MILES OF FUN: TRUST ME
The Friday Silly Movie Of My Youth Of The Day:
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.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 . . .
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.
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.