Tag Archives: Ron Leibman

Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog becomes a star.

Estie Del Ruth (Madeline Kahn) is a struggling actress still waiting for her big break. While roaming the streets she comes upon a homeless dog (Augustus Von Schumacher) and befriends it. Grayson (Bruce Dern) is a hapless tour guide driving a bus filled with tourists past the homes of the famous Hollywood stars. He’d rather be directing movies and has some great ideas, but is constantly getting turned down. Then one day famous studio mogul J.J. Fromberg (Art Carney) witnesses the dog saving Estie from a lecherous producer (Aldo Ray) and is so impressed that he wants to cast the dog in its own movie. Grayson, seeing this as his chance to finally break into the movie business, pretends to be the dog’s owner and therefore allowed to be in charge of directing the dog’s film, but the dog will only take orders from from Estie forcing him to allow her to tag along, but only if he helps her get a movie contract.

The story was originally titled ‘A Bark was Born’ and written by Cy Howard in 1971 and was an account of the famous 1920’s real-life dog star known as Rin Tin Tin. He commissioned Arnold Schulman to write the script for him. Schulman, who was coming off a good run of films as screenwriter including penning the scripts for Goodbye Columbus and Funny Lady decided to add some satirical elements to the story before finally handing it off to studio head David Picker to produce. However, the owners of Rin Tin Tin sued Picker for producing a film about their dog without authorization causing Picker to remove the fictional elements from the script and turning it into a all-out farcical parody of old-time Hollywood instead.

The film’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t give the viewer a feeling that they’re being transported to a different era as the 1920’s are played-up as being too cartonish and silly to be believable. The characters are caricatures that have no emotional connection to the audience, so watching their ascent into Hollywood success is neither interesting nor compelling. The humor relies too much on throwaway bits that have no connection to the main plot and mostly fall flat while moments that do have comic potential, like the dog only taking orders from Kahn, do not get played-up enough.

Kahn is a poor choice for the lead and single-handily bogs the production down, which wasn’t too great to begin with. She is perfect as a supporting actress playing over-the-top, eccentric characters, but as a normal person trying to elicit sympathy she does poorly. Lily Tomlin was the original choice for the part, but she wanted the script rewritten in order for it to have a more serious edge, which wouldn’t have been a bad idea,  but director Michael Winner wanted to keep the thing silly and lightweight and didn’t agree.

Dern, who expressed in an interview decades later, that doing this film was his one true career regret, is actually quite good and its fun seeing him play in a more lighthearted role versus the darker ones that have made up so much of his onscreen presence. However, by the second half he pretty much gets written-out, which was a shame. Ron Leibman, as the cross-dressing silent film star Rudy Montague, has a few interesting moments, but he plays the part in too much of an intense manner making him seem more creepy than funny.

Art Carney is not funny at all as the big-time studio head and the part would’ve been better served had it been played by Phil Silvers, who gets stuck in a much smaller role that does not take advantage of his comic talents. The rest of the cast is made-up of walk-on bits by famous stars of the past. Most these cameos are not amusing or interesting making their presence much like the movie itself quite pointless.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Door to Door (1985)

door to door 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Schmuck can’t sell shit.

Leon (Arliss Howard) has taken a sales job, but is finding very little luck with it. He meets by chance Larry (Ron Leibman) who is a more seasoned sales professional and who promises to take Leon under his wings and ‘show him the ropes’. Unfortunately for Leon Larry is not very ethical and sells vacuums for a company that he does not actually represent forcing the two to go on the run from a bounty hunter (Alan Austin) who has been hired by the vacuum company to track them down.

I’ve worked in sales at various points in my working life and can attest that it is usually quite thankless and never lives up to the great promises of a high lucrative potential salary that the ads always suggest. The movie lightly touches on these aspects as well as a ‘motivational’ speech given to a group of sales people to get them ‘pumped up’, but it doesn’t go far enough with it. What starts out as a satirical look at life in the sales world quickly devolves into just another contrived and generic comedy/romance.

The plot is also highly illogical, which includes a tidy wrap-up that makes no sense at all. The biggest issue is that Larry pays this bounty hunter not to turn him in, but why bother? Larry has proven to be successful at sales, so why not get a legit sales job as there are always a ton of them around and quit the charade while spending half of his earnings paying off someone that he doesn’t need to. It also doesn’t make complete sense for the bounty hunter to keep accepting the payoff either as eventually the company is going to quit employing him when he is unable to ever manage to find Larry and hire someone else who can, which means Larry will no longer have the need to keep paying him and eventually cut off both of the bounty hunter’s income streams.

Leibman has enough of an acting pedigree that he shouldn’t feel the need to appear in this transparent, low budget, obscurity simply to collect a buck, but with that said he still gives an energetic performance and can be seen sans his usual toupee. Jane Kaczmarek is attractive as the love interest, but Howard is dull in the lead and has a perpetually mopey expression that I found annoying.

A story dealing the trials and tribulations of working a sales job is ripe with comical potential, but this thing, which was filmed on-location in Covington, Georgia, doesn’t even touch the surface. The scene where Larry stupidly drives his Cadillac into a river is the film’s one and only mildly interesting moment, but otherwise this bland movie lacks any type of originality or imagination.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: August 3, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Patrick Bailey

Studio: Castle Hill Productions

Available: VHS