Friday, February 23, 2007

I'M GONNA DO WHAT THEY SAY CAN'T BE DONE

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same.

I assume someone famous is responsible for that quotation, but I'll be damned if I know who. And you know what? It's unimportant to our purposes to know who. The quotation itself is pretty unimportant, but I figured that leading off with a famous bon mot would lend an air of gravitas to the proceedings.

Or something like that. And why do "the proceedings" need this bon mot-gravitas loaner? I'm not sure about that either. Jeez, what's with the questions?

Anyway, there is a change afoot with the Friday Silly Movie Of My Youth Of The Day. It's been long in the making, I've hinted at it repeatedly, and today the chickens come home to roost (or the ducks come back to the pond . . . wait, or is it the fish returning to the barrel? The swallows to Capistrano?). You see, the thing is, I've pretty much run out of the very films that launched this ludicrous conceit in the first place: silly, cheesy, or pre-campy films of the 70s and very early 80s that I actually saw and liked as a kid. I've been doing this since August, and it's not getting any easier.

So, since the franchise has survived the journey into television, the introduction of movies that actually remained watchable into adulthood, a leap across the border into the 80s, and even the inclusion of a television Christmas special, the FSMOMYOTD now makes its boldest move yet: movies that were actually popular when they came out. Good box office, good reviews (potentially, but highly unlikely), cultural icons even. I can't hold out any longer. I want to, but I can't.

So, I plan to bring the same appreciation of goofy 70's hijinks, a love of the ridiculous and the sublime that moved me as a lad. Oh, and I assure you, these movies will continue to be silly. Very silly. Enough explanation, let's get to it. Ladies & gentleman, your new-fangled Friday Silly Movie Of My Youth Of the Day:

Smokey And The Bandit.


1977. The hair was long, the blouses were flouncy, the cars guzzled gas and occasionally went as fast as they sounded. And, believe it or not, CBs and Cowboy hats. And most unbelievably, Burt Reynolds. He was an A-list actor. He was the A-list actor. Anyone who was not alive and kicking in the 70s will have a hard time understanding how this mustacheoed, toupee-wearing, good ole boy was the biggest movie star in the world.

All I can say is this was the 70's. Explain the popularity of wide lapels, the Bay City Rollers, Jimmy "J.J." Walker, and white athletic socks pulled up to the knees, and then you can turn to Burt Reynolds. Til then, let's just roll with the facts as presented. Because as the 70s ended, and lapels got narrow, the Bay City Rollers went back to Glasgow or wherever the hell they came from, and socks drooped to the ankles, Burt's career turned towards the region of the country from which he came.

(That'd be the South.)

Hooper and Gator and Cannonball Run and Paternity. Yikes. And as we'll see below, it got even worse before P.T. Anderson rescued him in 1997. And come to think of it, while there were a few kids in school in '77-'78 with iron-on t-shirts featuring trucks and hot rods and CB expressions like "10-4 good buddy," or "we got a bear in the air and a beaver in the cab," or whatnot, by 1980 or '81 these were gone too. Man the seventies were a strange decade.

But back to the cars. It's funny. For about 15 years I've been the consummate New Yorker right down to owning zero automobiles since 1991. I know jack shit about cars built since 1990. But as a suburban kid, I was car-crazy. Couldn't wait to drive, and from about 6 until I turned 16 I looked at them, played Matchbox cars in imitation of driving them, rode my bike as if it were a car, read magazines about them, thought about which one I'd own (as if they'd be unchanged in 7 years).

And I liked Trans Ams. The Corvette was called a sports car, but by the late 70's they were looking cumbersome while still trying for sleekness. Camaros looked ok. But the Trans Am? The Trans Am had a spoiler. And a fake air intake on the hood. And a cheeeeeeeee-zzzzzzzzzy Phoenix/Pterodactyl painted on the hood. The Trans Am also painted its engine displacement on the car as well: 6.6 liters, which was about 400 cubic inches. It was the late-70's American muscle car. It didn't look sleek, it looked strong.

And I wanted one. Among the station wagons and 4-door Impalas, very little stood out in the late 70's. The foreign cars were somewhat rare and fairly crappy looking. Most of the American cars were crappy, period. Vans were cool only if custom-painted and boasting that convex, porthole window in the upper rear corner (and in my mind, every "custom van" had a burning joint and a naked chick in back. Being 1977, this is probably accurate). But at 9 or 10 years-old I couldn't really give a crap about most of that. I wanted muscle. I wanted to look at cars that looked fast: Mustang Mach II Fastbacks, for instance, which looking back now are the stupidest looking shit ever put on the road. Or Dodge Chargers. And of course Trans Ams.

And Burt Reynolds drove a black Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit. Once I knew that fact, it was my favorite movie. And then I saw it. And with car chases, smashed-up cop cars, pretty girls (including Sally Field, for crissakes, looking good. No wonder Burt added her to his collection at that time), hilarity from Jackie Gleason, and an impossible slow motion leap over a river from a rickety wooden bridge. Love, I tell you. Love. Not with Sally, not with Burt, not even with the Trans Am. But with the whole concept.

Which included, of course, The Great One being great. Gleason was funny in Smokey and the Bandit. Very funny. Since the late 70's, the only time I recall watching the entire movie was a hungover morning with some friends at the beach back in the summer of '94, I'd guess. Could easily have been any year between '92 and '97, but I'm sticking with '94. Whatever, doesn't matter. What matters is what we liked. Burt's goofy stylings? Not so good. Sally? We knew what the next 17 years brought, including the ever-mocked "you really like me" Oscar acceptance speech. Uh-uh. The car chases? 1977 film car chases aren't so hot when you're in your 20s. And hungover. Pretty silly.

But Jackie Gleason? Oh my. I especially liked his constant referrals to parts of his rapidly deteriorating police car as "evidence." None of his lines look very good as written (and they probably weren't), but man, did he sell them. Take him out of the movie and it's barely over the Cannonball Run line. But he was in it, so it's way over the line, and I'm writing about it in 2007. That's how these things go. Let's see who else fueled-up this baby. Smokey didn't have the huge cast we usually have, but some notable characters:

Paul Williams. He was ubiquitous for a few years there. One of those guys who always seemed to be on Johnnie. Or Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin. Guaranteed to appear (and probably perform) at the Oscars, the Emmy's, the Super Bowl, and the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Plus, he looked about 12 years-old, based on his height and boyish face. Which always made it hard for me to understand how he was considered some kind of musically important figure. (The fact that all his songs were sappy dreck also may have added to that.)

Playing his father in Smokey was Pat McCormick, who might have been 14 feet taller and weighed approximately 1,000 pounds more than Williams. And that was the joke, you get it? Big father, small son. Comic genius!

I never could figure out what McCormick was. Like Williams, he was constantly on talk shows and roasts and award shows, and all that jazz. But unlike Williams, who ostensibly had musical talent (and was distinctively short), McCormick was just tall, fat, and extremely unfunny. Anyone have any ideas here?

Joe Klecko was in Smokey. Which makes two FSMOMYOTDs in a row with NY Jets connections. As always, I tell you it's all connected.

Fred Lerner, who had years of work as a stuntman, later played the crazy guy in Dazed & Confused who tried to shoot the lads after they took down his mailbox. He was also a guard in Die Hard. Mel Pape managed to find his way into Smokey And The Bandit Part 3, as well as The Sting II. Amazingly, however, he appeared in Caddyshack, but not Caddyshack II. Bum.

Incidentally, Jackie Gleason, himself, was in Smokey And The Bandit Part 3 and The Sting II. But neither of the Caddyshacks.

Many of the third-rate nobodies who played the bit parts and uncredited roles in Smokey and the Bandit were also in some of Burt's "late career" flicks. Alfie Wise, for instance, was in Hooper, Cannonball Run, Paternity, The End, Stroker Ace, Heat, City Heat, and even the television show, "B.L. Stryker." Unfortunately for Hollywood's A list actor of the 1970's, he too appeared in all these projects. And also like Burt, Alfie Wise was in 1974's The Longest Yard. And I'm gonna guess that Wise was happy to parlay that appearence into constant work in the above-mentioned films a decade later. Burt? Not so much.

Scott Thompson played Arnold in Fast Times At Ridgemont High. You may remember Arnold -- the nerdy guy that Judge Reinhold hooked up with a job at All-American Burger. If you know your Fast Times, you know that Arnold was in the shitter, leaving Reinhold's Brad to fend for himself with the obnoxious customer and Dennis, his back-stabbing boss. It was a devastating moment in the film, leading directly to Brad's temporary tailspin, including the horrific "Pirate's Outfit" Episode.

That All-American Burger "firing scene" still makes me angry. Such injustice! (But -- and this would be one of the 5 greatest "Buts" in movie history -- Brad's tailspin also included his ill-advised decision to wack-off in the bathroom with the door unlocked. That scene contained no injustice. Just Phoebe in her bikini, dripping wet, her lucious body . . . you know I always wanted you, Mike. {Cue "Moving In Stereo." Lock bathroom door . . .})

Oh, you're still here? Ok . . . let's get back to the Smokey cast. Luckily, that bastard Thompson was paid back with a career's-worth of bad karma for his role in Brad's undeserved downfall: roles in Police Academy, Police Academy 3, and Police Academy 4. And perhaps worst of all, Casual Sex? With Victoria Jackson and Andrew Dice Clay.

Fuck with Brad Hamilton and get away with it? I don't think so.

Hank Worden managed to find his way into not only Burt Reynold's late-70s & early 80s career embarrassments, but Clint Eastwood's as well: Every Which Way But Loose and Bronco Billy, for instance. And it wasn't just Dirty Harry and a clownish orangutan. No sir. He also worked with The BeeGees, Steven Tyler, and even Keith Carradine: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band.

But, to end on a high note, he was also in True Grit, The Searchers, Red River, Fort Apache and Stagecoach, so he also worked quite a bit with The Duke, predecessor of Eastwood & even Reynolds to a degree. His first film was 1935's Barbary Coast, directed by Howard Hawks and starring Edward G. Robinson, and his final work came in four episodes of "Twin Peaks" in 1990 & 1991. From Howard Hawks to John Ford to David Lynch over 55 years, with Wayne, Reynolds, Eastwood . . . and the BeeGees along the way.

I think we have to give Hank this week's "Wow, That's A Film Career" Award. Because Burt's not getting it.

21 Comments:

Anonymous John Royal said...

But you forgot about Jerry Reed? How can you write about Smokey and the Bandit, but not write anything about Bandit?

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

you forgot about Jerry Reed? How can you write about Smokey and the Bandit, but not write anything about Bandit?

I forget nothing. If I don;t write about it, it can't be essential.

More importantly, you've hoisted yourself by your own petard, my friend! Jerry Reed didn't play the Bandit! He was Snowman. Burt was the Bandit!!!

(And most importantly, look again at the title to the post: if that's not a Jerry Reed allusion, what is?)

Back to school for you, sir.

10:37 AM  
Blogger DED said...

The Corvette was called a sports car, but by the late 70's they were looking cumbersome while still trying for sleekness. Camaros looked ok. But the Trans Am? The Trans Am had a spoiler. And a fake air intake on the hood. And a cheeeeeeeee-zzzzzzzzzy Phoenix/Pterodactyl painted on the hood. The Trans Am also painted its engine displacement on the car as well: 6.6 liters, which was about 400 cubic inches. It was the late-70's American muscle car. It didn't look sleek, it looked strong.

Well put.

This was a movie I loved as a kid. Well, anything with a car chase was good back then.

10:47 AM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

Damn you! Damn you all to hell!

That's what I get for looking at IMDB and stopping at Smokey III, the non-Burt movie.

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

anything with a car chase was good back then.

Yeah, that about summed it up for me as well. Which is funny, because by the time I was 13 or 14, I HATED movie car chases.

Damn you! Damn you all to hell!

Speaking of Nutty Charlston, Ben Hur was on TCM last night. Man, in movie history has there ever been a more histrionic, overwrought actor than Heston? It's like William Shatner + Richard Harris in every scene.

I love him in everything, by the way. Just saying . . .

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Toast said...

Damn do I fucking love this movie. Own it on DVD even. Great pick, sir.

More good scenes in this movie than you can shake a stick at, but I'll go with the "rocking chair" bit where the convoy of truckers lets Bandit "hide" from the cops.

See, Mike, I'm with you on the cool cars -- jesus, did I have a hard-on for that Trans-Am -- but back in those youthful days I also had a thing for the big rigs. I thought being a trucker was quite possibly the Coolest Job In The World. (sigh)

10:54 AM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

I'm with you on Heston. And you can't beat "Solyent Green is people!" Not even a Shatner/Harris combo could pull that one off.

When I was a kid, I always thought Pat McCormick was Maureen McCormick's dad. I always wondered how someone like him could be Marcia Brady's dad.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Ed in Westchester said...

Ah, the 78 TA, with phoenix and T-Tops. My uncle had it until about 3 years ago, under a tarp in his driveway. Finally sold it. I remember all the stories in the papers about the T-Tops being stolen.

Smokey was classic schlock. Bandit was funny, Snowman was as well. You are correct, Gleason made the movie.

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

the "rocking chair" bit where the convoy of truckers lets Bandit "hide" from the cops.

I liked that too.

I also had a thing for the big rigs. I thought being a trucker was quite possibly the Coolest Job In The World.

I know lots of people like you.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

I think Smokey played at the Triangle Shopping Theater that ENTIRE Summer. No kidding.

Oh, and I liked Cannonball Run.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I always thought Pat McCormick was Maureen McCormick's dad.

Now that's comedy.

the 78 TA, with phoenix and T-Tops. My uncle had it until about 3 years ago, under a tarp in his driveway. Finally sold it. I remember all the stories in the papers about the T-Tops being stolen.

T-tops! Now that is something I flat-out forgot to mention.

the Triangle Shopping Theater that ENTIRE Summer.

That's where I saw Used Cars, Escape To Witch Mountain, and any number of other FSMOMYOTDs. But I saw Smokey while I was at summer camp, upstate somewhere. Probably Middletown, NY.

Triangle (which was in Yorktown Heights, for those of you who didn't grow up in Yorktown or Somers) only had one movie at a time in those days, right?

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

"Triangle...only had one movie at a time in those days, right? "

I was just wondering that; I am nearly 100% certain that it only had one movie at a time in those days.

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Me too. The Northern Westchester Mall had the triplex.

11:55 AM  
Blogger George said...

Hank Worden got to end his career as "The Elderly and Senile Room Service Waiter" in Twin Peaks--now that's a way to go!

Sure the TransAm was something, but a friend of mine back in New Jersey in the '70s who had a 440 bright yellow Road Runner. Talk about your muscle car.

1:10 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

George -

No doubt, the late-60s/early 70's muscle cars were the meanest on the road. The older Trans Ams, for instance, didn't have 400 CID engines, they had a 455!

And the whole Dodge/Plymouth world was insane. Those cars literally roared. But even by 1977/78 or so, there weren't many left on the road. They weren't well-built to begin with, and as gas prices went up . . .

1:16 PM  
Blogger Mort said...

I totally agree with your assessment of Jackie Gleason, what's not to like?

Mustang Mach II Fastbacks, for instance, which looking back now are the stupidest looking shit ever put on the road...

I always thought that.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Mort said...

That's what I get for looking at IMDB and stopping at Smokey III, the non-Burt movie.

Jerry Reed: "I get to play the Bandit..."

They really jumped the shark with that one.

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

They really jumped the shark with that one.

I always assumed they jumped it with the first sequel. I never saw it.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Mort said...

I should say they really, really, jumped the toothy fish with that one.

5:49 PM  
Blogger Mr Furious said...

Paul Williams. He was ubiquitous for a few years there. One of those guys who always seemed to be on Johnnie. Or Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin.

And let's not forget the Muppet Show. Williams was on so often I can't be sure that eventually they didn't decide to actually use a sophisticated puppet to make the appearences.

...Or, maybe there really is no Paul Williams and he really is a puppet...

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I think Paul Wliiams played Fozzie Bear. Not his hand. Paul Williams, himself, was in the muppet.

10:33 AM  

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