Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Freshman

Written and Directed by
Andrew Bergman
Starring Marlon Brando, Matthew Broderick, Bruno Kirby, Penelope Ann Miller, Bert Parks.
IMDB Entry

The Freshman
Marlon Brando was one of the greatest movie actors of his generation. He’s best known for his iconic dramatic roles, but he did have a penchant for comedy when he needed it. And one of his great comic turns was in The Freshman.*

Clark Kellogg (Matthew Broderick) is a young man from Vermont who moves to New York City to attend film school. On his first day there, he meets Victor Ray (Bruno Kirby), who proceeds to steal all his belongings. Spotting Victor a few days later, Clark shakes him down for his things, but Victor no longer has anything. He makes an offer Clark can’t refuse: he’ll get him a job with his uncle Carmine Sabatini (Marlon Brando). Sabatini bears more than a passing resemblance to the most famous of movie gangsters, but Clark, needed the money, goes to work for him.

Sabatini is an importer and runs a special dinner club that charges very high prices to eat endangered animals. Clark is soon caught up in smuggling a Komodo dragon to be the latest meal.

Brando, of course, is riffing on his role as Don Vito Corleone from The Godfather. And the movie doesn’t play that down. Clark sees the resemblance, and sees everything that Sabatini does through the mythology of that movie. The humor comes from Clark’s reaction to being drawn into what looks like a very shady enterprise.

Brando appears to enjoy the chance to vamp on the image. He supposedly told Bergman that he saw Sabatini as the real life person that he based Corleone on. He plays it all very straight, which makes it all the funnier.  Broderick plays his role as a man flustered about what he’s gotten into. Bruno Kirby is also good as the scheming Victor.

One major joke that no one will get these days was the use of Bert Parks. Forgotten today, back in the 50s he took over the job of announcer of the Miss America pageant, and for over 20 years he was known singing “There she is, Miss America” when a winner was announced. He ends up singing the same song, as the Komodo dragon wanders in the dining room ready to be eaten.**

Writer/director Andrew Bergman was a vastly underrated creator of comedy of his era. He had cowritten Blazing Saddles, and moved on to directing.  This was one of several successful films, though his career took a hit when he wrote and directed Striptease.

*Not a very good title. Not only is is bland, but it competes with Harold Lloyd’s classic silent comedy.

**Parks also sings Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” as incongruous a pairing as ever put on film. 

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Kindergarten Cop

Kindergarten Cop

Directed by
Ivan Reitman
Written by Murry Salem (story & screenplay), Herschel Weingrod (screenplay), Timothy Harris (screenplay)
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Penelope Ann Miller, Pamela Reed, Linda Hunt, Carroll Baker, Richard Tyson
IMDB Entry

Arnold Schwarzenegger made his name as an action-adventure hero.  But, when given the chance, he showed a fine talent for comedy.* One of his better comic  vehicles is Kindergarten Cop.

John Kimble (Arnold) is a cop looking for the estranged wife of a LA drug dealer (Richard Tyson). With his partner Phoebe O’Brien (Pamela Reed), he goes to Astoria, Oregon where O’Brien goes undercover as a substitute kindergarten teacher.  When she becomes sick, John is forced to substitute for her, though he quickly finds the five-year-olds are often more wild than the most hardened criminal. School principal Miss Schlowski (Linda Hunt) is skeptical of Kimble’s abilities.

The movie is not breaking new ground. Kimble finds the woman he’s looking for, and the big bad shows up and has to be dealt with. It depends on the acting to make  it fresh.

Arnold was never mistaken for an actor with a lot of range,** but he clearly understands his image, as well  as comedy in general. Many of the jokes play off his tough-guy image as he faced with dealing with children.

The supporting roles are well cast. Linda Hunt plays the no-nonsense boss with a soft interior as well as anyone in film and the kids are a delight. They act very naturally and the effect is charming.  Pamala Reed has been a favorite of mine since I spotted her in Eyewitness, but never seemed to get the breakthrough she deserved. She’s worked steadily, but here she disappears for most of the film.***

The movie was a success. This isn’t surprising. Director Ivan Reitman was the king of 80s comedies, including Ghostbusters, Meatballs, Stripes, Dave, and Junior and was still at the top of his game. Of course, Arnold continued to be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

It’s a charming film that’s still fun to watch.

*It may be a part of his success as an action hero.

**Though his accent probably limits him.

***Oddly, her Wikipedia page lists this as the first role she is known for.