Gettin’ a Woody: EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX* (United Artists 1972)

*(but were afraid to ask)

Say what you will about Woody Allen (and I’m sure some of you will), but from 1969 to 1977 he wrote, directed, and starred in some of the laugh-out-loud funniest movies ever made (after that, things got a bit pretentious, and his output has been hit-or-miss far as I’m concerned). Allen’s inventive mind took Dr. David Reuben’s best-selling sex manual EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX (*but were afraid to ask) and turned it into a hilarious anthology that skewers not only societal mores and morals, but every segment parodies a different film genre.

Some are better than others, but each has something funny to offer. The first, “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?”, finds Woody as a medieval court jester whose lousy Bob Hope one-liners bomb with the King (Anthony Quayle). The randy jester is dying to enter the Queen’s (Lynn Redgrave) “royal chambers”, but gets nowhere until a sorcerer (Geoffrey Holder ) gives him a powerful aphrodisiac. The potion works, making Her Highness super-horny, but there’s a snag… the King has locked her in a chastity belt! Much as they try, they can’t get the belt unlocked, and then the King walks in… and once again, Woody loses his head over a woman!

Next up is “What is Sodomy?”, and if this segment doesn’t have you rolling on the floor laughing, you need a funny bone replacement! Gene Wilder stars as a married medical doctor who falls in love a patient named Daisy. Trouble is, Daisy is a sheep! No, not a brain-dead political follower, a real, wooly, baa baa sheep! From Armenia, no less. Wilder’s deadpan performance is an outrageous riot, and that final shot of him after he’s lost everything, including Daisy, sitting slumped on skid row drinking a bottle of Woolite, is guaranteed to leave you itching in hysterics.

“Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching Orgasm?” is done entirely in Italian, spoofing the films of Fellini and Antonioni. Woody’s frigid wife (Louise Lasser ) just can’t enjoy sex, no matter what he tries to turn her on… until they do it in public. Out in the open, she can’t get enough! While the style of this is pitch perfect, it’s one of the weaker segments, as is the next, “Are Transvestites Homosexuals?”, with Lou Jacobi as a middle class, middle-aged Jew who likes to dress in women’s clothing, and gets busted when he meets his daughter’s fiancé’s parents, unable to resist trying on his future mother-in-laws clothes. The portly, mustachioed Jacobi in drag is a sight to behold, though!

“What Are Sex Perverts?” is done as an old black and white kinescope of a game show called “What’s My Perversion?”. This send-up of “What’s My Line?” has emcee Jack Barry and a panel of celebrities (Pamela Mason, Regis Philbin, Robert Q. Lewis, Toni Holt) trying to guess the peculiar kink of the guest (who likes to expose himself on subways!), followed by a contestant who gets to live out his fetish on live TV – a Rabbi that likes to be tied up and spanked by a buxom shiksa (“You’ve been a naughty Rabbi!”) while his wife eats pork at his feet! Offensive, yes… but damn funny!

“Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research Accurate?” is without a doubt my favorite in the film, a low-budget sci-fi/horror lampoon with Woody as an intern and Heather MacRae a reporter who encounter the fiendish Dr. Bernardo, who has created that most terrifying of creatures, The Giant Boob!! Bernardo is played by that maddest doctor of them all, the great John Carradine at his hammy best. The massive, mutated mammary wreaks havoc and lactates its victims to death across the countryside, and if you love those old 1950’s giant monster movies as much as I do, you’re gonna love this!

Last but not least, “What Happens During Ejaculation?” stays in sci-fi territory as a FANTASTIC VOYAGE-style adventure inside a man’s body as he’s about to have sex with a woman (Groucho’s paramour Erin Fleming). Tony Randall , Burt Reynolds , and Oscar Beregi run the brain, Woody is a cowardly sperm afraid to take the leap, and Jay Robinson steals it as a priest who almost spoils the fun (“Blasphemy!!”).

Only the warped mind of Woody Allen could conceive of a film like this, and I don’t really know if it could be made in today’s “everybody’s offended”  climate. But here it is, and the movie genre parodies are spot-on. I love this film, and would highly recommend it to anyone with a sense of humor, but if you’re one of those easily offended people… well, I feel bad for ya!

 

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Four Star Fun: LIBELED LADY (MGM 1936)

Jean Harlow ! Spencer Tracy ! William Powell ! Myrna Loy ! Four top stars at the top of their game shining bright in LIBELED LADY, a screwball comedy directed by Jack Conway with that trademark MGM gloss. Despite the zany improbability of the script by Maurine Watkins, Howard Emmett Rogers, and George Oppenheimer, the crackling, witty dialog gives all four stars (and supporting actor Walter Connolly) plenty of good material.

Here’s the plot: rich heiress Connie Allenbury (Loy) is suing the New York Evening Star for printing a story about her being a husband stealer. Her price: five million! Editor Warren Haggerty (Tracy), after once again blowing off his nuptials to long-time flame Gladys Benton (Harlow), recruits ex-reporter and frenemy Bill Chandler (Powell) in a crazy scheme involving marrying him off to Gladys (and is she pissed!), hop an ocean liner to London, and return with Connie, using his “charms” to set her up on an alienation of affections rap. Bill angles his way in with the Allenburys by pretending to be a fishing expert (even though he’s no outdoorsman) and getting in Dad Allenbury’s (Connolly) good graces. Things go haywire from there as Bill and Connie fall for each other for real, then Gladys falls for Bill for real, and Warren tries to straighten the whole mess out without losing his newspaper!

Powell and Loy were riding high at the time due to the success of THE THIN MAN, and MGM wanted to keep them in the spotlight. The pair are always a joy to watch working together, and seeing the dandy Powell try to master trout fishing is a comic highlight. Powell also works well with Harlow, whom he was dating at the time, and she’s great in her role as the pawn in boyfriend Tracy’s plan. Tracy gets to show off his comedy chops too, and more than holds his own. A great bit comes when Tracy, after learning Powell and Loy have gotten hitched, tells them Harlow is wife #1, to which Jean replies “That’s arson!”.

Director Conway was a jack-of-all-genres, making everything from comedies to drama to actioners to Tarzan flicks with equal aplomb. Among his many credits are THE UNHOLY THREE , RED HEADED WOMAN, VIVA VILLA!, A TALE OF TWO CITIES, BOOM TOWN, THE HUCKSTERS, and DESIRE ME. Familiar Faces abound, including Billy Benedict (as Tracy’s office boy), E.E. Clive, George Chandler, Charley Grapewin, Selmer Jackson, Hattie McDaniel, and Cora Witherspoon. LIBELED LADY was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, but lost to another Powell/Loy vehicle, THE GREAT ZIEGFELD. It’s fast and funny and the kind of movie they don’t make anymore, but should. Then again, who could possibly fill the shoes of Jean Harlow, Spencer Tracy, William Powell, and Myrna Loy?

Let’s Talk About Sex: BOYS’ NIGHT OUT (MGM 1962)


“Sex farces” were extremely popular during the late 50’s/early 60’s. They were filled with martinis, smarmy innuendoes, and smutty jokes, though no sex ever really happens. The comedies of director Frank Tashlin and the Doris Day/Rock Hudson teamings helped popularize this rom-com subgenre. A good example is BOYS’ NIGHT OUT, a humorous take on suburban mores starring James Garner and Kim Novak.

The premise is pretty simple: four friends commute every day from suburban Connecticut to New York City. They are divorced Garner and his married buddies Howard Duff , Howard Morris , and the ubiquitous Tony Randall, who made a career appearing in these type of films. When the “boys” catch Garner’s boss out with his mistress, they start to daydream what it would be like to get their own love shack going, away from their wives and equipped with a beautiful blonde to do their bidding. Garner balks, but soon the boys talk him into finding an apartment in the city. He does, and wouldn’t you know it, a blonde enters the picture. She’s Kim Novak, but what the boys don’t know is she’s actually a sociology grad student doing a thesis on “The Adolescent Fantasies of the Adult Suburban Male”.

This sets the stage for hilarity, as the boys each pick a night to spend in the city with the beautiful Novak. No sex occurs, as Randall just wants to talk (he’s constantly interrupted at home by wife Janet Blair), Duff is content to fix things around the pad (spouse Anne Jeffreys won’t allow it, the neighbors will think they’re not affluent enough), and Morris, whose wife Patti Page is permanently dieting, just wants to eat! Of course, none of them will admit it to the others, instead grinning and making sly remarks. That leaves Garner, who tries to save Novak from her fate as a courtesan. The wives get suspicious and hire private detective Fred Clark to investigate, leading to more hilarious complications and a knockabout ending that finds Garner and Novak together at last.

BOYS’ NIGHT OUT is loaded with Familiar Faces, like William Bendix as a wise bartender, Jessie Royce Landis as Garner’s mother, Oscar Homolka as Novak’s sociology professor, and Zsa Zsa Gabor as Garner’s boss’s (Larry Keating) mistress. Dead End Kid Billy Halop plays an elevator operator, Ruth McDevitt a nosy neighbor, and Jim Backus the guy who rents out the apartment. Its director was Michael Gordon, who also did PILLOW TALK and MOVE OVER, DARLING (as well as the Oscar-winning CYRANO DE BERGERAC). Kim Novak herself produced the film for her Kimco Productions, her first and last in that capacity. BOYS’ NIGHT OUT boosted James Garner’s feature film stock, and he was on his way to movie stardom. Films like BOYS’ NIGHT OUT and others of the genre seem pretty tame compared to contemporary farces, but there’s still a charm about them, of a more innocent time when just talking about sex onscreen was as titillating as graphic scenes of flesh on flesh.

A Hidden ‘Poil’: THREE MEN ON A HORSE (Warner Brothers 1936)

Frank McHugh got a rare starring role in the comedy THREE MEN ON A HORSE, based on the hit Broadway play by George Abbott and John Cecil Holmes. McHugh was usually cast as the funny friend of fellow members of “Hollywood’s Irish Mafia “ James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, but here he takes center stage as a meek, hen-pecked type who has an uncanny knack for picking winning horses – as long as he doesn’t bet on them!

Greeting card writer Erwin Trowbridge is beset by a whiney wife, obnoxious brother-in-law, and bullying boss. After a row with wifey brought on by meddling bro-in-law, Erwin leaves his humble Ozone Park, Queens abode and decides to skip work and get sloshed. Stumbling into a seedy hotel bar frequented by Runyonesque gamblers, Erwin gives them a winning pony – then passes out. The three mugs, Patsy, Charlie, and Frankie, bring him up to Patsy’s room to recuperate, hoping the little genius will bring them good luck, not to mention winners.

Patsy, who thinks Erwin’s greeting card verses are sheer poetry, calls boss Carver to demand a raise for the schlep, which results in Erwin’s firing. The gamblers head to the track, but when Patsy returns, he catches Erwin with his dame Mabel in a compromising position. It was all a mistake, but Erwin’s winning well has run dry… seems he can’t pick horses unless he’s riding on the Ozone Park bus! Needless to say, Patsy and the boys accommodate him, leading to further complications with wife Audrey, in-law Clarence, and mean Mr. Carver….

THREE MEN ON A HORSE does suffer from staginess, which is surprising since the director is Mervyn LeRoy , famous for “moving” pictures like LITTLE CAESAR, I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, and QUO VADIS, among others. The exaggerated “New Yawk” accents the actors use (‘Oy-win’ for Erwin, for example) gets a bit annoying at times, as does Carol Hughes’ whiney portrayal of whiney Audrey. The saving grace is a marvelous cast of character actors, all of whom get a chance to shine.

McHugh is great as the spineless Oy-win, I mean Erwin, who finally gets to assert himself at the end. He’s especially good during his drunk scenes… not a stretch for one of “Hollywood’s Irish Mafia”! Joan Blondell , playing Patsy’s “goil” Mabel, is a welcome sight in any movie. Patsy himself is Sam Levene , making his film debut in the role he originated on Broadway. His cohorts are Allen Jenkins (sarcastic Charlie) and Teddy Hart (Frankie), an actor I know little about except he played Crowbar in a few ‘Ma & Pa Kettle’ epics. Old reliable Guy Kibbee is boss Carver, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson gets in on the fun as an elevator operator who plays the ponies, and that “Master of the Slow Burn” Edgar Kennedy gets some good laughs as Harry the bartender.

It’s a minor movie, to be sure, but one that on the whole is enjoyable. It gives McHugh and company a chance to break free of their usual secondary parts and have some fun. Despite a couple of quibbles, THREE MEN ON A HORSE is a comedy “woith” watching!

Stop the Presses!: Howard Hawks’ HIS GIRL FRIDAY (Columbia 1940)

In my opinion, Howard Hawks’ HIS GIRL FRIDAY is one of the greatest screwball comedies ever made, a full speed ahead movie that’s pretty much got everything a film fan could want. A remake of the 1930 Lewis Milestone classic THE FRONT PAGE (itself an adaptation of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s Broadway smash), Hawks adds a delightful twist by turning ace reporter Hildy Johnson into editor Walter Burns’ ex-wife… and casting no less than Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in the roles!

The two stars are in top form as the bickering ex-spouses, with their rapid fire banter nothing short of verbal dynamite. Grant in particular spouts off words quicker than a rapper (where did he get all that wind!) and his facial expressions and comic squeals (reminiscent of Curly Howard!) are simply priceless! Roz is more than his match as Hildy, with one lightning-fast zinger  after another. Miss Russell stated in her autobiography she didn’t think her part was funny enough, so she hired a writer to craft some good quips for her  character. Hawks didn’t mind, and encouraged the pair to ad-lib at will!

There’s a lot to love for classic movie fans, including some laugh out loud in-jokes sure to leave you in stitches. Charles Lederer turns his screenplay from  the original 1930 version on its ear by changing Hildy’s gender, which in turn gives Ralph Bellamy a chance to shine as Hildy’s fiancé Bruce Baldwin, a boring insurance salesman from Albany. The contrast between high-octane, high-strung Grant and gullible bumpkin Bellamy is vast as the ocean, and Ralph’s just as funny as the two stars. The press room is packed with character actors like Cliff Edwards , Porter Hall , Frank Jenks, Roscoe Karns , Regis Toomey, and Ernest Truex, as big a bunch of reprobates as your likely to find. John Qualen plays the meek murderer Earl Williams, Gene Lockhart and Clarence Kolb represent the crooked political hacks determined to hang Williams, Abner Biberman essays Grant’s devious but dumb right-hand man, Alma Kruger is a scream playing Bellamy’s oh-so-proper mother, and veteran comic Billy Gilbert has a juicy bit as the governor’s messenger.

I’d like to single out Helen Mack here for her dramatic turn as the tortured, doomed prostitute Molly Malloy, whose kindness she showed to Earl Williams is exploited by the press hounds. Miss Mack, star of 1933’s SON OF KONG, is the only member of the cast who doesn’t get to play for laughs, instead giving an emotional performance as Molly, dogged by the newspaper reporters and sacrificing herself to save the now escaped and hidden Earl by doing a swan dive out the window. While everyone around her is in full comedy mode, she adds some gravitas to the proceedings. It must have been tough to keep a straight face amidst all that comedic talent, but Helen Mack pulls it off, and deserves some recognition for her efforts.

Hawks certainly keeps things moving with his fluid camerawork, bringing what could’ve been too stagey to roaring life. And yes, there’s that trademark overlapping dialog of his, with Grant and Russell constantly talking over each other during their exchanges. Hawks made some great films in virtually every genre, but of all his screwball comedies (TWENTIETH CENTURY, BRINGING UP BABY, BALL OF FIRE, I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE, MONKEY BUSINESS), I love HIS GIRL FRIDAY the best. It’s a sure-fire cure for the blues, a non-stop frolic of fun, and without question a screen classic you can’t afford to miss.

Far Out, Man!: CHEECH & CHONG’S UP IN SMOKE (Paramount 1978)

Hey Man, if you dig crude, vulgar stoner comedy… wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah, Cheech and Chong, man. These two dudes were, like, really cool dudes, and made a lot of records and stuff, and… wait, what was I saying, man? OK, so Cheech and Chong were hippie culture’s answer to Abbott & Costello , and so popular they starred in a series of doper-themed movies, the first being UP IN SMOKE, a film basically about nothing except two burnouts trying to score some weed. C&C play their familiar personas of Pedro and Man, a pair of L.A. hippies floating their way through the world in a perpetual marijuana haze. . Sure, it’s uncouth, sophomoric, and defiantly non-PC, but had me laughing out loud forty years later!

The supporting cast features Stacy Keach as Sgt. Stedenko, a super-narc trying to stamp out drug use, and he’s a straight-edge riot. Keach and his band of incompetent undercover cops (Mills Watson, Karl Johnson, Richard Beckner) are the establishment bad guys, and poor Stacy takes the brunt of much of the buffoonery.  Strother Martin and Edie Adams appear as Chong’s rich parents (“Get a God damn job!”), Tom Skerritt is Cheech’s whacked-out Vietnam vet cousin Strawberry, and Zane Busby plays Jade East, who leads the boys to a Battle of the Bands at L.A.’s famed Roxy, which they end up winning, of course! Sunset Strip scenesters like Rodney Bingenheimer and the ever delightful Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith , and Ellen Barkin, comic Gary Mule Deer, and David Nelson pop up in cameos.

C&C wrote the script (if it can be called that!), and obviously knew their audience. They riff on some of their tried-and-true routines (Cheech’s low rider, “Dave’s Not Here”, and goofing on nuns a’la “Sister Mary Elephant”), and break out Cheech’s ‘Alice Bowie’ persona at the Roxy to sing their quasi-hit “Earache My Eye”:

Music producer Lou Adler (Carole King, The Mamas & The Papas, Johnny Rivers) sat in the director’s chair for UP IN SMOKE, which probably didn’t take a lot of effort. Adler dabbled in films, and produced the seminal 1967 rock doc MONTEREY POP and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. His only other directorial effort was 1981’s LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS, which has become somewhat of a cult classic. Adler was also part owner of The Roxy, and the movie has performances by punk bands Berlin Brats, The Dils, and The Whores, as well as music from War, Bobby Day, and (believe it or not) Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass..

UP IN SMOKE’s raucous dope humor opened the floodgates for stoner comedies to come. Yeah I know, there’s no redeeming social qualities whatsoever, and it’s lewd and infantile, but I don’t really care – it makes me laugh! That’s pretty much all I want out of a comedy, and Cheech and Chong deliver the goods. *sniff, sniff* hey, did somebody let a skunk in here?

Drive-In Saturday Night: DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE (AIP 1965) & DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS (AIP 1966)

American-International Pictures, never ones to shy away from jumping on a trend, released a pair of secret agent spoofs starring the one and only Vincent Price as the evil supervillain Dr. Goldfoot. AIP president James H. Nicholson himself allegedly came up with the story, wanting to use the film as a showcase for wife Susan Hart, a beautiful woman of limited talent. The first was DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE, an endearingly goofy little movie co-starring SKI PARTY’s Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman. The two even use the same character names from that previous film, Tod Armstrong and Craig Gamble – only reversed, with Frankie as Craig and Dwayne as Tod!

Mad scientist Goldfoot, an obvious cross between James Bond nemeses Dr. No and Goldfinger, is Price at his campy best, carving up large slices of ham as the malevolent meanie. His fiendish plot is creating an army of indestructible female robots in gold bikinis to entice the world’s richest men, then having the alluring  androids steal all their money. Into this scenario comes Craig (Avalon), an inept secret agent working for SIC (Secret Intelligence Command), who is accidentally targeted by Hart’s sexy cyborg Diane. Craig goes ga-ga over Diane, and when Goldfoot recalls her to get at filthy rich Tod (Hickman), he desperately searches for his artificial object of desire.

The movie’s so corny, full of wheezy jokes and slapstick sight gags you can see coming a mile away,  you can’t help but laugh. That’s because the screenplay’s courtesy of Three Stooges/Bowery Boys veteran Elwood Ullman, who did a rewrite of Robert Kaufman’s original script. Besides the spy spoof angle, the film lampoons Price’s Edgar Allen Poe films with portraits of Goldfoot’s ancestors resembling Price’s characters (Roderick Usher, Verdon Fell) and a scene with Hickman strapped under a swinging blade that uses stock footage from THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM!

Fred Clark plays the SIC chief, who is also Craig’s uncle, which explains how the nebbish got the job. TV actor Jack Mullaney (THE ANN SOUTHERN SHOW, IT’S ABOUT TIME) is Goldfoot’s bumbling assistant Igor, and among the fembots you’ll find 60’s starlets Marianne Gaba, Luree Holmes, Deanna Lund (LAND OF THE GIANTS), Pamela Rodgers (LAUGH-IN), and Salli Sachse. There are cameos from ‘Beach Party’ vets Aron Kincaid, Harvey Lembeck (as Eric Von Zipper!), Alberta Nelson, Deborah Walley, and a certain ex-Mousketeer pictured above. Norman Taurog, who won an Oscar for 1930’s SKIPPY and became a comedy specialist, handles the direction, such as it is.

 

The next entry, 1966’s DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS, was directed by… Mario Bava ?!? That’s right, the Italian horror/giallo maestro took over the reigns on this Italian coproduction, mainly because he was under contract to producer Fulvio Lucisano at the time. Bava reportedly hated the film, and I for one don’t blame him… although the first was a good-natured romp, GIRL BOMBS is, well, a bomb!

Price is back as the dastardly doctor, this time churning out killer robots who explode when kissing. He looses them on the generals of NATO gathered for war maneuvers, with the evil intent of dropping the H-Bomb on Moscow, pitting the Ruskies against the good ol’ USA in hopes the two superpowers with destroy each other, then he can split the world with his allies Red China! Price constantly breaks the Forth Wall, giving the audience plot exposition, and some silly asides. Reportedly, Vinnie didn’t like the sequel either, but at least he got a nice Italian vacation for his troubles!

SIC is still out to stop Goldfoot, only instead of Frankie Avalon we get another ex-teen idol, Fabian, who’s just as inept and a real “Hound Dog Man” with SIC secretary Laura Antonelli (VENUS IN FURS, A MAN CALLED SLEDGE). We also get the unfunny Franco and Ciccio, the world’s worst comedy team, who annoy the crap out of me. These two paisans don’t translate well into American humor (the bad dubbing doesn’t help), though they were hugely popular in Italy. To me, they just suck.     

The “hilarious” ending consists of a chase through a kiddie amusement park, a runaway hot air balloon, and… *sigh* why am I wasting words? Sorry, folks, but it’s just not worth it. The first Dr. Goldfoot movie has a silly if sophomoric vibe, spoofing the James Bond craze, teen flicks, and pretty much American-International itself. The sequel is only for masochists and/or Price completists; otherwise avoid it at all costs!