So to celebrate having nothing to do today I've gone and hooked up the VCR, which had been languishing on top of the fridge since April 2003. I'm watching some movies on VHS, movies that I haven't seen in a very long time. When I got my DVD player in January 2003 I made a rule not to re-buy any films on DVD that I already had on VHS. I think I've only purchased three 'repeat' films since, and two of them were to replace broken videocassettes. Last night I watched The Kentucky Fried Movie, some Soupy Sales highlight tapes, and Diner (which inspired me to bring back the piece I'd written in December of 2001, the last time I saw the film.) Today so far I've started out with It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
I love this stupid movie. I really do. The sheer amount of comedians in the film is staggering. Oh, all the leads are great, what with Spencer Tracy going nuts, Milton Berle actually playing with the team for once, Sid Caesar filling in for Ernie Kovacs and falling into some yellow, Terry-Thomas giving an incredible rant about the state of American society and the "preoccupation with bosoms", Buddy Hackett doing some of his best facial mugging ever (just watch him in the plane after Jim Backus tells him to fly) and, my favorite, Jonathan Winters destroying a gas station run by Marvin Kaplan and Arnold Stang (I do a pretty decent Stang impression when I feel like it, and it usually starts with "Oh, Irwin...") Sure, the story may be weak, but honestly, do you need it right now?
Do you need it when you've got almost four minutes of Dick Shawn go-go dancing with a stone-faced model? Phil Silvers doing his usual scheming schtick? Doodles Weaver at the hardware store? Stan Freberg, known for his radio voice, in a silent background role, leaving the speaking to Andy Devine? Buster Keaton in a speaking role? Jimmy Durante literally kicking the bucket? (The bucket joke, by the way, gets me every time. No matter how stupid it is. I also admit, however shamefully, to laughing at Berle's reaction when Ethel Merman asks where she can put a cactus. He doesn't need to actually tell her where she can put it, nor does he even have to say that he has a response. All he has to do is snort, and I'm on the floor.)
(You don't have to keep reading if you don't want to know the endings of both films, but hey -- if you're worried about spoilers for a 1963 and a 2001 film, now's your chance to stop and avoid the horror. But anyway.)
Nobody in either film gets the money, that much we can expect. These films are object lessons in greed. We learn how money and the love of it can turn ordinary, good people into complete, raving lunatics, no matter how pure their stated motives are. By the end of a money chase movie, the characters should be so completely despicable that all we want to see is them getting their comeuppance.
Mad accomplishes this pretty well. The money gets spilled over a large crowd as the men hang for dear life on a fire escape (and then a firetruck ladder.) The wealth is distributed to the masses as the men are flung off the ladder, and it's no surprise they all end up in full body casts at the hospital, awaiting their court fates. Ethel Merman in the shrill mother-in-law role gets hers, too, with the most tried-and-true film pratfall of them all, but the men's reactions make it out to be a lot funnier than it is nowadays in these jaded times. And the lesson is learned -- be greedy like that, chase the riches like that, screw over your fellow man like that, and you're gonna end up in a cast laughing at Ethel Merman until your ribs crack again.
Comeuppance. It's what they deserve and it's what they get.
In Rat Race the group of greedy, vicious, backstabbing people get the money, divide it up into shares, and for some reason end up onstage at some charity concert for disadvantaged youth or cancer kids somesuch bullshit. In fact, you can pinpoint the exact moment the film turns to sheer and utter crap with one line:
"Hey, it's Smashmouth!"
Why so it is and there they are, the media darlings of the early 21st century, performing at this stupid charity concert for stupid disadvantaged youth or cancer kids or somesuch bullshit. And wouldn't you know, our money-chasing characters, one by one, agree to give in and toss their share of the money in some giant donation sack or something while the crowd cheers around them. Why should the crowd care that these bozos just appeared onstage? They don't know who they are, or how much money they're tossin in the ol' donation sack. I'll bet you three to one most of the people in the concert audience don't even care about stupid disadvantaged youth or cancer kids or somesuch bullshit, they're just there to see Smashmouth. Whatever.
All it says is that somewhere down the line somebody took a look at the story and said "Oh whoa whoa whoa wait one second, we need these people to be likable at the end of all this, they need to perform some sort of gesture to redeem themselves." Maybe that's true in most stories, but in this kind of tale, really, it's not needed. We haven't had to like these characters the entire film. I mean, sure, we have to have enough of an interest in them to want to know what happens next to them, and there should be at least one person or group in the film we identify slightly with so we root, however unconsciously, for them, but goddammit, there shouldn't be this fakey happy tacked-on ending with redemption and whatnot.
And it especially should not have Smashmouth in it.
Ok, that's the film. I think next I'm going to either watch Chinatown or Pecker. Some choices, eh?