Tag Archives: Billy Barty

Rabbit Test (1978)

rabbit test 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: The first pregnant man.

Lionel (Billy Crystal) is a lonely young man of 24 who lives next to his obtrusive mother (Doris Roberts) and has never been with a woman. When his friend Danny (Alex Rocco) comes home from the service they go out to a war veteran’s social where he has sex with actress Sheree North on top of a bowling pinball machine and inexplicably becomes pregnant. This creates an uproar in both the media and medical world and turns Lionel into an unwanted celebrity.

This was the one and only movie directed by Joan Rivers. Like with her personality it can be mildly funny at times, but is mostly abrasive and crass. The film lacks any cinematic style and was originally shot on video. The plot is limp and the whole thing seems more like a gag reel than a movie. Her attempts at recreating the comic style of Mel Brooks, Woody Allen or even John Waters fails miserably and the viewer is left with one big amateurish mess.

Ninety-nine percent of the humor is crude and stupid and deals heavily in racial stereotypes making one almost thankful for political correctness. Some of the worst bits include the portrayal of Lionel’s Mexican-American students as being utterly infantile and the only way to get rid of them is to yell ‘immigration’. There is also a segment where Lionel travels to Africa and watches a ventriloquist act where a black man has a dummy on his lap that is played by midget actor Billy Barty in blackface. The film also takes potshots at elderly people, fat people, people with disabilities and even Jews. None of the jokes are funny and are often cruel and in the poorest of taste.

rabbit test 1

Crystal in his film debut is the only good thing about the movie and is likable enough to help elevate it to some degree. Paul Lynde is amusing as a gynecologist and had he had more screen time it would have helped. Roberts score a few points in the caricature of a meddlesome mother as does George Gobel as the hick president. Michael Keaton also makes his film debut here, but it is in a non-speaking role as a sailor and if you blink you’ll miss him.

There is also never any explanation for exactly how Lionel becomes pregnant nor do we see the delivery or what type of baby it is which is annoying and dumb. It is almost like a bunch of twelve-year-olds got together to write the script and in many ways I think they could have done better. The film’s posters are funnier than anything you’ll see in the actual movie.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 9, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joan Rivers

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS

W. C. Fields and Me (1976)

W. C. Fields and me

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fields had a girlfriend.

Based on the memoirs from Carlotta Monti who was W.C. Field’s (Rod Steiger) companion for 14 years this film looks at their relationship as well as W.C.’s alcoholism and difficult personality.

This biography is highly romanticized and very light on the details. Apparently only one scene from the book is actually used in the movie. If one watches this in hopes of learning more about Field’s the man they will be disappointed. The tone seems similar to Oliver Stone’s The Doors where the intent is more on perpetuating the myth of its subject instead of tearing it down and showing the complete person. Just about everyone is familiar with Field’s drinking and cantankerous behavior, so having the film dwell exclusively in this area for the entire time is not interesting, or captivating.

The story would have been better served if it had been a complete bio beginning with Fields life as a child and then going all the way through to his death. Apparently he was born to an alcoholic father who beat him forcing Fields to run away from home at the age of 11 and live in a hole in the ground where he became dependent on stolen food and clothing for survival. He was in many fights and in and out of jail for most of his youth. Showing this could have been quite revealing, but instead the film skips past all of it and starts instead with Fields already in vaudeville and recreating a lot of corny comedy routines before having him drive off to Hollywood where his ascent to stardom seems much too easy and superficial.

Things improve during the second act when he begins his love-hate relationship with Carlotta (Valerie Perrine). Part of the reason this works is because Perrine is excellent. Her down to earth sensibilities really help balance the flamboyant ego’s around her and fit the character well. She is the one, not Steiger, who carries the movie and it was worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Steiger thought for sure that he would nab his second Oscar for his portrayal here, but instead didn’t even get nominated. His mimicking of Fields voice comes off as too rehearsed and effected. At times it gets annoying and just makes one want to watch a movie with the real Fields instead. His dialogue is too cutesy using lines borrowed from many of W.C.’s famous jokes and punch-lines. As expected he does induce the character with his famous Steigerisms and manages to not make it a complete misfire that it otherwise is. The scene, near the end, where Fields meets his now grown son that he hadn’t seen since he was three is his best moment.

Jack Cassidy is great in support as actor John Barrymore. The scene where he dies and his friends prop his dead body up into a chair and have him holding a liquor glass is amusing. Dwarf actor Billy Barty is good as Ludwig one of Field’s long-time friends. Some of the scenes the two share together are actually quite touching.

The film does a commendable job of recreating the period atmosphere. The music has a nice soothing quality to it and on the charm level it scores a bullseye. Despite my reluctance I found myself entertained by it, but as a biography it is flimsy, fictional and irrelevant.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 31, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: Universal

Available: Amazon Instant Video