Friday, February 02, 2007

MILES OF FUN: TRUST ME

Let's try to keep it lean & mean today. Try. So, in honor of leanness & meanness, let's let Dee Dee count it off, and get to it: One-two-three-four . . .

The Friday Silly Movie Of My Youth Of The Day:

Used Cars

Oh, it's silly. But not because it was "bad," or "cheesy," or because it's especially dated. No, it's actually damn funny, and I highly recommend checking it out. I saw it as recently as two years ago, and as I did as a 12 year-old . . .

I loved it. Good stuff.

But it is silly, and therefore qualifies for this series, because of the plot: two brothers, the good one dies, the goofy dudes that worked for the good brother try to save his used car shop from the bad brother, blah, blah, blah. And the goofy dudes get caught claiming in advertisements that they have "miles of cars" on the lot, which they don't, so they need to get hundreds of cars onto to the lot by a certain time to avoid a lawsuit and loss of the shop, and you get the idea. Silly.

1980. Good year for comedy movies. But Used Cars wasn't a hit. And it fell into obscurity pretty quickly. Perhaps it was overshadowed by the hoopla surrounding The Blues Brothers, and following a few months after Airplane! But in much the same vain as those two, it's a very funny movie, very chaotic, very rebellious, and it comes from a very unlikely source: Robert Zemeckis, who later gave us the fun, but slick, Back To The Future movies & Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

He also gave us Forrest Gump.

That's really the stark comparison. Used Cars belongs on the grid of those late 70's/early 80's antihero comedies where anarchy reigned, authority figures were knocked from their pedestals, and halter tops were doffed with abandon. Unlike Forrest Gump or Marty McFly (or even Hoskins' character in Roger Rabbit), the protagonists in Used Cars aren't really "good" guys. They're selfish, they're petty, they're not trustworthy. But like Otter or Jake & Elwood or John Winger, they're also charismatic & funny & cool, so the audience sympathizes with them despite the trail of broken hearts, empty wallets, smashed cars, & humiliated innocents they leave in their wake. See the flick.

For instance (and once again, keep in mind this is Robert Zemeckis), here are a few choice quotations:
Rudy: You've seen how bad business is. We had nun; nuns, protesting in front of the dealership this morning.
Jeff: Nuns?
Rudy: Yeah. I had to get Jim to turn the fire hose on them.
Big Jim: Yeah. And I knocked them motherfuckers on they asses, too.
I'm not saying it's the funniest line in the movie. It's not. But that just about sums up the spirit. Reverential it ain't. 1980 may have an "8" in it, but the 80's hadn't quite started. And Zemeckis hadn't yet turned into the pussy we'd later get to know & hate. Anyway . . .

Let's get to The Cast: Comedy regulars (and FSMOMYOTD alums, from 1941) Joe Flaherty & Michael McKean. Also Betty Thomas, a name I remember seeing a lot of in those days, & uncredited, archival footage of Jimmy Carter, U.S. President at the time.

Kurt Russell was great as sleezy, womanizing, shallow & selfish used car salesman, Rudy Russo. I'm not sure that Russell ever really pulled off comedy besides this one. But you can smell the snake-oil through your screen. He oozes. It's good.

The great Jack Warden as good/bad brothers, Luke & Roy L. Fuchs. We lost Jack last summer, at the age of 85. But what a career: the sports fan-juror in 12 Angry Men; George Halas in Brian's Song; in Shampoo he played Lester, the man who saw not only his wife, but also his mistress & his daughter, fall under the spell (and into the bed) of Warren Beatty's wily ways; plus Being There, All The President's Men, and many others. Warden was always hilarious as he played that standard, angry-but-bumbling growler. In Used Cars he played his standard, angry-but-bumbling growler. Who uses an exceptional array of foul language. Laughs couldn't have been far behind. And they weren't.

Al Lewis, better known as Grandpa Munster, as well as a regular Green Party candidate for various N.Y. public offices including governor, was very funny as Hanging Judge H.H. Harrison. Imagine it, and I guarantee you're right.

Gerrit Graham also turned in an excellent performance as Russell's sidekick, the superstition-crippled Jeff. It's hard to believe he didn't do much else of note in his career, because if you've seen this movie you know he was quite good. Not a star, but more than enough to establish a solid career as a character/comic actor. Before Used Cars he had a couple TV roles in "Laverne & Shirley" and "Barretta," but no big movies to speak of. And after Used Cars, he did nothing that I can see. A few more TV roles here & there.

Wait, wait, what's this? Oh, he had an appearence in Police Academy 6: City Under Siege. I take it back; his career was a success.

David L. Lander was "Squiggy" on "Laverne & Shirley," where he was friends with Michael McKean's "Lenny," of course. And when you consider that Gerrit Graham also showed up on that one, we had ourselves a veritable L&S reunion in Used Cars. Schlemiel, sclemazel, hassen . . yeah, like I gonna try to spell that shit out. Right.

If memory serves me right (a very dubious proposition), Lander & McKean played a couple dumb & clueless technicians trying to break into the feed to a football game so Graham could wreak televised havoc on Bad Brother Warden's used car lot. Think of Bob & Doug McKenzie's turn as baggage handlers on the train in Trading Places (*** Update: or, as Otto Man suggests, think of Al Franken & Tom Davis, the guys who actually played the baggage handlers. Can I get a D'Oh!***). Same spirit. The boys hadn't come far from Lenny & Squiggy at that point. Yet 15 years later, McKean had established himself not only as a regular in Christopher Guest's troupe, but as David St. Hubbins, for crissakes!

And in 1994 & 1996, Lander played "Squiggy" on SNL. Oops. Can I have this career over again?

Meanwhile Penny Marshall became a director, while Cindy Williams . . . uhhh, Cindy Williams . . . . Any help? She still with us? The world of "Laverne & Shirley" didn't lead to egalitarian pastures. Anyone seen the guy who played Carmine lately?

Kirk's love interest in Used Cars was the fetching blonde, Deborah Harmon, best known for . . . well, she's not well-known for anything. She managed to find her way into episodes of "M*A*S*H," "Night Court," "St. Elsewhere" and others, plus small and/or uncredited roles in Bachelor Party & Back To The Future. But like Gerrit Graham, nothing much followed. Not even skinamax or the de rigeur Penthouse spread.

But . . . 1980 Penthouse Pet of the Year Cheryl Rixon was in Used Cars. And it wasn't for her acting talents, of that I can assure you. Want proof? Well, here's a line from the movie, as a young boy sees some interesting stuff on the TV screen after Graham's Jeff succeeded in tapping into the football game's feed:
Al's Kid: [pointing at the television] Hey look. Bare tits.
Bare. Tits. Two of the language's finer words. And even finer when strung together.

Within 3 years of Used Cars, Michael Talbot found himself in First Blood, Uncommon Valor, and lest you think he stuck only to testosterone-fueled flicks, in Vacation, as well. He played "Cowboy" in that one, which isn't ringing a bell. Anyone?

In today's "Well, that's random" entry, Alfonso Arau, director of the chick flick-disguised-as-foreign-art film "classic," Like Water For Chocolate, appeared in Used Cars as "Manuel."

No, I don't have anything else to say about that.

Woodrow Parfrey, another of the many actors I've never heard of, played an elderly driving instructor in Used Cars. Earlier on he appeared in Bronco Billy, The Outlaw Josie Wales, and Dirty Harry, which completes the Clint portion of his career. He was also in Papillon, and before that he played "Dr. Maximus" in Planet of the Apes. Plus, he was on dozens of classic television shows at one time or another: "Get Smart," "The Mod Squad," "Batman," "The Munsters," "Combat!," "Hogan's Heroes," the list goes on. Not bad. I must have seen him 30 times, yet I can't picture his face at all. Yet, you know that if I saw him on some random movie, I'd instantly "recognize" him as a regular.

Or something like that.

Dub Taylor played a character named "Cannonball" in 51 different westerns between 1939 & 1949! Talk about type-casting. He also managed to appear in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington in 1939, Bonnie & Clyde in 1967, and Back To The Future, Part III in 1990. He was also in 1941, but since every other actor in the history of movies was as well, that's of little consequence.

Dan Barrows, whoever he is, managed to appear in Private Lessons and The Beach Girls in the early 80's. Ohhhhh my. I don't remember him, but I remember watching those two flicks. And I remember exactly what I was doing as I watched.

(Frankly, you could probably pick any moment of any day between 1981 & 1984 where I wasn't in class or asleep, and chances are I can tell you exactly what I was doing. It'd be a guess, but a very educated one I assure you. But with Private Lessons & The Beach Girls, I don't even need the crutch of "chances are." I know. And that ends the always popular "Mike's Teenaged Masturbation Habits" portion of our program. Now back to the movie.)

Barrows was also in the great Eating Raoul which, now that I think of it, has FSMOMYOTD potential written all over. Hmmm. Rounding it off, Barrows was in Billy Jack, which seems to appear in these posts as if by decree. Remember, it's all connected.

Marc McClure, who also saw action in Back To The Future as "Dave McFly," and the first two Superman movies as Jimmy Olsen, managed somehow to appear in both 1976's and 2003's Freaky Friday. I'm gonna go out on a limb and declare that's not the way he saw it all playing out when he was cast in the first one 31 years ago. No sir.

(And it's worse: he played "Boris" both times.)

Used Cars featured an actress named Jan Sandwich. That's it, nothing else about her.

No really, that's it. (C'mon, don't tell me I'm the only one who thinks that name is at least a little bit funny.)

Dick Miller, who played "Man in Bed" in Used Cars deserves a little digression here. I'm sure we all remember The Wolf saving the day for Jules, Vince & Jimmy in Pulp Fiction. Perhaps most of us recall that he and the boys brought the two tainted cars, and Marvin's headless body, to "Monster Joe's," a scrap yard somewhere in The Valley. And plenty of us know that The Wolf ended up taking Monster Joe's daughter for breakfast, as Jules & Vince went to the diner for a muffin & bacon, respectively.

And this has what to do with this Dick Miller guy, you ask. Well, who do you think "played" "Monster Joe," a character whose scenes were apparently filmed, but ultimately deleted from Tarantino's final cut? That's right, Dick Miller. And, of course, he was also in 1941. And so was Rita Taggert who played "Woman in Bed" in Used Cars.

Finally, Dave Adams deserves mention only because he was in Chopper Chicks In Zombietown, which may just be my favorite movie title of all time. I've never seen it, and I don't plan to. But what a title.

But I have seen Used Cars, and I plan to see it again if it comes on. And you should too.

35 Comments:

Anonymous John Royal said...

Yeah, Michael McKean may have gone on to critical acclaim as Christopher Guest's pal, but I'll take Landers' career. And why, you might ask? Simple: because Mr. Landers is a major league baseball scout who travels the country watching baseball.

And really, is there any better career choice than that?

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

"Used Cars belongs on the grid of those late 70's/early 80's antihero comedies where anarchy reigned, authority figures were knocked from their pedestals, and halter tops were doffed with abandon...the protagonists in Used Cars aren't really "good" guys. They're selfish, they're petty, they're not trustworthy. But like Otter or Jake & Elwood or John Winger, they're also charismatic & funny & cool, so the audience sympathizes with them despite the trail of broken hearts, empty wallets, smashed cars, & humiliated innocents they leave in their wake. "

A while back I was trying to figure out how to describe something I liked about the original Bad News Bears, how it fit into the '70s, etc. I might have actually posted it -- I don't remember (let's call this "memory lapse week" for me). But you really describe it perfectly.

Applesacer

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

John - So Squiggy is a basebal scout? Wow, I didn't know that. Pretty cool.

Apple - I was trying to figure out how to describe something I liked about the original Bad News Bears, how it fit into the '70s, etc . . . But you really describe it perfectly.

Thanks. Bad News Bears may actually be the beginning of this wave (though M*A*S*H is the ur-Antihero comedy movie). Morris Buttermaker definitely fits in on the lovable-despite-his-flaws spectrum. And he came a good 2-5 years before the other characters I mentioned.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude! Cindy Williams was pretty funny in the awful, awful movie "Spaceship" (1981). The one-eyed red monster singing "I Want to Eat Your Face" is terrific! And Patrick MacNee coming out of the chamber where the monster's growing, using his hands to measure its size, looks suspiciously like...well, like a gesture women use to indicate a gentleman's dimensionality, if you get my drift. I cracked up!

12:51 PM  
Blogger Otto Man said...

Think of Bob & Doug McKenzie's turn as baggage handlers on the train in Trading Places.

Actually, that was the SNL writing team of Al Franken and Tom Davis as the baggage handlers.

lest you think he stuck only to testosterone-fueled flicks, in Vacation, as well. He played "Cowboy" in that one, which isn't ringing a bell. Anyone?

They wind up in an old West re-enactment town in that one, right? I'm betting he's in there.

1:26 PM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

If I remember correctly, Jack Warden played Morris Buttermaker in the TV version of the Bad News Bears.

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Cindy Williams was pretty funny in the awful, awful movie "Spaceship" (1981).

Assuming she was funny in this 26 year-old classic. I'm not sure that really hurts my case that she hasn't quite matched Penny marshall's post-L&S success. Directing Big and A League Of Their Own may not be worthy or Welles or Antomioni, but I'm putting ahead of the funny role in Spaceship

But I'm open to alternate arguments.

Now . . . as to places I will admit to being wrong:

the SNL writing team of Al Franken and Tom Davis as the baggage handlers.

D'oh! That's what I guess for not checking my facts before posting.

Yes, John, Warden was Buttermaker in the TV version of BNBs. I intentionally left that one out in making the case for Warden's film career.

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

I'm glad that the Cindy Williams "debate" has come up, because this is a subject I was thinking about just the other day.

How much of a succesful acting career actually depends on acting ability and how much depends on "image management"?

Seems to me that we might view Cindy Williams in an entirely different light if she'd not done Laverne & Shirley -- she did American Graffitti and The Conversation prior to doing L&S.

But she did L&S -- which was a monster hit -- and destroyed her "image." I can't imagine that she could ever generate any "buzz" that would appeal to me as a moviegoer after that, but can you blame her for taking that job considering how many actors struggle to get ANYTHING?

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying that I've ever thought one way or another about Cindy Williams as an actress. But I wonder how much my own opinion about who's a good actor and who's bad is actually controlled by "image management."

Applesaucer

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Appplesaucer said...

By the way, I must be desperate for attention today, considering that I just devoted five paragraphs to Cindy Williams.

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I must be desperate for attention today, considering that I just devoted five paragraphs to Cindy Williams.

As soon as e-mails arguing otherwise start filling up my inbox, you'll be the first to know.

But it's a good point about Williams. Sort of the George or Elaine Factor 20 years earlier.

We know how well Michael Richards succeeded in his efforts to escape the shadow of Kramer.

4:53 PM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

Hey, Applesaucer, you're real name wouldn't happen to be Carmine Ragusa would it?

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Was that Carmine's last name?

Shirley was "Feeney," right? What was Laverne? I remember it was an Italian name. DeFazio?

5:08 PM  
Anonymous Mel Gibson said...

"Hey, Applesaucer, you're real name wouldn't happen to be Carmine Ragusa would it?"

No. Actually, I am Mel Gibson. I've heard that Mike's said a lot of bad things about me, and I'm just trying to show him that I'm not such a bad guy, after all.

Now, back to my good friend Cindy Williams. I think we all know who ruined her career and had her blackballed for saying what she feels.

THEY have started every war. THEY killed our savior. THEY have been dogging me every step of the way.

It's those pesky Tuscadero sisters I'm telling you.

Laugh now Pinky and Leather because your time is at hand.

BWAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Mel Gibson said...

"Hey, Applesaucer, you're real name wouldn't happen to be Carmine Ragusa would it?"

No. Actually, I am Mel Gibson. I've heard that Mike's said a lot of bad things about me, and I'm just trying to show him that I'm not such a bad guy, after all.

Now, back to my good friend Cindy Williams. I think we all know who ruined her career and had her blackballed for saying what she feels.

THEY have started every war. THEY killed our savior. THEY have been dogging me every step of the way.

It's those pesky Tuscadero sisters I'm telling you.

Laugh now Pinky and Leather because your time is at hand.

BWAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Mel

5:16 PM  
Blogger John Howard said...

I love Used Cars. I also found Kurt Russell very funny in Tango and Cash.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous waitingforthealiens said...

Used Cars remains a great movie.

Twenty-five years later, when I have a customer mulling over a couple of million dollar fertilizer purchase, I often borrow Rudy's great line,"Well don't think too long. There was a ninth-grader looking at it."

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Mel -

You stay away from here, you fucking Apocolyto-making loon.

And lay off my girl, Leather Tuscadero.

John - I never saw Tango & Cash. I'm gonna guess it's Kurt's only time playing opposite Sly Stallone and Jack Palance though.

WFTA -

million dollar fertilizer purchase

Is that code? Some sort of euphamism for a packet of yellow cake uranium?

5:37 PM  
Blogger Otto Man said...

And lay off my girl, Leather Tuscadero

What a name. Sounds like the kind of rare STD you'd find on a whore in Tijuana.

Not me. You.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I think it sounds more like the patented position that whore breaks out for her favorite clients.

Ju' wan' dee' Leather Tuscadero dees' time, Gringo, or ju' wan' just have dee' normal teeng?

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Pinky Tuscadero said...

Get over yourself, Mel.

Oh, and Mike why haven't you called Leather? You bastard.

Pinky

6:10 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Pinky - You know Leather likes the bad boys. I can't call her too often. That'd screw everything up.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Rickey Henderson said...

Never having seen this flick, Rickey will make a point to obtain it ASAP. Zemeckis' movies are a mixed bag. Here's to hoping that his new version of Beowulf will be enjoyable...

7:00 PM  
Blogger James Kicklighter said...

I was doing a Google Blog search, and came across this. It may or may not interest you that there is a feature length documentary about Dub in production, the site is http://www.thatdub.com/

7:04 PM  
Anonymous Toast said...

Mike, I have come to a sad conclusion: You watched a lot of stupid movies in your life. And I, alas, did not.

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Zemeckis' . . . new version of Beowulf

I thought you were joking, but decied to check up before making some snarky comment. And lo & behold:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0442933/

You see, this is what I was talking about. Is he serious? It's not enough we had Gibson doing back-to-back flicks in fucking Aramaic & Aymara or Guaranil or whatever that was. No, now we need a film in Old English.

And if he's not doing it in an eleven-hundred year-old language, why bother? Is the world crying out for more Grendel?

James -

a feature length documentary about Dub in production, the site is http://www.thatdub.com/

Oh, now that's great. And, of course, I recognized him instantly when I saw his photo on that webpage. That's cool stuff. Thanks.

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

You watched a lot of stupid movies in your life

A fact I'd neither try, nor want, to deny.

That said, I've also seen more than my share of good ones. And believe it or not, Used Cars is in that category. I recommend giving it a whirl.

I think you'll like it.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Rickey Henderson said...

Hey, as long as they make use of a kenning (ie, a "whale path") then they're pretty much staying true to the ye olde english text. But no, I highly doubt they'd commit theatrical suicide by doing it entirey in old english. Evidently its all ins CG and Angelina Jolie plays Grendel's mom. Interessting.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

Jack Warden in The Verdict too! He was just plain awesome.

I remember when Used Cars came out in the theaters, it was given a lot of critical praise, but soon after its release it fell off of most people's radar. Mike, thanks for this article, it was really quite excellent.

11:03 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

Ricky, Angelina Jolie is scary enough to play all the villains- Grendel's mom, Grendel, the Dragon, you name it. I am looking forward to seeing it, but the only thing keeping my enthusiasm level down is this Zemekis dude. I have not liked a move of his since... I think Back to the Future... the first one!

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I think Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a pretty solid movie. Very entertaining, lots of fun. I also liked the 2nd BTTF movie, but thought the third was shite.

But overall, Zemeckis jumped the shark years ago. After Beowulf, is he planning on doing Gawain and the Green Knight? Ugh.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Otto Man said...

But no, I highly doubt they'd commit theatrical suicide by doing it entirey in old english.

Was that Rickey Henderson using a first-person pronoun? What the fuck?

2:47 PM  
Blogger James Kicklighter said...

No problem, Mike. We've just started a blog (dubtaylor.blogspot.com). We'll be updating until release much more frequently if you're interested. Enjoyed reading your post!

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Thanks, James. So let me get this straight: you're a Dub Taylor fan, and you decided to make a doc about him?

That's very cool. Too bad the old dude's not around to see this, huh?

11:21 PM  
Blogger James Kicklighter said...

Good question...we're not sure yet. Blog updates will keep that stuff posted.

12:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you guys are very entertaining

1:00 PM  

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