#SatMat Twitter Live Movie Tweet for Sat., Jan. 2: DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID (1982)


First off, let’s get one thing straight — it was my idea, not the dame’s, okay?

Salome at BNoirDetour is adamant about providing Live Tweet movies on Twitter.com at no charge to her audience. But how could I present a hilarious film noir parody on #SatMat — even if it’s a movie that can only be rented — without getting the BNoirDetour stamp of co-approval?

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid stars Steve Martin (who co-wrote the movie with director Carl Reiner) as Rigby Reardon, a low-level private eye who might or might not be getting the wool pulled over his eyes by a fulsome femme fatale (the undeniably curvy Rachel Ward). Other than that, about the only thing you need to know about the movie is that, through the miracle of special effects, Martin nonchalantly acts alongside 1940’s versions of noir stars including Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and too many others to mention.

Even if you’re not thoroughly versed in the elements of noir, Martin’s early-career wackiness is enough to carry you for the movie. His mini-ballet on skinned knees, or his mouthing along to the movie’s scorchy score (by another noir veteran, Miklos Rozsa), are just a couple of the movie’s comedy highlights.

So please join us this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST at Twitter.com, and use the hashtag #SatMat to follow along and comment on the movie. You’ll need to pay a rental fee to YouTube ($2.99) or Amazon.com ($3.99) to watch the movie, but it’s a small price to pay for big laughs, so cough up the dough, ya mug!

Steve Martin as “The Great Flydini”


The following is my first of two entries in my See You in the ‘Fall’ Blogathon, taking place at this blog from Sept. 20-23, 2015. Click on the above banner, and read entertaining entries from a variety of blogs about priceless moments of physical comedy from TV and movies!


A comedian pulls objects out of the zippered “private” section of his pants. Does anything sound tackier? In the, er, gifted hands of Steve Martin, it turns into a breathtakingly brilliant six minutes of silent comedy right up there with Chaplin and Keaton.

Amazingly, I can’t find one article in that vast virtual encyclopedia known as the Internet that tells anything about the history of this “act.” At the time that Martin was performing it (at a magic club in L.A. and, as you can see if you look hard enough on the Web, on TV in England), I remember reading a piece about it, I think in The New Yorker. It sounded weird but tantalizing, and I figured I’d probably never be lucky enough to see a performance of it.

But in the final month of Johnny Carson’s tenure as host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” Carson — I suspect — coerced Martin into doing the act on his show as a personal favor (the two of them were friends off-stage). And so, happily, we have a recording of it.

What this recording proves above all is that Martin was born far off in the wrong era. When television made it big in the 1950’s, veteran stage performers complained that in vaudeville, you could make a career out of one routine, but once you performed that routine one time on TV, it was dead after that. If Steve Martin could have conceived “The Great Flydini” when vaudeville was thriving, it’s likely he could have made a career solely out of that one act.

Stripping the routine to its essentials, the act still amazes. Even when you figure out how Martin actually gets the objects to emerge from his fly (I won’t spoil the fun here), you’re left to wonder: How does he work all of that stuff in his pants, while still maintaining his comic timing? It’s uncanny.

So sit back and marvel at Steve Martin as “The Great Flydini.” One word of warning: Carson introduces Martin anonymously as just another magic act, and then Martin spends the first 30 seconds or so milking the audience’s shock that it’s Steve Martin in front of them. So you’re led to believe that it’s just going to be Steve Martin doing another of his put-ons at the expense of his captive audience. Don’t believe it for a second. He has thought out every moment of this act, to our everlasting delight.

(If you liked this blog entry, click here to read my second blog entry about the Three Stooges short subject Gents Without Cents.)

FANTASIA 2000 (1999) – Worthy of the 1940 original

download (1)

Roy E. Disney, Walt Disney’s nephew, has said that the original Fantasia is “a wondrous sampler. This one’s a cherry cream, and that one’s a chocolate-covered nut.” Roy Disney was executive producer of Fantasia 2000, which is the complete dessert tray. The movie is an unabashed slice of joy that zips along at 75 minutes.

Ignore any trepidations you might have about the movie, such as “Is the sequel a rip-off of the original?” After you’ve been bathed in its imagery for about five minutes, all anxiety will cease.

I hesitate to give an in-depth description of the movie’s seven new segments, because I don’t want to turn this review into a lengthy summary, and I don’t want to give away the movie’s many surprises. Suffice to say, there’s not a loser in the bunch. The new segments include:

download* An impressionistic segment set to the opening of “Beethoven’s 5th Symphony,” which looks like a kid’s cardboard cut-outs come wildly to life.

download (1)* A surreal segment of humpback whales taking flight, to the strains of Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.”

download (2)* A New York interpretation of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” done in the style of caricature artist Al Hirschfeld (who is credited as artistic consultant).

download* Hans Christian Andersen’s story of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” set to Shostakovich’s “Piano Concerto #2.”

download (1)* Saint-Saens’ finale to “Carnival of the Animals” backing a hilarious story of a flock of flamingos and a yo-yo (Don’t ask, just watch).

download (2)* My personal favorite: Donald Duck serving as assistant to Noah (of ark fame), backed by Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.”

download* A Bambi-like take on nature and re-birth, set to Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.”

Ironically, the movie’s weakest segment is the only one retained from the original Fantasia: Mickey Mouse’s take on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” It’s still fun to watch, but compared to the state-of-the-art animation that bookends it, it looks grainy and dated. It’s a pity that the Disney tinkerers couldn’t find a way to expand or update the segment for the new movie.

In lieu of Taylor Deems’ somewhat stuffy narration in the original movie, each segment here is “hosted” by celebrities including Steve Martin, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Penn & Teller, and Angela Lansbury, all of whom are delightful.

In an age where any animation that earns a profit gets shoveled onto a movie screen, the Disney studio with Toy Story 2 and Fantasia 2000 (two sequels, yet) demonstrated in 1999 how truly great animation doesn’t need a kid in tow to make it enjoyable for any age group. Fantasia 2000 is simply a knockout.

Steve Martin in DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID (1982) – Dead-perfect send-up of film noir


I liked Steve Martin when Steve Martin wasn’t cool (in the movies, at least). After his surprising box-office success in The Jerk (1979), Martin went the Woody Allen route and lost his way with his audience for a while — including Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, a film noir spoof that earned middling box-office. I found it one of the funniest comedies of its year.

Martin (who co-wrote with director Carl Reiner) plays Rigby Reardon, a 1940’s gumshoe in the Bogart style. (In fact, via interspliced film footage, Martin constantly chastizes Bogart about his downtrodden appearance.) Reardon helps a gorgeous femme fatale (Rachel Ward at her most voluptuous) to solve the mystery of her scientist father’s disappearance.

This is mostly an excuse to throw Martin together in (seemingly, and seamlessly) the same scene with old film clips of Bogart, Cary Grant, and other noir stars. The gimmick isn’t always hilarious, but at the very least it’s fun to watch. But Martin manages to be quite hilarious on his own — doing a schizoid ballet on skinned knees, or nonchalantly “adjusting” (i.e. groping) Ward’s ample breasts. The later Reiner/Martin collaboration All of Me (1984) proved to the world what a flawless physical comedian Martin could be, but there’s ample display of his talent here.

Reiner and veteran composer Miklos Rosza (Double Indemnity) also deserve credit for evoking noir moods about as lovingly as you could ask for. The movie is filled with shadowy corners and appropriately slithery music. (Check out the scene where Rosza duplicates Martin’s expression of the phrase “cleaning woman.”) Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid — the title is explained within the movie, by the way, but it doesn’t help — is an overlooked but delightful entry in the Martin canon.

L.A. STORY (1991) – IMHO, Steve Martin’s masterpiece


It’s always a delight to follow a movie comic who really knows what he’s doing, because eventually you hit the jackpot. With Woody Allen, it was Hannah and Her Sisters; with co-exec-producer/writer/star Steve Martin, it’s L.A. Story. Rarely does any movie, much less a comedy, keep me bolted upright in my seat in anticipation of what might happen next. But from its schizoid opening ballet to its sweetly happy ending, even when I wasn’t laughing, I was enchanted.

Martin plays Harris K. Telemacher, a Los Angeles TV weatherman who’s unsatisfied with his superficial lifestyle. He woos and beds some women whom most men would probably be thrilled to have (Marilu Henner, “Sex and the City’s” Sarah Jessica Parker), but he is unsatisfied until he meets a British journalist (Martin’s then-wife Victoria Tennant) whose very unpretentiousness is enough to knock him off his feet.

This is obviously Steve Martin’s attempt to be another Woody Allen — here’s the Annie Hall-like quirky romance, the use of jazz great Django Reinhardt on the soundtrack (he also uses Enya, which was my introduction to this beautiful vocalist), and he romanticizes L.A. the way Allen does The Big Apple. Funny thing is, it all works. Even if you’re as anti-L.A. as Manhattanite Allen is, it’s an L.A. crafted in Steve Martin’s mind, anyway — and what an original landscape it is.

It even goes Allen one step better. One scene Allen filmed and then deleted from Annie Hall featured the rolling news marquee in Times Square telling him to return to Annie in L.A. I have no idea whether Martin ever heard about this or not, but in L.A. Story, he gets romantic advice from a highway traffic sign. The concept sounds hopeless (as Allen obviously decided it was), but Telemacher is so disbelieving about the concept that its comedy comes across. After all, everything else offbeat happens in L.A.; why not this?

There are few comedies that meld so perfectly. One is tempted to credit its lush visuals and on-the-button pacing to director Mick Jackson, except that Jackson has done little before or since that is this striking (The Bodyguard was a big hit, but I can’t say it stands out in my mind). It’s obviously Martin’s comic vision all the way, and it’s pure delight.

Martin’s physicality and wit are on grand display here. And though Victoria Tennant, like Jackson, has done little else in her career that’s this good, Martin certainly makes us see just what he saw in her. When they finally come together, it feels deserved and not at all forced.

In an era where gastric wheezing and room-temperature mentalities substitute for wit, it’s refreshing to see a comedy that actually creates its own special world. For me, L.A. Story ranks right up there with Preston Sturges’ screwball comedies — a one-of-a-kind take on the world’s craziness and the love that helps us endure it.

PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (1987) – Give thanks for it


Christmas movies abound, but only a handful of films celebrate Thanksgiving. Among them is the delightful Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which should be required viewing for anyone naive enough not to realize what they should feel thankful for.

The movie was probably a peak for its collaborators. Writer-director John Hughes was still riding a wave of success from his teen-angst comedies such as Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. John Candy was a golden boy from his work on “Second City TV” and his likable schlub in Stripes and Splash. And Steve Martin was just then refining his wild-and-crazy-guy persona into a more believable, uptight but well-meaning adult. All three still had hits after this one, but few of them linger in the memory as well.

If you’ve seen The Odd Couple or any number of road movies featuring an incongruous duo thrown together, the movie’s scenario will be no big surprise. Martin plays Neal Page, a snotty advertising exec who knocks himself out trying to make it home from New York to have Thanksgiving dinner with his family. He’s foiled at every turn by Del Griffin (Candy), a glad-handing shower-ring salesman who keeps worming his way into Page’s path.

As Stan Laurel once said about his comedies, the surprises are often not in the destination but how one arrives there. And Martin and Candy evoke nothing so much as a latter-day Laurel & Hardy, as their simple goal of reaching Chicago in 48 hours evolves into a splendid farce of misplaced wallets, ever-worsening modes of transportation, and one of the funniest car wrecks ever conceived for the movies.

This might have turned into a frantic cartoon, as Hughes’ more labored movies often did. But it’s grounded in a couple of solid characterizations. Candy has a couple of maudlin speeches about what a humble guy he is, but mostly he conveys his character through some humbled glances when he realizes he’s gone too far. And Martin’s body language, from devilish stares to dancing fits of frustration, speaks volumes.

There are numerous moments here that belong in the annals of great film comedy: The aforementioned car wreck. The scene where Martin vents his frustration by counting the ways in which Candy annoys him. The scene where Martin and Candy mistakenly wake up in each other’s arms, and try to shake it off by talking about the latest Bears game. And the scene where Martin repeatedly, lovingly spits out the F-word to an oblivious rental clerk.

If holiday annoyances are wearing you down, rent Planes, Trains and Automobiles to remind you how comparatively easy you have it. (If you still think you have it bad, do a double feature and rent David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross to get a glimpse of the worst job you could possibly have. But that’s another review.)

SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (1978) – Someone needs to fix the hole


With Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a splendid time is guaranteed for all…lovers of bad movies, that is. This movie was conceived at a time when wishful thinking about a Beatles reunion was at its peak, and when producer Robert Stigwood and stars The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton could seemingly do no wrong. So Stigwood snapped up the rights to classic Beatles tunes and, with the simple thinking that 3 + 1 = 4, he put Frampton and The Brothers Gibb together to make a quartet. The only problem was, that quartet wasn’t The Beatles.

The plot bears a vague similarity to the great Beatles cartoon Yellow Submarine (and please, the resemblance ends there), by way of Sgt. Pepper’s band rescuing Frampton’s girlfriend (named Strawberry Fields in the movie…you know, “Strawberry Fields Forever”?) from some evildoers, particularly a ferocious band played by Aerosmith. But considering that Aerosmith does one of the few decent Beatles cover versions in the movie (“Come Together”), one would wish for Strawberry to come to her senses and become a groupie for the evil band.

But then, this wafer-thin plot is really only an excuse to gather an all-star cast (including Steve Martin, poor guy, in his feature-film debut) and make them warble half-baked versions of Beatles hits. The nadir is probably George Burns doing “Fixing a Hole” (in his throat, from the sound of it).

I suppose you can’t blame Stigwood, the Gibbs, et al. for trying to cash in on a craze. One person you can blame, though, is veteran Beatles producer George Martin, who inexplicably got involved in this mess as its music producer. At the time, Martin supposedly bragged that the soundtrack album shipped more units than the Beatles’ 1967 original album. But when the movie laid a giant egg in theaters across the country, most of those huge shipments were either sent back or were laid to rest in the $1.98 bargain bin. Since then, Martin, whose has appeared in many Beatles tributes (such as the Beatles Anthology video set), has been noticeably reticent about his contribution to this stinker.

As one critic put it at the time, if you listen to the soundtrack album backwards, you can hear Paul McCartney saying, “I wish I was dead! I wish I was dead!”