Tag Archives: Dick Shawn

Maid to Order (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich girl becomes servant.

Jessie (Ally Sheedy) is a spoiled rich girl still living at home with her philanthropist father (Tom Skerrit). Even though she’s in her mid-20’s she has never worked a job due to her father’s fortunes and she takes everything for granted seemingly unaware of her privileged lifestyle and how it affects others. Her father becomes frustrated with her cavalier attitude and one day speaks out loud that he wished he never had a daughter, which summons a fairy godmother named Stella (Beverly D’Angelo) to come to earth and erase all memory of Jessie from him. Now Jessie must learn to survive on her own, but without any job skills. She finds work from a rich Malibu couple (Dick Shawn, Valerie Perrine) who are practicing ‘reverse affirmative action’ by hiring white woman in the role of the household maid instead of a Hispanic or Black one. Jessie, now desperate for money, readily accepts the offer, but her inability to do even basic household chores causes her employment to be in almost constant jeopardy.

The main character is what really hurts this one and it’s not so much that she’s unlikable either, which she isn’t,, but more because her personality is too watered down. This is the type of role that needed a real bitchy lady that exuded snobbery at every turn like Alison Arngrim who played Nellie Oleson the brat in the old TV-show ‘Little House on the Prairie’ or maybe even Shannen Doherty from ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ fame. Sheedy is just plain unable to play-up the bitchiness enough coming-off more like someone who lacks self-awareness instead of an elitist snob, which then makes her transition to humbleness not as interesting, dramatic, or funny. I’ve liked Sheedy in some of her other films and I realize she was trying to broaden her acting resume her by playing against-type, but she lacks the necessary charisma to keep it engaging.

The limp plot doesn’t help things either. It’s way too obvious where it’s headed and the viewer can easily predict the plot points before they even happen. There needed to be more confrontation from the contrasting personalities and more comedy from the quirky situation instead of the annoying life lessons that makes it seem almost like some afterschool special. Everything is aimed too much at the pre-teen audience, which leaves very little for a discernable adult tp enjoy.

The fairy godmother concept is a bit batty too. Why does a fairy answer this father’s wish, but no one else’s? Many people make wishes all the time, but no fairy godmother ever gets summoned, so what makes this situation so special? The script should’ve implemented some sort of side-story involving the father, or maybe even Jessie, getting involved in mysticism, which could’ve helped explain why this otherwise unusual incident then occurs.

I did however, really enjoy Dick Shawn in a very funny portrayal of the nouveau riche and he along with Beverly D’Angelo as the wise-cracking fairy godmother needed far more screen time. I was especially perplexed how underwritten D’Angelo’s part was as she plays a role that is quite fundamental to the story, but not in it half as much as you’d expect though her snarky remarks give this otherwise vapid material some much needed energy for the few minutes that she has.

Valerie Perrine, as Shawn’s wife, isn’t as amusing though her variety of gaudy outfits, and hairstyles, does at least lend visual flair. Skeritt though is completely deadening and it’s amazing how this guy has been acting on the screen since 1962 and yet the vast majority of his work is highly forgettable despite some of the movies he’s been in being memorable in other ways. Same for Michael Ontkean as Jessie’s romantic interest, he’s got the perfect pretty-boy face and hunky body, but seemingly no actual personality.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Amy Holden Jones

Studio: New Century Vista Film Company

Available: DVD

Water (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Island nation fights back.

Governor Baxter Thwaites (Michael Caine) runs the British Colony island of Cascara a largely peaceful place that is mostly ignored by everyone else. Then one day one of the oil rigs on the island taps into a underground reservoir of water that has all of its impurities already removed. The delicious tasting drink, that can also be used as a laxative, becomes much sought after from bottling companies across the globe. Now suddenly the British government wants everyone on the island to move out and find some other island to live on while taking over and turning this one into a profit making venture.

The film is patterned after many British satires of the 50’s through the 70’s like The Bed Sitting Room and O Lucky Man that mixes in wacky characters with absurd comic scenarios and also trying to make sharp political observations in-between. Unfortunately this film, which is based on a story by Bill Persky who appears briefly as a TV director, goes soft and is too similar in its vapid tone to Persky’s other social satire flop, Serial, which came out 5 years earlier. The message is too ambiguous and the plot too cluttered with insignificant characters that it becomes almost nonsensical.

The characters are so eccentric that the viewer cannot identify with, or care about any of them. The film in a way comes off as almost racist since the island is populated with black people, but the main characters are all white while the blacks folks get completely pushed into the background. If anything the viewer could’ve sided with the islanders and their quest to protect their homeland, but since all focus is put on the British people who control them, that never happens.

The eclectic cast is the only thing that somewhat holds it together. Brenda Vaccaro, who normally plays in dramatic roles, is very funny as Caine’s feisty wife although I could’ve down without her misguided accent. Valerie Perrine, with her clear blue eyes is fun too as an idealistic social activist although she was already in her 40’s at the time in a role which would’ve been better served by someone in their late teens or early 20’s.

Caine on-the-other-hand isn’t all that entertaining with the exception of the scenes showing him wearing a cocked hat, which are amusing.  He at least seems more comfortable here than in Blame it on Rio, which he did the same year as this one, but due to the subject matter in that one he clearly looked quite awkward and stiff while here he’s having a fun time even if the audience really isn’t.

This also marks the last feature film appearance of Leonard Rossiter, who died in his dressing while waiting to go on stage in a play he was in just a few months after completing his filming here. Normally he’s enjoyable to watch even when he’s playing a stuffy character, which is what he usually did anyways, but here he’s too much of a jerk and I did not find him to be humorous or interesting in any way.

If there is one person that ultimately does comes-off best it would be Billy Connelly who’s hilarious as this rebel leader who refuses to speak and instead communicates everything through singing. Dick Shawn is also quite good as this arrogant actor whose career has declined and now forced, much to his dismay, to being a spokesperson for informercials. You can also spot Joyce Van Patten very briefly in an uncredited role as a TV news reporter.

George Harrison, who also produced the film, appears near the end playing the bass guitar in front of political leaders at the UN while Ringo Starr handles the drums and Eric Clapton does the vocals, but the movie would’ve been more entertaining had all three of them been given roles to play, or at  least it couldn’t have hurt. The film’s title is a bit misleading too as the water ultimately has nothing to do with what saves the island from takeover, or allows them to keep their independence.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 11, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Dick Clement

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD

Beer (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: This beer is flat.

An ad agency goes on the offense when their top client Norbecker beer (Kenneth Mars) threatens to pull their account. B.D. Tucker (Loretta Swit) is put in charge of introducing a new ad campaign that will excite viewers. After she witnesses three men (Elliot Morrison, William Russ, Saul Stein) subdue a gunman at a bar she decides to hire them to star in her new commercial were they’re portrayed as macho men and chick magnets, which causes controversy when female viewers find the ads to be sexist.

Normally I love satire and find it sad that there are so few satirical movies out there and yet it’s films like these that have single-handedly killed the genre. The attempt at mixing the acerbic wit of Network with the work place politics of How to Succeed at Business without Really Trying and then throwing them into the rapid-fire joke structure of Airplane doesn’t work and only succeeds at producing more groans than laughs. The tone is inconsistent with too many dumb gags thrown in for the sake of a cheap laugh that many times has nothing to do with the main theme. Taking satirical jabs at the advertising business is too easy and been done before while portraying the industry and the people who work in it in too much of a generic way. You’ll find a more realistic portrait of the business and on-target satire from a weak episode of ‘Bewitched’ than anything you’ll see here.

The three male leads lack pizazz and are incredibly bland and transparent. The film might’ve had a better chance of working had it cut the three characters down to just one, hired an actor who had some actual presence and then geared the story completely from his point-of-view, so the viewer like the protagonist could see the ugly side of advertising biz first-hand from an outsider’s perspective.

The supporting cast fails to help. Mars does a softer version of the caricature that he portrayed in The Producers, but here it fails to elicit even a small chuckle. Swit, who was nearing 50 at the time, looks great, but her performance lacks verve. Sandra Bernhard, who was initially cast in the role and then later fired, would’ve been a better choice for this type of material.

Dick Shawn’s attempt to emulate Phil Donahue doesn’t work as he fails to share any of Donahue’s same mannerisms although seeing him prance around on stage as he goes from one audience member to the next is worth a few chuckles. The scene though, which involves female audience members shouting their disproval of the beer commercials at the three men who starred in them, would’ve been stronger had it been Swit a fellow female that was onstage taking the women’s heat instead of the men.

The biggest transgression though is that after bombarding us with one silly comedic idea after another it then decides to suddenly at the end make a ‘serious statement’, which is utterly hackneyed. You can’t spend the majority of time being inane only to get ‘profound’ at the last minute, which makes this production seem even more amateurish and misguided than it already is.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 30, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Patrick Kelly

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video

The Happy Ending (1969)

happy ending

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: The problems of marriage.

If there was ever a film with a misleading title it is this one. There is no happy ending here and in fact there is nothing in its entire 117 minutes that is happy as the film examines every negative and depressing thing it can think of about the institution of marriage and then rhythmically beats it into the viewer like a victim in a bar fight being pummeled by a brawler. The format works like a boring college professor lecturing endlessly about some tepid subject while tirelessly pinpointing every monotonous detail and not knowing when to stop.

The story is about Mary (Jean Simmons) who at one time was madly in-love with Fred (John Forsythe) and had extremely high ideals in regards to love and marriage when she married him. Now after fifteen years of living in a relationship that no longer has any passion she has turned into a depressed and disillusioned alcoholic looking for any way to escape the confines.

The film itself is intelligently done and well executed and makes some good hard-hitting points. The dialogue and conversations between the characters are realistic and well written and it is nice having adults acting and talking like real people. The only real issue is the question of why the filmmakers would think anyone would actually want to sit through something that is so endlessly downbeat. Sometimes these types of things work better in a satire format where they can still make the same points, but allow the viewer a few laughs as well. As it is the film is in desperate need of some levity and none is ever offered.

I also felt that film was too one-sided. I realize that there are a lot of unhappily married people out there, but there has got to be some couples that are happy with it. By never balancing it out and showing no other viewpoint makes the film come off like one long and unending rant.

Writer-director Richard Brooks infuses certain directorial touches that are novel to some extent, but heavy-handed as well. Showing clips of famous old romantic movies like It Happened One Night and Father of the Bride during Mary’s wedding is creative, but too obvious as is the segment when Mary is on a beach and a young couple asks her to take a picture of them and inside the camera’s viewfinder Brooks inserts an image of Mary and Fred when they were a young and in-love. There is also too much footage of Casablanca shown, which does nothing but make the viewer want to watch that over this dreary thing.

Simmons gives a strong performance and looks as beautiful as ever. She is also straddled with a few difficult scenes but does them well including a harrowing segment where she is rushed to an emergency room after swallowing some pills and has a hose stuffed down her throat in an attempt to vomit them out. Tina Louise is great in support as is Dick Shawn in a rare dramatic turn. Shirley Jones is also good as Mary’s jaded friend Flo and she is given some of the film’s best lines.

Forsythe is okay as the husband, but not too exciting though he never usually is. He should have had the big mole in the center of his forehead surgically removed as my eyes always seemed to fixate on it every time he was shown in a close-up. I got to admit I was amazed his character did not kill his wife on the spot when he found out that she had run up his credit card in one day on $11,421 worth of charges on clothes. This was 1969 dollars and I have no idea what astronomical figure that would be for today, but it would be beyond outrageous nonetheless. Of course he was caught fooling around, so I suppose this was her way of getting back at him and boy did she ever.

The film does have a few powerful scenes that I did like. The part where Fred defends Mary after she has run out on them and their daughter Marge (Kathy Fields) feels that her mother no longer loves her is really good as is the final conversation between Fred and Mary as well as Mary’s conversation with her mother (Teresa Wright) about the happiness of her mother’s own marriage. The moment when the very cynical Flo becomes all teary-eyed and excited when the married man that she has been fooling around with decides to divorce his wife and propose to her despite the fact that she has spent the rest of the movie considering the idea of marriage to be over-rated is savvy.

Like with the sappy and over-played Michael Legrand song ‘What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?’ the film goes on too long and there are just not enough good things about it to justify sitting through.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Brooks

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming