Friday, March 02, 2007

DOO-WAH DIDDY

All right. After crossing the bridge last week, having entered the world where popular movies qualify for the Eternal Brand Of Silliness™, I feel that there is nowhere else to go but straight into the vault of early-80s comedy classics. The eye. The core. The heart.

Yes. I'm going in.

Now, I recall a few months ago trading geeky thoughts in the comments, prattling on about imaginary hordes of readers storming the castle walls to lynch me for writing up a movie of not-requisite-silliness. And the mere mention of today's movie brought jeers, cat-calls, death threats, promises of retribution so swift I feared for the future of civilization. But a man must be true to his muse, to his inner voice, to . . . oh, I dunno. But it Must Be Done.

Therefore, I will lay out for you, plot point-by-plot point, just why today's movie -- popular in its day, iconic even -- is nonetheless, a very silly movie. And therefore suitable for selection by The Committee. It's been on the bubble for weeks, today it gets in. But first, the evidence:

1. Two fuck ups live in the city. One of them seems to live in a very nice apartment with a hot chick, despite being a fuck up. Ok, this is silly, but it's a movie. Even the best films of all-time require a suspension of belief to get things moving. In MovieWorld™, everyone has (a) a bigger home, (b) a sweeter car, (c) a more verbally dexterous wit, and most importantly (d) a hotter girlfriend than you'd ever see in an analogous real-life situation. This movie is no exception. Plus, the fuck up with the hot girlfriend is losing the hot girlfriend as we meet him.

2. The two fuck ups decide to join the army to solve all their problems. Well, as John Kerry explained last fall, this is not only believable, it's 100% accurate.

3. On the first night with their platoon, the "hard-ass" drill sergeant decides to sit down all the soldiers, so everyone can introduce themselves. Ok, this is silliness of the first order, but it's standard comedy-movie silliness. Of course this wouldn't happen in real life, but it's not real life. Plus, and far more essential to this examination, the scene provides a number of famous lines, some of which have actually changed the way we interact with friends and acquaintances.

Don't believe me, think I'm being hyperbolic? Never heard anyone say, "Lighten up, Francis," to a buddy who's getting juuuuuust a bit too excited about something? Never called anyone Psycho? Never said, "Chicks dig me, because I rarely wear underwear and when I do its usually something unusual"? Never snuggled up late at night with a lady friend and called her "My Big Toe" as you tickled her, and explained the precise way you wanted her to touch . . .

What's that? You haven't?

Oh. Anyway . . .

4. The platoon members engage in any number of ludicrous hijinks, before completing basic training without a drill sergeant, finally culminating in a demonstration of drill readiness at commencement, at which time they're all rewarded with a sexy mission guarding a top-secret weapon in Europe. Ok, the silly line approacheth at that point, but all is still good. Lots of memorable lines, irreverence galore at the graduation ceremony, and an excuse to show naked girls writhing in the mud. All's well.

5. The guys steal the secret weapon, go to Austria to meet their girlfriends (who are not only the two hottest MPs in army history, but the only MPs who get transferred to an Alpine retreat), upon which they are pursued, not by real soldiers, but by their own platoon, and end up in Czechoslovakia, where they kick mountains of commie ass, and return home as heroes.

This, my friends, is very silly. Very, very, very silly. And, to all who remember, the weakest part of what was otherwise a very fine comedy movie. I still loved it, and it's not as if I changed the channel at this point of the flick during any of the 4,273 times I watched it on cable between 1982 and 1984. No sir. But . . . let's all admit it. It qualifies.

And on that note, may I present to you, a film you all know & love (and you all know what movie I'm talking about), today's Friday Silly Movie Of My Youth Of The Day:

Stripes

1981. And I didn't see it in the theaters. But I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theaters. What else? Ronald Reagan was shot. The American economy continued to suck. The Jets & Giants each made the playoffs after missing out every season since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. I turned 14.

1982. Ahhhhh, here we go. In June of that year, my town got cable TV. (Moment of silence if we may.) And which movie was on HBO, Cinemax and The Movie Channel all the time? Stripes. And I believe that I saw it every time it was on. Bill Murray at the absolute peak of his comic powers. John Laroquette beginning to develop the "smarmy prick guy" he'd eventually hone into Dan Fielding, one of TV's best characters in the 80s. John Candy storming the screen in the . . . uhhh, John Candy role: the good-natured, insecure fat guy, who really wasn't quite as funny as we all wanted to believe he was. But funny enough. We also had gratuitous tit shots at various points during the movie. And FSMOMYOTD alumna, PJ Soles, looking cuter than any human being has business ever looking.

We even had Sean Young before she became a lunatic. Still hot; not yet crazy. Yup, it was that kinda movie. Fun stuff all around.

Let's look at a few others. Playing Sergeant Hulka was none other than Warren Oates, a film veteran, and one of Sam Peckinpaugh's troupe. He was one of The Wild Bunch, which is enough for me. Any movie that features a leather-faced, gravel-voiced William Holden leading a gang of ne'er-do-wells into Mexico for havoc, whoring & violence is pur-retty damn cool. Can't go wrong with that one. We lost Oates not long after Stripes came out, at age 53. Amazing that after a long career, it was this straight man role in an anarchic comedy that stamped his immortality into the minds of so many film-viewers. Like many guys my age, when I first saw The Wild Bunch I said to myself, "Whoa, that's Sergeant Hulka." I'm not sure that anyone under the age of 45 thought, "Whoa, that's Lyle Gorch" when first seeing Stripes.

(And if they did, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say they probably didn't like the movie.)

John Diehl, who played the nearly-retarded "Cruiser" in Stripes, later appeared in National Lampoon's Vacation, as an nearly-retarded car mechanic who shakes down Chevy Chase along with his partner. He also played G. Gordon Liddy in Nixon. Liddy wasn't retarded, but he was a shake-down artist. Only he didn't try to shake down a dorky father of two named Clark Griswold. No, he tried to shake down an entire country.

Conrad Dunn was Francis "Psycho" Soyer. And amazingly, Psycho was Dunn's very first role in film. Among FSMOMYOTD alums, only David Patrick Kelly, who played Luther in The Warriors, had a more auspicious movie debut. But unlike Kelly, who parlayed Luther into . . . uhh, Luther, in another movie, as well as President Truman in a Clint Eastwood flick, Dunn parlayed Psycho into shit. I'm serious, check out his resume. Just a series of nothing roles in nothing films, plus the usual smatterings of bit parts in TV shows. Always amazing how that happens. I'm not saying he channeled Olivier or DeNiro when he played Psycho, but he did ok, right? We all remember him. In a good way. This has to be up there with Flounder & Marmalard from Animal House, or Junior & Rhah in Platoon, as all-time "where the hell'd that guy disappear to?" movie mysteries. I'm perplexed.

Comedy vets Judge Reinhold, Joe Flaherty, & Dave Thomas all managed to find their way into Stripes. So did Bill Paxton, Dennis Quaid, and Timothy Busfield. And I'll admit that with the exception of Reinhold and Flaherty, I don't remember any of them in this movie.

Robert J. Wilke played "General Barnicke," who I'll presume was the officer exchanging questions with Murray at the graduation ceremony (therefore making him "Jack"?). This movie was Wilke's final movie role, after a career that began in 1936. He seems to have played a series of villains in just about every Western or western-themed movie and television show ever produced. The Magnificent Seven. High Noon. "Bonanza." "Rawhide." He was even in "Lassie." Vanquished by Gary Cooper, vanquished by a collie. And in his last appearence on celluloid, hoodwinked by Bill Murray.

I think Mr. Wilke earns today's 21-gun salute. Fire away. I don't care if your office prohibits firearms. Shoot. Wilke's spirit is on the line. Let the man rest in piece, will you.

Lois Hamilton, who played Laroquette's girlfriend, was actually one of the "dealers" on "Card Sharks" in the late 70's. And to tie it all together (because, as you must know by now, it's all connected), one of the last "Card Sharks" dealers was none other than Markie Post, the lovely defense lawyer that Laroquette's Dan Fielding continually tried to get into the sack on "Night Court." Some guys are into cheerleaders, some into schoolgirls, others into nurses, and what the hell, there are men who are into nuns, teachers, librarians, volleyball players, hookers, housewives, rock n' rollers and even lady cops.

But I've never met a guy who was into dealers on Card Sharks. John Laroquette: step forward and take a bow.

Gene Scherer appeared in Stripes as one of the Russian guards. I'm not sure if Scherer was Russian, though his name would suggest otherwise. Nonetheless, he ended up appearing in Russkies, in Red Heat as "Consul Dmitri Stepanovich," in an episode of "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" as Andrew Krupsky, and in "Murphy Brown" as "Russian Man." Add to that TV roles as "Androvsky," "Pedavich," "KGB officer," and "Cpl. Kowalski" (first name Stanley?), it's safe to say he was The Go-To Guy for Russians & Poles in the 70s and 80s. But lest you think he was type-cast, let me assuage your concerns! No, no, no.

He also rocked the Central European thing as well, playing not only a "Swiss policeman" in Re-Animator, but also Nazi leader & chief of the Luftwaffe, Herman Goering, in a 1979 episode of "Fantasy Island."

(No idea. Nope, don't really wanna know either.)

One of the "policemen" in Stripes was played by a dude named Mark Markowicz. Which means not only did he have a ridiculous name, but he was "Marky Mark" long before Mark Wahlberg dropped trow & attempted to rap about good vibrations and all that shit. Which was before he dropped the "Marky" and emerged as a damn good actor who's appeared in a number of excellent films.

(And somewhat related, there was a kid in my elementary school named Scott Pisciotti, pronounced "pish-OH-tee." And, as a little kid he often went by "Scotty." Yet when our gym teacher called out attendence before we pelted each other in a glorious game of dodgeball, he always got me snickering by mispronouncing the name, saying "Scotty Pisciotti" in a way that rhymed the surname with biscotti: SCOT-tee Pis-COT-tee. Ok, maybe nobody else found this funny, but I was a weird kid. I've already told you that.)

Finally, playing the bouncer at the mud wrestling bar: Donald Gibb, who later appeared as "Ogre" in Revenge of the Nerds, a movie that never would've been made if not for Stripes coming a few years earlier.

Was Stripes silly? Yes. As funny today as I thought in 1983? I sincerely doubt it. But it was funnier than a rubber crutch back in those long lost days of my youth? And that's a fact, Jack.

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23 Comments:

Blogger Otto Man said...

Classic.

Dave Thomas was the MC at the mud wrestling match. Timothy Busfield is listed as "soldier with mortar," which means he's the guy that Laroquette orders to fire the mortar without aiming, thereby blowing up Sgt. Hulka on the scaffold.

Paxton's apparently just a minor soldier character. And Dennis Quaid is an extra at the graduation? Who knew?

Classic.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Dennis Quaid is an extra at the graduation

Apparently he was "dating" PJ Soles at the time. Why that got him in as an extra I'm not sure (this was post-Breaking Away), but it makes me hate him.

Timothy Busfield is listed as "soldier with mortar," which means he's the guy that Laroquette orders to fire the mortar without aiming, thereby blowing up Sgt. Hulka on the scaffold.

Yes! "Fire the weapon, soldier!"

12:00 PM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

John Diehl was also one of Sonny Crocket's fellow vice cops.

I still love this movie. I got the new edition that came out on DVD several years ago. There are a bunch of deleted scenes, including a very good one with PJ Soles -- and it's very good because she's not wearing clothes.

And that's the fact, Jack.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Smitty said...

Absolutely classic movie. I have always wondered in these movies how much was "acting" and how much was improv. For insyance, I am sure lots of actors in Stripes were given lines, but how much of the dialog between Ramis and Murray was written versus "hey, why don't you two talk about...." I am under the impression that this was very much the case in Caddyshack; lots of the dialog between the SNL vets was ad-lib.

12:19 PM  
Blogger George said...

I appreciate you got the spatula into your labels.

As for Warren Oates and Peckinpaugh, if you've never seen it, check out Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, one of the most twisted films, well, I was going to say of the '70s but really forever. Half of the film is Oates in a beat-up car with Alfredo Garcia's head in the passenger seat, wrapped up, at least, but buzzing with flies. You can practically smell this movie.

"Have a drink, Al."

12:22 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

a very good one with PJ Soles -- and it's very good because she's not wearing clothes

Oh my.

I am under the impression that this was very much the case in Caddyshack; lots of the dialog between the SNL vets was ad-lib

The final product looks very polished, so I'd have to guess their was no improving when the cameras were rolling. But I can totally see a lot of improving as they rehearsed. Some of the lines during the "get to know the platoon" scene; the spatula/ice cream scoop scene; or the "Bill drills the guys the night before the parade" scene seem very improvised.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

George - I'm really not a big Peckinpaugh guy, believe it or not. I find his particular brand of American machismo very stupid. I didn't like The Getaway or Straw Dogs at all.

That said, I love The Wild Bunch. Just the coolest fuckin flick. The shot of them riding? Wow. And Old William Holden was the balls.

12:26 PM  
Blogger maurinsky said...

I think Stripes is a great comedy, up until Bill Murray's character becomes a competent soldier. After that, it's kind of boring. If it's on TV, I'll watch it until the camper comes out, then I'll turn it off.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

until Bill Murray's character becomes a competent soldier. After that, it's kind of boring. If it's on TV, I'll watch it until the camper comes out, then I'll turn it off.

Ding, ding, ding. This is what I'm talking about. And you're right. It's not just silly at that point, it's not funny. A bit boring.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Otto Man said...

I have a theory about Stripes that John Candy's character Ox was actually two different characters combined.

Ox is supposed to be this lovable lug who can't channel his anger -- "Doc says I swallow a lot of aggression, along with a lot of pizzas!" -- but ultimately becomes a lean, mean fighting machine!

But he also has a bunch of lines that seem totally out of character, from the initial "How's it hanging, Eisenhower" comment coming off the bus to the redneck-like "He said 'Black guys help the white guys!'" line at the end. Totally out of character.

Discuss.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Discuss.

When did Atrios start posting as this "Otto Man" fella?

I have a theory about Stripes

And if that sentence doesn't sum up the spirit of the FSMOMYOTD, what does?

"He said 'Black guys help the white guys!'" line at the end.

Was that Ox? Or Russell? I thought Ramis said it when he was trying to drill the guys. Before Murray came to the rescue with that perfect blend of charisma, humor, and bravado (see: Meatballs, and "It just doesn't matter).

Anyhow, interesting theory about Ox. He did have a couple uncharacteristically nasty moments, mostly in the mud wrestling scene. And he was pretty mean to Reinhold and "Cruiser," wasn't he?

It's been many years since I've seen this actually. maybe 15.

3:00 PM  
Blogger Otto Man said...

Ramis says it, but then Ox repeats it menacingly and starts shoving the black guys, nearly precipitating a race war in the barracks.

Again, like I said, totally out of character.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Mort said...

Ox wasn't a lean, mean, fighting machine, his friends were just psyching him up to wrestle those chicks. He wasn't out of character, they provoked him into uncharacteristic extroversion. The scene in the barracks was produced by extreme stress, he wasn't really racist, just desperate to get some rhythm. Ox was a good guy, extremely loyal to his (white) friends, no doubt, but not a redneck who would cruise back roads looking for trouble. Just my take.

7:54 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Mort throwing in on Ox's side. I see a rip-roaring debate comeing out of this.

Excellent.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Mort said...

Stripes trailer.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Mort said...

Ox. John Candy, R.I.P.

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Toast said...

Awesome movie. And that's a fact, Jack.

6:05 PM  
Blogger Ed in Westchester said...

I go on vacation and you pick a movie that I coulod have posted about for hours? You bastid.

And here I thought you were my big toe.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

I thought you were my big toe.

I guess I stubbed myself.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Ed in Westchester said...

I neglected to say well done and good choice.
though that was probably clear.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Thank you, sir.

How was the vacation? More or less relaxed than before you left?

3:59 PM  
Blogger DED said...

I loved this movie when it came out. I could never, ever think about watching the edited for TV version.

11:24 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

edited for TV version

Horrifying! No reason for Laroquette to wish he was a loofah.

6:27 AM  

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