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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Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Four Square Productions 1978.

Before watching the movie:

I always knew that this was a horror spoof, but I didn’t realize it was a musical. It’s already under 90 minutes, and there are songs in it, so the plot will probably be very thin. But how much plot can be gotten out of running from murderous fruiting vines? Three sequels and a cartoon series, apparently.

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Man of La Mancha

Man Of La Mancha. United Artists 1972.

Before watching the movie:

I think this is the way most people have experienced Don Quixote.  I’ve read some of the book, but despite the new translation I was using, the stilted nature of it still sometimes overpowered the comedy, which itself sometimes felt a little too much like “mental illness is funny!” It’s at the same time amazing how modern it feels at over 400 years old and yet how basic the storytelling can be at times, because it’s had 400 years to become part of the way we always tell stories.

But the grandeur of the way Man of La Mancha interprets the book is enticing and accessible. Everyone has heard at least a few bars of “The Impossible Dream”. It’s a classic showtune ballad. The romance is probably more feel-good in this take as well.

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The Late Show

The Late Show. Warner Bros. 1977.

Before watching the movie:

I picked this up because I was curious why there was a talk show highlights compilation on the fiction movies shelf.

Art Carney and Lily Tomlin sold me. Apparently it has a reputation as a drama with a lighter tone, but it’s positioned like a noir farce, so I’m interested in trying it.

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Million Dollar Duck

Million Dollar Duck. Walt Disney Productions 1971.

Before watching the movie:

There’s a tendency for the family comedies Disney made in the 50s-70s to blend together, unless they reached you early enough to trigger nostalgia. At this point, it’s hard to say if that’s the classics rising to the top, or one generation passing their nostalgia to the next.

This is not one of the well-known ones. At least, I only learned about it by finding it on a shelf. It stars Dean Jones, but so does almost every movie Disney made back then. Disney’s stable of reliable actors reminds me these days of the contract system of the Golden Age of Cinema, where actors contracted to do so many movies of whatever kind they were assigned to with the same studio before they were free to leave or renew their contract, which also created a kind of repertory effect.

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All the President’s Men

All the President’s Men. Wildwood Enterprises 1976.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve always felt that the Watergate wiretapping investigation was the single moment that America lost popular faith in its government. Perhaps that’s a naive view of history before it. Certainly the Vietnam War was a black eye for the nation. And I know there were other scandals gaining headlines between the Civil War and the Great Depression. Not long ago I covered a movie about political corruption from the 30s.

I will certainly grant that corruption has been around as long as there has been power to abuse. But if I had to point to one reason why pretty much anyone will tell you they’re all crooks in Washington, I’d say it was the CREEP coverup revelation. That was, in my mind, when the spin broke down and we saw the President’s New Clothes. The day a sitting president resigned in disgrace to avoid impeachment was the day we stopped believing that as a whole, our leaders had our best interests at heart. At least, that’s the narrative I’ve developed as someone who was born almost two decades later, having lived in a world where no substantiated political scandal has yet compared.

After watching the movie:

When the Washington Post’s newsroom signs young reporter Bob Woodward to cover a burglary at the Watergate hotel, it’s a simple police story. But as he covers the legal proceedings, he finds that they were assigned counsel but turned out to have private counsel they couldn’t have had a chance to hire themselves. Following that mystery leads to uncovering a meeting with a someone who works for the Special Advisor to the President. As the story grows, younger Carl Bernstein joins with Woodward to help pursue and report the case. Everything about it indicates deep corruption, but no source will go on record, and hardly anyone will give any information at all. There are plenty of hints that this is something big, but hints and hearsay don’t make concrete journalism, and the harder they push, the higher the pushback comes from.

This doesn’t play much like a movie. It’s more a methodical presentation of events. It seems almost as clinical as the case studies Sherlock Holmes would prefer Watson write. Despite dealing with the very heart of what makes our free society work, there’s next to no emotional investment asked for by the narrative. The duo fight through cold trails to get their facts, but we don’t get any kind of personal level of narrative conflict, just the professional challenge. This is almost excusable by the fact that we as the audience know how things turned out.

The end seems very abrupt. I’d consider the story beat it concludes on to be the beginning of the third act. After a major reversal, they get back on their feet and roll up their sleeves… and then it’s over, and all their vindication comes from an epilogue told in headlines. Perhaps this decision came from realizing the movie was already reaching two and a half hours in length.

Perhaps due to the limitation of scope of the story told, there doesn’t seem to be time in those two and a half hours to really explore the gravity of just how big the conspiracy was. It’s a gut punch to learn how much of the government was in on the election interference, but then everything wraps up with all the mess of that handled off camera.  This further leaves the impression that nothing really matters in this movie about uncovering very important things.

Ultimately, this story isn’t as concerned with the erosion of democracy as it is with journalistic integrity. Journalists will say that journalistic integrity is key to democracy, but in this case, the report could only be made after the damage had been done. The scheme worked, all the papers could do was refuse to let it stick. And by the narrative shown here, even that was a long shot.

 

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Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?

Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? Lorimar Productions 1978.
Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? Lorimar Productions 1978.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t remember how I originally came across this movie. Maybe I was looking up Robert Morley, maybe something else referenced the title, I don’t remember. But I do know that when I heard the title, I had to look it up to see if it was a real movie. And then I read the description and had to see it. And then it was not available online, so it ended up being a Christmas present. Which I am now watching.

I look forward to a globetrotting romp through culinary masterpieces, and also murder.

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