Sir Carol Reed directs Anthony Quinn as another lusty earthy scene-devouring hero in an archetypal seriocomic 1970 cinematic obscura about Native American relations and revolution on a New Mexico reservation. With Claude Rains (as a character named Lobo!) and Tony Bill as Reel Hollywood Indians who drink a lot and a fantastic unavailable theme by Kenny Rogers and Marvin Hamlisch. This was Carol Reed’s last film, the follow-up to his Best Picture winning OLIVER! (1969) and turned out instead to be his SKIDOO minus Otto Preminger’s outrageous style, except for a quasi-hallucination in a whorehouse and a scene where Flap examines a pal’s gashed genitalia and pours firewater on the wound. Now on Warner Archive. So be grateful.
Archive for Warner Archive
Not as forgotten as it once was thanks to a long overdue Warner Archive release, I first saw the trailer for this on HBO and to my young eyes it looked like a strange, stageboundy 70’s film, the kind relegated to two a.m. on HBO (“HBO will show this film only at night” in a chilling tone). Brian DePalma’s first studio picture after the cult success of GREETINGS (1968), he chose this unique transitional story as a continuation of his previous themes of societal alienation and corporate commodification. Warner Brothers wanted to see if Tommy Smother’s hip TV counterculture credentials could translate to big screen success, so he was attached along with Katherine Ross, John Astin, plus Orson Welles for a glorified cameo. Production wackiness ensued with DePalma either leaving or being fired according to sources. Warners refused DePalma’s gruesome yet sensible climax with its hero hacking a rabbit in half live on Johnny Carson and shot their own quick ending that still might have worked given more thought. Smothers was not happy with the footage leading to more conflict with the director and a studio with a film they had no idea what to do with. Shot in 1970 and released in 1972 (with a “60’s wacky roadshow musical” poster), GET TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT is exactly everything the trailer promised. A strange, stageboundy 70’s film with a title that whispers limited box-office, another oddity from 1970 when studios green lit the most oddball, anti-comercial movies possible for a brief period in the wake of EASY RIDER (1969).
DePalma’s stock split screen is used right off to good effect with Smothers and Astin (who’s always fun to watch) but this story of an ad man who throws it all away to become a tap dancing magician never finds its tone or identity, its comedy surrealism not quite effective because we don’t know the rules of the universe so it’s hard to connect with the serious aspects of the film (the most memorable scene is a party devoid of music or conversation). Smothers is an engaging stage presence but he’s almost opaque here and ironically, the only moments where he’s actually funny is when he’s doing his act on stage. Orson Welles is surprisingly funny in his brief bit as a shambled magician tho some may balk at a scene with him rolling around on the floor with Smothers in a sequined bag. What the hell, Welles liked broad humor. Katherine Ross is fairly wasted as The Terrific Looking Girl (yes, her name) but there are a couple nice bits by Dave Osborne and Allen Garfield. The studio’s scissorhands are pretty apparent as the transitions are awkward and scenes end without point or punchline. This makes GET TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT a must-see film obscura viewing as far as I’m concerned. The studio battles scarred DePalma and he veered into more commercial success with SISTERS (1973). It wouldn’t be until BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES that he touched this kind of scocio-political satire and that’s a shame as it would be interesting to have seen what films Brian DePalma might have pulled out of his cinematic hat…
In honor of my, ahem, upcoming TECHNICOLOR DREAMS: PSYCHEDELIC CINEMA 1959 – 1980 show (oh, you’ve heard?) at the glorious Hollywood Theatre in the green world of Portland, Oregon, here’s a flashback to the year when the whole world was erupting with Dionyssian change and exploitation maestros like Sam Katzman were cashing in on the flower children with films like THE LOVE-INS — a long unavailable psyche-relic now available from the cinematic saints at Warner Archive. Starring James MacArthur (two years before settling into HAWAII 5-0 square sidekick mode) as the least convincing student activist in movie history and LOST N SPACE’s Mark Goddard as a cynical promoter. Richard Todd plays an English Leary-like professor who offers the profoundly eternal wisdom, “Be more. Sense More. Love more.” All while turning a callous eye to the LSD Freak-Outs in the “Haight & Ashbury,” i.e., what looks exactly like the Columbia backlot. The Three Stooges once slapped each other silly on the same sidewalks; the times they were a’ changin’. Between director Arthur Dreifuss’s TV-level staging and his screenplay’s cultural misrepresentation (the hippies actually smoke banana peels and when old-school right-wing radio host Joe Pyne is your only “guest star”), THE LOVE-INS does feature cool cult psych bands of the day, the nifty all-girl UFO and of course, The Chocolate Watchband. The film’s literal highlight is Susan Oliver’s de rigeur Alice In Wonderland trip, which ranks up there with SKIDOO for surreal Hollywood happenings. Essential viewing for a Turned On Generation. “Be more. Sense More. Love more.”
One of the many raunchy counterculture comedies of the later 1970’s, AMERICATHON shared a slapdash, tasteless, revue style with films like THE GROOVE TUBE (1974); TUNNELVISION (1976); KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (1976); and especially NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) and Buck Henry’s FIRST FAMILY (1980), featuring Bob Newhart as the President with Gilda Radner as his horny daughter. The satiric residue from 1970 groundbreakers like MASH, CATCH-22 and WHERE’S POPPA? was about to be subsumed into the Just Do It decade, which doesn’t explain AMERICATHON’s lukewarm box-office, as the film is less than it’s prophetic central conceit — in an age where the USSR has fallen, China has risen, everybody wears jogging suits, and Nike has become a giant corporation, a national telethon is held to save America from economic collapse and foreclosure by the Native Americans. Harvey Korman plays a popular TV comic who wears women’s dresses (the comedy plays on that level) and hosts the telethon at the bequest of the clueless Commander-In-Chief, John Ritter, in an amusing part as an EST/Scientology flake (obviously based on California governor Jerry Brown) — “I’m President Rosevelt, this is my cabinet, and this is my old lady.”
Throw in narration by George Carlin; ANIMAL HOUSE co-star Peter Reigert; Fred Willard; Howard Hesseman; Jay Leno; Chief Dan George (John Carradine’s cameo as a drunken Uncle Sam was unwisely cut) along with the obligatory eclectic music cameos by Meatloaf (who fights a car), The Beach Boys and Elvis Costello (!) and you have an odd exploitation movie that played on late night HBO a dozen times (where I first saw it). Written and directed by Neal Israel (who also did TUNNELVISION), based on a play by Firesign Theater genius Phil Proctor, AMERICATHON has just enough humorous ideas to be watchable, even when it’s not all that funny. The opening scene of 1998 Los Angeles with Reigert waking up in his car home along with hundreds of others has stuck with me since my first and only viewing way back when. The rest of the film, not so much. But it is fascinating as a slice of surreal comedy cinema. And obviously has some resonance today.
I always liked these Future Shock satires, which tapped into such 70’s zeitgeist issues such as depersonalization, oil shortages and sexual politics. Of course, like some others, AMERICATHON is not available on DVD, probably due to music rights (the soundtrack is eclectic enough to be cool) but one can find a decent copy if one knows where to google. Watch the apropos trailer here. And if you do find the film, program a fun, weird double feature night with the equally “unavailable” FIRST FAMILY and be sucked back into the outlandish 70’s, where an idiot president has led the nation into total bankruptcy thanks to our dependency on foreign oil and technology…
UPDATE: The Cine-Saints at Warner Archive have AMERICATHON available in a widescreen MOD. God Bless America!
Sunday night all over Texas, 7 pm. Feels exactly like a Sunday night all over Texas. Smell of detergent from homes. Light traffic on the roads. Must work the next day. Drive into a quieter Sixth Street. Alert but still weary from the previous night. Settle into my usual seat. Order another pizza with beer. Feel guilty that I already ate pizza Friday. Indulge. Relax.
Quentin bops out, immediately goes into his riff on cheerleader movies and how they promised more than they delivered. But he held up PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (1971) as the best, most sexy, expensive cheerleader film never made by New World. With Roger Vadim as director and Gene Rodenberry (yes) as producer slash screenwriter, the project certainly had odd pedigree. Not to mention, Rock Hudson as Tiger, the he-man football coach who’s also seducing much of the foxy student body. People titter when Tarantino refers to Hudson as a stud, and of course there’s obvious irony but Quentin lectures apropos that Rock Hudson was an actor and knew his shit. He fooled the audience lusting after him for decades. QT also gamely told the audience that this is the kind of cheerleader movie that will genuinely turn you on. It’s clear Tarantino was enthralled by this film and with that out of the way, he dropped the mic. We were off to the double feature, 1970’s style.
For some reason, PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW will always be representative of my QT III experience and one of things that most evokes my time in Austin. I knew I loved this movie the minute the Osmond’s catchy theme song “Chilly Winds” started up over the archetypal ‘70s credit scene as our young hero on his Vespa finds himself surrounded by Eisenstienian cuts of nubile females. Only in this What Kind Of Man Reads Playboy era could so much adolescent horniness be sanctified by macro-close-ups of exposed, jiggling flesh. Blame the Frenchman behind the camera. I always suspected Rodenberry was some kind of libertine. Look at those mini-skirts in STAR TREK.
PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW was Vadim’s first and only American film, produced by MGM at the height of their disconnect from audiences. After the success of Antonioni’s BLOW-UP (1966) they tried all sorts of esthetic experimentation. By 1970, with the failure of Antonioni’s ZABRISKIE POINT, the famous studio lion was having a bad trip. Going with the revolutionary flow, the studio had sold off its past while trying to buy a future. But they ended up with unique films like this one. Vadim said he had total freedom and there were only about four films being shot on the lot at the time.
In a nutshell, the plot of PMAIAR is simple. A horny student named Ponce (engagingly played by John David Carson) finds himself in lust with proto-MILF Angie Dickinson at the veritable stratosphere of her carnal beauty. Meanwhile, certain nubile students are being bumped off with cryptic notes attached to their bodies. The prime suspect seems to be “Tiger”…the popular football coach and teacher. Rock Hudson is quite terrific and you don’t doubt his seductive virility, especially in a strong scene where he convinces Dickinson to give Ponce some private lessons. I’d have loved to watch that moment being filmed.
Throw in Telly Savalas as the pre-Kojack suspicious detective (holding his cigarette Euro-style as he did in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1968) and HORROR EXPRESS (1972); Roddy McDowall as the bewildered principal; James “Scotty” Doohan speaking straight English; William Marshall from STAR TREK; Keenan Wynn as a clod sheriff; and of course, dozens of stunning 70’s babes including the familiar Joy Bang…Top it off with Vadim’s leering, black comedy tone, questionable point of view and you end up with my favorite discovery of the festival. Harry Knowles was taken with it too as he enthused in his AICN post. Too bad Paramount won’t be rushing this to DVD anytime soon likely due to its risque high school nature, but it is available on bootleg and VHS. Kinky. (UPDATE: Warner Archives to the rescue!) And that theme song!
I was so pleased by PRETTY MAIDS and filled with Sunday night tranquility that I bailed on MOTHER, JUGS AND SPEED, a 1976 oddity with Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch and Harvey Keitel as wacky ambulance drivers directed by Peter Yates (BULLITT). The Cos is quite good in the film and I always thought he was an underused actor. “MASH on wheels” is how the ads described it and that’s certainly the tonal template, one of the last dark comedies of the decade. Roger Ebert’s review aptly sums it up: “It almost relishes the incompatibility of its scenes – gore followed by double entendre followed by chills ‘n’ spills – and if it thinks it’s imitating “MASH” it’s wrong, because “MASH” had a central idea about its battlefield surgeons and then played variations on it.”
I’m sure that’s what Tarantino loves about the film, going from running nuns to shotgun murders to slapstick chases. And I find that appealing too, if only as an indicator of the unpredictability that Hollywood briefly allowed its big studio films. I was feeling liberated myself that evening. Driving home past the soft Southern lights of Texas, I vow to evolve like Ponce and track down the Osmond’s coolest track ever. But first, I need serious sleep in order to go undercover for the Monday night roster of SPY FILMS…