Find the Lady

Find the Lady.  Quadrant Films 1976.

Before watching the movie:

This is an old and (perhaps deservedly) forgotten movie from the early days of John Candy’s career. I’ve seen two wildly different posters for it, it was released under different titles, and his character has a partner the promotional material doesn’t care about because the partner didn’t become as famous as Candy.

So, my time would probably be better spent watching SCTV sketches, but here we are.

After watching the movie:

With the police force stretched thin, the chief wants to resolve the kidnapping of prominent businessman Lewenhak’s daughter Victoria quickly, and puts seasoned officer Broom on the case. Inexplicably, the otherwise competent Broom is the only one on the force who likes young oaf Kopek, and requests him as his partner. As it happens, Lewenhak planned the kidnapping with mafia thugs so he could use money from Victoria’s inheritance as “ransom” to pay off his own gambling debts. Only the thugs grabbed the wrong girl. And Victoria has run off with her boyfriend. And then gotten kidnapped by someone else. Now Lewenhak is trying to coordinate his business with the mobsters while allowing Broom and Kopek to tap his phone.

This seems like it’s mostly moving from one slapstick setup to another, yet it doesn’t actually have many showstopping slapstick gags. The plot is farcical, Kopek is a clumsy idiot, and Mickey Rooney is a goon frustrated that he doesn’t get to kill anybody, and nothing really comes together the way it seems like it should. Little makes sense beyond “this is supposed to be funny”. Sometimes it is funny. Sometimes I can just see what they were trying for.

One of the subplots is that Victoria is supposed to be an opera singer, but wants to be a cabaret performer, and is good at neither, and through that, a burlesque troupe gets involved. The comedy of mixing Broom and Kopek with them seems to be meant to come from how uncomfortable Broom is about everything. Even though the choreographer is a gay-coded man who refuses to stop dressing in drag once he starts, unless the punchline is simply “man in a dress, rimshot”, and given the quality of the writing and the time it was made, it’s entirely possible that’s what was meant, I think the jokes are mainly on Broom.

John Candy’s retroactive star power puts too much focus on the police investigators, but even so, they seem to be meant as stronger leads than they end up being. I was most interested in Lewenhak’s compounding problems, and I would’ve preferred a version where he was a proper Villain Protagonist, because he’s the most central character to the bumbling kidnappers plot that drives the story. And also because it would give Peter Cook more to do.

This movie was simply a waste of potential. It needed a few more rewrites before going into production. It fails at being a vehicle for the lead characters that were apparently established in a previous movie. It fails at holding interest. It often fails at being funny. The concept could’ve been a hoot, but it needed a lot of punching up.

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Movies of My Yesterdays: The Seven Percent Solution

holmes

I knew when I chose this month that it was going to be a five-week month. And yet, poring over an exhaustive list of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, I found that, once I eliminated the films I’d seen, the works that were not theatrical feature films, the ones that were not part of series I’d already covered, the releases too fresh to approach, and the silent and foreign films that had too little to recommend them, time and again I came up with only four to cover. And then one turned out to be a remake of the same script. While it’s disappointing that so few passed my filter, having a fifth space to fill affords me the opportunity to close my series on the character that has meant so much to me and the culture that I’m partially a product of with a personal reflection that can touch on the whole of my history with Sherlockiana.

Sherlock Holmes was about as ingrained in my childhood as nursery rhymes. Aside from environmental references, and The Great Mouse Detective‘s pastiche, my introduction to the stories themselves may have been with the cassette tape of Jim Weiss performing children’s adaptations of some of the short stories that I recall being my favorite of the Jim Weiss tapes we had, but it’s the earliest I can cast my mind back to now. In particular, his versions of The Speckled Band and The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle have stayed with me. Later, as I’ve previously discussed, Wishbone was for a long time the biggest children’s show in my life, and while The Hound of the Baskervilles may have been cut down too much, the most faithful handling of Irene Adler I’ve ever seen was in Wishbone’s take on A Scandal in Bohemia.

I’m just as concerned as readers no doubt are that this is going to become an exhaustive list of every encounter with Holmes I’ve had, but I’ll try to keep it brief. I had a brief fling with Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, but eventually decided that it didn’t translate well to science fiction, and may have been the genesis of my antipathy to the “it’s always Moriarty” trope. Growing up in a reading household, I got my hands on canon Doyle earlier than I had the capacity to properly read it, especially as the most readily available copy was heavily annotated, which didn’t mix well with my attention span. Jeremy Brett didn’t have quite the presence at home that David Suchet and Joan Hickson did, or even Ian Carmichael, but he was there.

The Seven Per-Cent Solution. Herbert Ross Productions 1976.

And then Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came out on DVD. This may seem like the wildest of digressions, but what happened was that in the bonus features, I learned that the writer/director Nicholas Meyer had gotten noticed for writing a book called The Seven Per-Cent Solution. A book which had for all my life sat on the bookshelf right next to the television that I’d never paid much attention to. I suddenly paid it quite a lot of attention. In short succession, I read it and his two other Holmes pastiches and then somewhere in there learned that Solution had been adapted into a film, which is why Meyer had been able to get into the movie business.

While I enjoyed the novel immensely, I left the movie with the sense that something had been off about the story, including the novel. Eventually I realized that what had rubbed me the wrong way was that it seemed to treat the characters like toys from the toybox to play with. “Let’s have Sherlock Holmes meet Sigmund Freud! A grand adventure with the World’s Greatest Detective and the World’s Greatest Psychologist!” In short, it felt like some of the more grating kinds of fanfiction.

That feeling puzzled me. Fanfiction as I knew it was published by authors online. Write, post, move on. But this was a dead-tree novel. It had, at least as I understand it, a kind of blessing from the Doyle estate that a lot of apocryphal Holmes stories never got. It was as close to new canon as one could get. Eventually, through working out this crisis of Holmesian faith, I came to realize that the difference between fanfiction and official works is much more fluid than I thought. Indeed, franchised works have been known to solicit fanfiction as writing auditions. I’ve seen fanfic writers go on to publish their own original works and I’ve seen others get hired to write official derivative works. I’m sure I’ve encountered fanfiction authors that go on to write mainline official works, but I can’t think of one right now.

Returning to this film now, I think the chief reason the movie failed me where the book did not is that by necessity, it dumps the pastiched prose, which goes a long way toward removing the feeling of “A Sherlock Holmes Story”. Collapsing the story into two hours also brought to light how little the plot concerns itself with unspooling a mystery. The first full half or more is about Holmes reaching rock bottom, the plan to help him, and the recovery process. By the time the mystery presents itself, it seems an accidental intrusion to the study of a side of the character Watson would have been reluctant to bring to light.

Additionally, the movie’s need for blustery action sequences exposed two further problems: the red herring chase into the stable finding them in danger at a moment where Holmes is in a theraputic trance was the clanging moment when I realized back then how much more in love the story is with Sigmund Freud than with Holmes. So much of the movie is a Freud and Watson adventure enabled by Holmes’s addiction and then his intellect. I don’t recall if the stable scene is in the book, but I do know the final chase and battle was, and I regret to say it seems rather low stakes for such a thunderingly exciting sequence. I don’t mean to denigrate the worth of the abducted lady, but usually in movies a breakneck chase and rooftop swordfight with an evil baron has world-shattering stakes. Indeed, a glance at the book summary reminds me that in the novel, there were political implications that postponed World War I. Ultimately, I feel the movie could have done with either more intrigue or much less. The scandalous character study would have made a fascinating film all on its own.

Such is the legacy of Sherlock Holmes. There are many interpretations of the man. Sherlock Holmes has infinitely many faces. He may be a cold logician, a student of criminal psychology, a master observer, a passionate force for justice, or even a cocaine fiend. All of these qualities are present in different measures across all incarnations. What is constant is that he is, by whatever measure is relevant to the time of the work, the world’s greatest detective, and for whatever reasons we find to latch on to, we love him. There will never be an end to the tales, and so there will never be an end to the character. Perhaps Holmes will return to this blog sometime, through some reevaluation of a work, or through discovery of one not previously considered. But for now, it’s time to give him a rest. Good night, Mr. Holmes.

Bugsy Malone

Bugsy Malone. Paramount Pictures 1976.
Bugsy Malone. Goodtimes Enterprises 1976.

Before watching the movie:

I stumbled across this maybe decades ago, I believe referenced in an educational book about movie making, which noted that there was a movie that cast all child actors in grown-up roles, requiring all of the sets and props to be custom-built at a child scale. That obviously stuck in my mind, but I never followed up on it. Recently I watched a movie that made an offhand reference to this movie, finally looked it up, and here it is.

I had no idea before I looked it up that it was a musical. This sounds fantastic. A G-rated gangster movie musical with a completely child cast, starring Jodie Foster and Scott Baio. I mean, it could go horribly wrong, but what reputation I’ve been able to glean about it suggests not.

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King Kong

King Kong. Dino De Laurentiis Company 1976.
King Kong. Dino De Laurentiis Company 1976.

Before watching the movie:

Yes, this is a remake. The second remake, if an Indian version made in the 60s that stands little chance of appearing here counts. And no, I haven’t seen the original yet. I haven’t seen any version before now. This is mostly a matter of what was available, and while the newest version is old enough to be considered, I’m more attracted to this one. Just by its era, I expect it to be more accessible than the original, while still feeling more classic than current. Then on top of that, it has a particularly notable cast. Fay Wray was at the top of her career in 33’s King Kong, but she’s popularly remembered for little else now. Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, and Rene Auberjonois are all still fairly well known today, and I’m looking forward to their performances.

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Aces High

Aces High.  Fisz Productions/Productions Roitfeld 1976.
Aces High. Fisz Productions/Productions Roitfeld 1976.

Before watching the movie:

World War I doesn’t get nearly as much attention as any other major war of the 20th century (that registers in American history education). It’s sometimes treated like a forgotten prequel to everyone’s favorite war with Nazis and atomic detonations. While it’s a mentality I’m not at all immune to, it’s worth remembering as the horrific tragedy of old-fashioned warfare at an industrialized pace. There are few symbols more powerful to me than the Douaumont Ossuary, a memorial built to house the remains of over 130,000 young men killed in a single (massive) battle, and that number is just the ones that couldn’t be identified. Small wonder it was thought at the time that this war would make any future wars unthinkable. As centennial anniversaries of milestones in the war are remembered currently, it might be gaining back some respect.

I went into all of that because this movie is positioned as a drama concerning the toll aerial warfare took on RAF pilots, and so hopefully the above paragraph is relevant, even if it was more concerned with terrestrial battles than planes. The big names by today’s standards are Malcolm McDowell and Christopher Plummer, though Peter Firth (whom I don’t think I’ve heard of) gets top billing on this poster. I know McDowell is a major character, but I’m not sure about Plummer.

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YesterMovies Rewind: Family Plot

rewind

Family Plot. Universal Pictures 1976.
Family Plot. Universal Pictures 1976.

Five years ago this month, Yesterday’s Movies officially began. To celebrate half a decade of movie reviews, I’m rewatching some of the highlights and giving them second-look reviews. This week, I’m giving the unfairly forgotten Family Plot another try.

In May of 2011, I was preparing to leave for an extended stay in another state, and I’d decided that my last review the night before leaving would be a family copy of Family Plot. However, shortly after I began watching the movie, I received word canceling the lodgings I thought I’d secured for my trip. I spent the next few hours frantically trying to make other arrangements, and while I managed to get a review posted, I probably hadn’t had enough attention to give it. Therefore, I always wanted to find an opportunity to give it another attempt, since it’s probably the film on this blog most deserving of a second look.

That story is pretty much all of what I remember about the movie. It’s some kind of comedy about murder, but I think that much is stated on the box.

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Rocky

Rocky. United Artists 1976.
Rocky. United Artists 1976.

Before watching the movie:

And now another installment of “how could you never have seen…?”

Yes, I’ve never seen any Rocky movie. Or maybe I’ve seen them all, thanks to spoofs, parodies, homages, reference clips, and a handful of “underdog solo athlete” genre movies that I have seen. But that just proves the cultural relevance of the film and why I should be seeing it. The story of Stallone’s million to one shot of getting this made was more interesting to me than a David and Goliath story about a boxer. There’s probably a documentary or biopic about that out there.

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