty butler with a French accent and it’s great to see William H. Macy in an early, but brief part near the beginning.

The on-location shooting done in the state of Minnesota adds some verve particularly the segment done on the sidelines of an actual Vikings-Rams football game. Unfortunately the script is threadbare with certain gags that become labored and lame and a romantic angle that is sappy and contrived. It is also hard to believe that Susan would for even a remote second consider marrying the Whitley character who is a one-dimensional arrogant asshole to the extreme. It is even more absurd that she would fall in-love with Wes as she is clearly out of his league both physically and intellectually and it’s about as farfetched as Busey ever one day winning the Academy Award.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 17, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard T. Heffron

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

Send Me No Flowers (1964)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hypochondriac thinks he’s dying.

Seriously funny story about hypochondriac George (Rock Hudson) overhearing a conversation from his Dr. (Edward Andrews) about one of his patients having only a short time to live and mistakenly thinking he was talking about him. He decides to set his beautiful wife Judy (Doris Day) up with another potential mate before he leaves, but she starts to get the idea that this is all just a cover-up for an affair that she thinks he is having, which creates all-out calamity.

Screenwriter Julius J. Epstein, who based this on the stageplay of the same name, hits all the right cylinders. The comedy shifts smoothly between engaging banter, parody, satire, and action. One of the best moments comes at the beginning with animated sequence of commercial parodies.

Hudson is great. Playing a dopey guy lost in his own little world works with his acting style. He and Day have a good chemistry and it is a shame that this was the third and last film that they did together.

The supporting cast is at the top of their game. Andrews is funny as the flippant Dr. Paul Lynde is also amusing as an aggressive cemetery plot salesman. Tony Randall is the funniest as George’s long-suffering friend Arnold. His new found fetish of ‘feeling tables’ is hilarious as is his frequent revisions of George’s eulogy, which he reads to him to ‘cheer him up’.  Although actor Clint Walker isn’t funny in his performance the shot showing this giant of a man getting out of one of the smallest cars you’ll ever see is a crazy sight.

Day is energetic and gorgeous as ever and I liked her opening title tune in which she sounds almost like Lesley Gore. However, the best moments go to the rest of the cast and she is left with slapstick segments that have nothing to do with the story. The scene where she takes all of George’s medications from the medicine cabinet and puts them into a bucket, which she then dumps onto his head while standing on a balcony is good, but the rest of her scenes don’t really gel.

One scene with her gets botched and involves her driving an out-of-control golf cart. The close-up shots make it obvious that she is in front of a blue screen and not really driving it to begin with. However, there is a moment where she drives through a bunch of sprinklers which makes her hair all wet and matted down, but then the camera cuts to some long shots showing her hair is still dry and fluffy, which exposes the fact that it was being driven by a stunt double wearing a wig.

There is another segment where she gets into a car and starts it up and even backs it out a little before she realizes that it is not her car. Another scene later on has George doing the same thing with another stranger’s car. Both times it is because the keys were conveniently left in the ignition, but how many times does this occur in real life? Since neither of these segment had anything really to do with the story and weren’t all that funny I would have left it out since both moments especially to happen twice are implausible.

The movie ends with a shot of the empty medicine cabinet while the credits scroll over it. Supposedly this was used to symbolize that George was now ‘cured’ of his hypochondria and no longer needed all of the medications, but mental illness is not something that just goes away and I thought it would have been funnier had medicines started to pop back into the cabinet until it became full again.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Flim-Flam Man (1967)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Con-man finds apprentice.

Curley (Michael Sarrazin) is a young army deserter living in an over-turned and abandoned freight car in the rural regions of Kentucky. By chance he meets up with Mordecai Jones (George C. Scott) a traveling con-man who decides to use Curly as his apprentice as well as his assistance in some of his more elaborate schemes. At first Curley goes along with it, but when he fall in-love with Bonnie (Sue Lyon) one of Mordecai’s intended victims he decides he wants out much to Mordecai’s reluctance.

Scott really shines and this may be his best comic performance. Although he was only 38 at the time he looks and acts like a genuine old man even though his gray hair looks like it was frosted on much like what is done to white Christmas trees. In some way it might have been more authentic had an older actor played the role, but Scott is so much fun in the part that the movie may not have worked as well.

Sarrazin is solid in support. His quiet demeanor and understated performances never allowed him to get the recognition that he deserved, but he was always effective in these types of roles and having the character walk the moral tightrope and sometimes fall off makes him interesting and believable. Lyon is also good as the romantic interest. Although I felt the romance bogged things down a bit I still enjoyed her natural acting style that is devoid of any pretension.

Harry Morgan is fun as the headstrong sheriff who chases after Mordecai and Curly as is Albert Salmi as his dim-witted deputy. Salmi’s blank looking facial expressions are tops and the car chase that they have with the two culprits features some impressive comical stunt work and seems to tear-up the entire main street of the town.

The soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith has wonderfully soothing melody with some great harmonica and trumpet solos. The on-location shooting in Kentucky captures the countryside and the hazy late summer sunshine of the region well.  For the most part the film is quite amiable and amusing, but predictable. The script lacks the unexpected twist or unique insight that would elevate it above being just the fluff that it is. The ending, which features Curly rigging the courthouse with dynamite and threatening it blow it up has a touching quality to it, but proves frustrating as it doesn’t show us what ultimately becomes of the characters.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Director: Irvin Kershner

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS 

The Great Race (1965)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Slapstick isn’t always funny.

            The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis), who makes a living performing in wild stunts during the early twentieth century, decides to stage the world’s longest car race that will span over three continents. It will pit him against the evil Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) and Fate’s slightly dimwitted assistant Maximilian Meen (Peter Falk) who will employ any dirty trick that they can in order to win.

It promises to be a grandiose comedy, but comes off as overlong and trite. In fact out of the total 160 minute run time I didn’t find any of it funny, it’s not even good for a chuckle. The gags are unimaginative, strained, and forced. It reverts to all the age-old shtick like a tired pie fight and equally tiring barroom brawl without adding anything new to it. Although the cinematography is excellent the action is cartoonish and will easily bore someone who is looking for something slightly more sophisticated. The film fails to achieve any momentum and seems to rely solely on its many lame jokes and stabs at unfunny humor to carry it.

The story is staggeringly threadbare with nowhere to go. The film’s title is misleading when you factor in that very little of an actual race is ever shown. The script goes off on a lot of side-stories and tangents all of which become increasingly more stupid as it goes along.  The worst one comes near the end when the audience should be gearing up for an exciting climax, but instead are treated to an inane scenario were the group find themselves trapped in a palace and dealing with a drunken prince who looks identical to Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon in a dual role).

It would have been better had there been more participants in the race instead of just the two. At the beginning there are several more drivers, but their vehicles all either crash, or break down right away in a highly uninspired fashion.

Curtis is boring in the lead and having him always seen in white makes him annoyingly clichéd. Lemmon’s character, who wears all black, is irritating as well in the opposite way.  Initially it was fun seeing Lemmon ham it up, but the character gets overplayed. I also didn’t like that medieval castle that he resided in, which appeared to be nothing more than a miniaturized model made of paper.

There are also many irritating logistical flaws that go overboard even for silly slapstick. One of the worst is the scene where both racers are stranded in a blizzard presumable somewhere in Alaska. Then the next morning they somehow find themselves on an iceberg that quickly melts as it floats into warmer waters, but how does that happen when before they were landlocked? Also, the Professor slips into the icy waters several times, which should have killed him.

If there is one good thing I can say about this film it is in the presence of Natalie Wood who plays a feisty feminist named Maggie Dubois. She is stunning and easily steals every scene that she is in. I loved the character’s gumption and I wished that she had been able to have her own car the whole way and competed against the two instead of having the derivative romance with Leslie. I also didn’t particularly care for ‘The Sweetheart Tree’ song that she sings, which is sappy, nor did I like the lyrics getting printed onto the screen along with a small bouncing ball.  Did writer/director Blake Edwards actually expect movie audiences to start singing along with her?

Supposedly this whole mess is a tribute to the slapstick films of the 20’s and 30’s particularly the Laurel and Hardy comedies, but as is the case with most of these things the originals are far better. The production values are high, there is a pretty good dual scene between Curtis and actor Ross Martin, and in the scene requiring a polar bear it is nice to see that a real one was used instead of a guy in a bear costume, which always looks tacky. Still, overall, it is a waste of celluloid that seems geared for an audience that no longer exists.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1965

Runtime: 2Hours 40Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video