Sunday, June 23, 2013


Directed by
Michael Ritchie
Written by Jerry Belson
Starring Bruce Dern, Barbara Feldon, Michael Kidd, Annette O’Toole
IMDB Entry

Satire was never an easy thing to pull off in film, but even when your target is as easy to hit as it is in Smile, it takes a lot to hit the mark.

The movie is a look into the maneuvering behind the scenes of a beauty pageant.  Brenda DiCarlo (Barbara Feldon) is the director of California’s “Young American Miss” pageant, which is coming to Santa Rosa. 

The movies is a series of vignettes, where Brenda has to keep the whole thing going, while dealing with the sexist* and crass Big Bill Freelander (Bruce Dern).  Brenda, being a former Young American Miss, is gung ho on the entire project, while most others are far more cynical.  Especially good is Annette O’Toole as one of the contestants** who’s been around pageants for years and knows the ropes.

The script is by Jerry Belson, who started out writing for TV, including The Dick Van Dyke Show and Hey, Landlord

At the time of the film, director Michael Ritchie was considered hot for his direction of Downhill Racer and The Candidate.  His next film, The Bad News Bears was probably his biggest success,  but his career after that was spotty.

This is a funny but forgotten film that deserved to be better know.

*Even by 1975 standards.

**Melanie Griffith is another.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Comedian Harmonists (music)

Comedian HarmonistsHarry Frommermann (tenor buffo), Ari Leschnikoff (first tenor), Erich Collins (second tenor), Roman Cycowski (baritone), Robert Biberti (bass), Erwin Bootz (piano) Entry

I’ve slowly been going through Spotify, listening to every artist listed in 1001 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. Some of the albums, of course, I’ve heard.  Others, I’ve heard about.  But there are many who I’ve never heard before.  All are pretty good, and occasionally, there’s one that blows me away.  That was my reaction to the Comedian Harmonists.

The group was formed in 1927, by Harry Frommermann, a German who wanted to create a jazz/pop vocal group like those he had heard from American bands.  Frommermann held auditions and soon got together five others to start performing.

The group quickly became a success.  It has an unusual and pleasing sound, as the melody switched off among the men, as they sang with terrific close harmonies.  Here’s an exampe:  Wochenend Und Sonnenschein (“Weekend and Sunshine,” though the tune might be familiar to you).


“Happy Days are Here Again”

But as the 1930s rolled on, the Comedian Harmonists ran into a problem:  The Nazis came to power.  Three of the members were Jewish, and the pianist was married to a Jewish wife.  Something had to give, and it was the Comedian Harmonists.  They were forbidden to perform in public.  Fromerman, Cycowski, and Collin fled Germany and tried to establish themselves as a new group, but the politics of the time made it impossible.  Those that remained behind also took on new members and continued to perform for a time, but when the war broke up, the group was forgotten.

Luckily, though, some remembered.  A documentary on German TV in 1977 by Eberhard Fletcher revived interest and CD have gathered together their songs.  They still have the power to delight after all these years.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Directed by
Charles Jarrott
Written by Marc Stirdivat, from a novel by Robert Sheckley
Starring Michael Crawford, Oliver Reed, Barbara Carrera, James Hampton
IMDB Entry

Back in the mid-80s, I was at a science fiction convention where Roger Elwood* was a guest.  He was working for Disney at the time, and was promoting things with a trivia contest.  I gave him a question about Condorman.

He had never heard of it.  Nor had most of the audience.

Condorman was  based (very roughly) on a novel by science fiction author Robert Sheckley.  Though primarily thought of a a writer of humorous SF, Sheckley wrote in various genres.**  The Game of X was his entry in the spy spoof genre.  It tells the story of a man who gets involved in a minor spy operation but who is mistaken for X, the world’s greatest spy and is forced to become what he is mistaken to be.***

Disney made some major changes.  In the film, Woody Wilkins (Michael Crawford) is a comic book creator who even designs a suit for his hero, Condorman.  His friend Harry (James Hampton) asks him to bring some papers when Woody is traveling to Istanbul.  He meets up with Natalia (Barbara Carrera), a KGB agent who wants the papers, Woody telling her he’s a spy with the code name “Condorman.”  Later, Natalia decides to defect – but will only do it if Condorman helps her.

The movie is definitely light entertainment, and ultimately very silly.  It was barely released into theaters; I saw it as a sneak preview with The Fox and the Hound, but I never noticed it being advertised after that.

This was the last movie in which Michael Crawford appeared.  Usually when I write that, it means it’s a sad comment.  However, those who follow the stage know that Crawford became a theater legend, playing the Phantom of the Opera in London and on Broadway.  Barbara Carrera continued her spy career in Never Say Never Again.

The movie isn’t a great one, but is an interesting curiosity.

*Known primarily as a packager of anthologies; he did dozens of them, of varying quality and is often cited for killing the interest for paperback short story anthologies by flooding the market with time.

**At the time Condorman was released, he was near the top of 20th century sf authors who had their works adapted for film.  This was partly because adaptations of sf novels were rarely made (a situation that continues today).

***The situation is similar to North by Northwest and by The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe, though less serious than the first and less funny than the latter.

****Other than one animated film.