Writer-director-comic actor Robert Wuhl is trotting out some of his favorite movies on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ (ka-ching!) right now, including To Be or Not to Be (1942) and The Big Country (1958). I have, of course, seen To Be many, many, many, many times simply because it is TDOY comedy god Jack Benny’s finest hour on the silver screen. (And that
The reason why I’m writing this is—the esteemed Mr. Wuhl* has chosen two particular favorites of your humble narrator’s to follow Country. The first is the scathingly satirical Smile (1975), a film that if you have not seen I urge you to fire up the TiVo and set phasers to “record” because it’s a brilliant little movie that doesn’t get shown nearly enough on telebision, as our good friend at Just Another Blog (From L.A.)™ is prone to calling the cathode ray tube. It stars Bruce “Crazy? I’m not crazy…” Dern, Barbara Feldon, Michael Kidd (simply marvelous), Geoffrey Lewis, Nicholas Pryor, Joan Prather, Denise Nickerson (yeah, the blueberry girl in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), Melanie Griffith, Annette O’Toole and Colleen Camp in a take-no-prisoners send-up of teen beauty pageants. Definitely worth your time.
Immediately following Smile is another Ritchie-directed effort, The Survivors (1983)—and yes, I know this movie is uneven and has more holes than Albert Hall. I don’t care. It stars Robin Williams (in one of the few movies I can tolerate him in) and Walter Matthau as a pair of luckless schmoes who are thrown together into unemployment through comic circumstances and find themselves at the mercy of a small-potatoes crook (country singer Jerry Reed) who claims he carried out the contract on Jimmy Hoffa. Matthau steals every freakin’ scene he’s in—but my favorite is when he’s visited by Reed in the middle of the night at the point of a gun; Matthau looks at Reed and remarks: “I’ve never been called a honky mo-fo before…” I also adore the bit where Reed is trying to make off with the proceeds of a coffee shop being patronized by Williams and Matthau…and Matthau begs Reed to let him keep his pants on because he didn’t get the opportunity to do laundry that week. “I will not have this man dangle for your delight!” Williams responds indignantly to Reed. (There are so many choice one-liners in this flick—I still use “Oh, you’ll smoke a turd in Hell for that!” to this day.) The TCM schedule originally had Semi-Tough (1977) scheduled in place of Survivors, and while I like that film as well I’m glad they had to make the last minute switch.
And if this isn’t enough—and my gosh, don’t think it isn’t—TCM will run the rarely-shown Convoy (1978)—directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Kris Kristofferson and Ali MacGraw…based on the gajillion-selling country-pop hit by C.W. McCall. The schedule says this will be letterboxed. Is this a great country or what?
*Once again, I’m letting my penchant for being facetious run rampant again. Actually, Wuhl can be very good in films like Bull Durham (1988) and the seldom-seen Open Season (1995)…but he’s also responsible for the HBO sitcom Arliss and an obnoxious appearance in the cult favorite The Hollywood Knights (1980). He’ll do a stint in Purgatory for those last two, mark my words.