Monday, November 22, 2010

Film Review: GLORY DAYS (1988)

"Why the Hell isn't THIS on DVD yet?" -- Number 48


GLORY DAYS (1988 CBS-TV) Starring Robert Conrad, Jennifer O’Neil, Shane Conrad, Ed O’Ross, Stacy Edwards, Pamela Gidley. Directed by Robert Conrad

Robert Conrad is a self-made businessman who has been successful beyond his wildest dreams, able to retire in his early fifties. Perhaps inspired by Rodney Dangerfield, he elects to rectify his biggest regret and go back to college with his son, Shane Conrad (imagine that). He immediately gets the hang of it--as he explains, U.S. tire regulations are a lot more confusing than the classwork. The elder Conrad elects to emulate Thornton Melon further by joining his son athletically on the football team, which seems to be about as successful as Grand Lakes University’s diving team. That is, until injuries force the elder Conrad into action as the team’s new starting quarterback. The team goes on a winning streak as Robert threatens the league’s passing record(!), and charms the comely Gidley in the process, putting a strain on his marriage with O’Neil.
Everybody loves this guy!  Everybody!!!

Very few things in this world are funnier than a vanity project that gets out of hand. Witness the word of mouth that caused 2003’s barely released THE ROOM to become a sensation as possibly the worst film of the 21st century so far. Yes, I realize that Dangerfield saved the day in BACK TO SCHOOL, but that film was played completely for laughs. Conrad’s serious! In GLORY DAYS, the erstwhile Eveready spokesman asks us to believe that he can play quarterback in college at 5’7” AND (at least) his early fifties, with a throwing motion that makes Charlie Hough’s look like Dan Marino’s. And not just playing, mind you, but establishing himself as conference MVP despite not picking up a football for 30-odd years. The WILD, WILD WEST star is a much better actor than director, as he fails to make any of the football sequences look any more convincing than his passing.
Y'ever....seen a show called Hawaiian Eye?

No worries about going “middle age crazy” or letting the adulation get out of hand, though. He might be the savior of the coach, team, school and the oldest B.M.O.C. in history, but his essential morality wins out. Conrad bypasses a chance to prove he’s still “got it” with Gidley and elects to stay, not stray. Jennifer O’Neil fans can rest easy. Then with his son sufficiently recovered from the injury, Robert graciously walks to the sideline, a few yards short of the record, to let the younger Conrad (then 17 and just starting his own acting career) take his turn in the spotlight. Tough, talented, athletic, agelessly virile, a terrific student---and humble. What a guy!

In a world where misfired vanity projects provide copious amounts of unintentional hilarity, GLORY DAYS deserves rediscovery. Although he co-directed THE BANDITS in 1967, DAYS remains Conrad’s only feature-length effort as solo director. Aside from this one telefilm his efforts behind the camera would be limited to his numerous series (BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP, HIGH MOUNTAIN RANGERS). It’s easy to see why when giggling your way through this one.

So…..why isn’t this on DVD?

Movies made for television in the 1970’s and 1980’s continue to have a low batting average in getting released, even the high quality productions.

Going back to college in your late middle age ain't easy, at least not in DVD land.  Dangerfield's BACK TO SCHOOL is available, but Bing Crosby's HIGH TIME (1960) joins Conrad's effort on the sidelines.

Why it should be on DVD:

It's comedy gold, people! Name any unsuccessful attempt at looking like a quarterback you can think of: the aforementioned Sandler (THE LONGEST YARD), Charlton Heston (NUMBER ONE), even Alan Alda as George Plimpton in PAPER LION. Conrad provides more laughs than any of them without even trying.  To be fair, he was by far the oldest of the bunch, 59 at the time of filming.   (According to court documents from his 2003 trial).

Acting, directing, producing. About the only thing Conrad didn’t do in this one was go out for the track team and avenge his Battle of the Network Stars loss to Gabe Kaplan, but I guess you can’t have everything. Still, GLORY DAYS is recommended for those of you who love finding humor in unlikely places.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Film Review: COCKEYED CAVALIERS (1934)

"Why the Hell isn't this on DVD yet?" ---- Number 47

COCKEYED CAVALIERS (1934 RKO) Starring Bert Wheeler, Robert Woolsey, Thelma Todd, Dorothy Lee, Noah Beery, Robert Grieg, Henry Sedley, Franklin Pangborn, Jack Norton. Directed by Mark Sandrich.

In 16th century England, Wheeler and Woolsey sneak a free carriage ride but end up locked in the village stocks thanks to kleptomaniac Bert, who attempts to steal the coach afterwards. Disguised as a stable boy(!) to escape an arranged marriage with Grieg (the Duke of Weskit), Lee helps the penniless pair escape a vegetable pelting by hiding at the local pub, but Bert’s habit flares up again, forcing the desperate duo into disguises.  Specifically, as the personal physicians of Grieg, the Duke.  Complicating matters, Grieg’s niece Todd (already married--to the Barontakes a shine to Woolsey while Lee’s growing affection for Wheeler threatens to expose her masquerade.

It’s a shame that the Hays Production Code was about to blunt the edge of the sarcastic wise guys known for the era's bluest humor, because CAVALIERS is not only Wheeler and Woolsey's best film, it’s a minor masterpiece.  As I stated while reviewing DIPLOMANIACS a while back, Bert and Bob may not be the Marx Brothers, but their best films hold up solidly. In fact, the side-splitting CAVALIERS is funnier than the Laurel and Hardy period piece (THE DEVIL’S BROTHER, also with Todd) that probably inspired RKO to send W & W back a few centuries.

Working with the boys for the second and (sadly) last time, Todd is inspired, joining their perennial leading lady Lee (who co-starred in 13 of their 21 vehicles) to give us two romantic complications to resolve, and the perpetually pained Beery (as the Baron) and lecherous Grieg ("I like 'em young" is his first line) make great foils.

While even the best Wheeler and Woolsey films have their dull spots and a few too many groaners, COCKEYED CAVALIERS is the exception to this rule. Briskly directed by Sandrich (TOP HAT), the film has two memorably amusing and clever songs, “Dilly Dally” and “Big Bad Wolf” and remains fast-paced, clever and consistently funny from the gossipy sing-song opening to the inevitable and wild carriage chase finale.

Wheeler and Woolsey lacked the distinctive screen personas of the other leading comedy teams of the 1930’s, and they made clunkers both before (DIXIANA) and after (MUMMY'S BOYS) their 1931-1934 peak.  That said, their current obscurity is due more to bad luck (the aforementioned Code, Woolsey’s untimely death in 1938) than a lack of talent.  COCKEYED CAVALIERS is the best supporting evidence of what they could do with strong material (with DIPLOMANIACS and PEACH-O-RENO not far behind).

It’s too bad the team never again worked with Sandrich, who, like Woolsey and Todd, died way too young. His other W & W flick, HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY, wasn't quite as big a creative triumph, but bested CAVALIERS slightly at the box office.  One can only wonder what might have been if RKO had kept Bert and Bob working with Sandrich for a few more films. Instead, they moved on to  a young George Stevens (GIANT) for two films, followed by an ill-advised and ill-fated fusion with short subject specialist Fred Guiol.

So…….why isn’t this on DVD yet?

Warners owns the rights, and the Archive gives us hope, but for the longest time Wheeler and Woolsey have been perhaps  the ultimate DVD evaders. Until very recently only public domain copies of the likes of HOOK, LINE AND SINKER (far from one of their best, and very poor quality typical of PD bootlegs) and DIXIANA (embarrasingly creaky) readily available out of their 21 as a team.  However, this may finally be changing....see next section.

It’s a minor gripe, but this is one film in which Woolsey’s catchphrase, “Whoa-ohh!” is overdone. I counted seven.

Why it should be on DVD:

A very well done period comedy, Wheeler and Woolsey’s finest cinematic hour, and yet another reminder of just how sexy AND hilarious Thelma Todd was. I mentioned that I prefer it to DEVIL’S BROTHER, and IMO it’s also funnier than Laurel and Hardy's later BOHEMIAN GIRL.

Here’s hoping that the Warner Archive is eventually able to get this one out on DVD: I mean, if MEET THE BARON and SPEAK EASILY (just to name two) are available, there certainly should be room for this one.   As Brian Paige astutely noted in the comments below, Warner has started the long-overdue process of getting W&W's peak period out with the double feature GIRL CRAZY/PEACH O'RENO, the first "official" DVD release.  Hopefully there's a couple more to follow.

Bottom line, COCKEYED CAVALIERS is one the three funniest films of its year, high praise when the other two are TWENTIETH CENTURY and IT'S A GIFT.