Tag Archives: comedy

The Magnificent Ambersons of Parody Movies

Val Kilmer

If Airplane! is the Citizen Kane of parody movies, then Top Secret! has to be the Magnificent Ambersons of the genre. Top Secret!, for those of you who haven’t seen it (shame on you!) is a parody of both early rock n roll movies, specifically those starring Elvis, and World War II spy movies. It’s supposed to be taking place in 1984 (when it was shot), but East Germany resembles Nazi Germany, right down to the French resistance fighters encountered about half way through the film.

There are a ton of sight gags in the movie, half of which you’ll miss while laughing your way through the deadpan jokes slapped on with a trowel throughout the script. Even the cringe-worthy jokes, especially the one involving a “little horse,” will double you over.

I saw Top Secret! at the theater when it came out, I was in college at the time, and was stunned that there were so few people in the theater with me. It wasn’t a hit. I suppose no one had heard of Val Kilmer yet, but he was beside the point–though he was very good as a blonde Elvis stand-in, especially when singing such songs as “Skeet Surfin’!” and “Spend This Night With Me,” in which he makes several attempts at suicide on stage (gas oven, noose, railroad tracks) and is saved over and over by some Jordanaires-like back-up singers in plaid sport coats.

And then there are the Commie-Nazi’s. At the beginning, when a motorcycle messenger brings General Streck (played by Brit character actor Jeremy Kemp) a message that says that the British spy (played by Omar Sharif) has gotten away, he rubber-stamps the note with”FIND HIM AND KILL HIM.”

Orson Welles

No, there is nothing subtle about this movie. That’s the point, really. That brings me back to my original point. In the oeuvre of Orson Welles, The Magnificent Ambersons is almost always overlooked. It’s a fantastic movie, every bit as good as Citizen Kane. But when people speak of Welles, it’s Citizen Kane, Lady from Shanghai, Macbeth, Touch of Evil, and The Trial. With Zucker/Abrahams/Abrahams, it’s always Airplane! Naked Gun, Naked Gun 2 1/2, etc. What all the movies in this paragraph have is that touch of genius, of greatness. I think comedies are every bit as important as any other type of movie. If something makes you laugh, it has unlocked a bit of you buried inside, just like a great drama or thriller has.

And if you haven’t watched Top Secret!, for Jebus’s sake, get your ass over to Netflix right now and watch it: www.netflix.com/WiMovie/60023499. You’re welcome.

Your shitty movie of the week… this week Help! …

Don't smoke dope, kids.
I have two words to say to anyone who doesn’t like the Beatles: Fuck you.

That said, this movie is… wow, awful. And yet hilarious. And awful. It’s like a long episode of the 1960’s version of Batman, without Adam West, or a script that makes any sense. At least we get to watch the Beatles caper around on vacation in the Alps and in the Bahamas. And there’s the incredible music.

There’s a plot, I suppose. It has to do with an eastern cult who sacrifice people who wear a ring with a red glass golf ball on it to the goddess Kaili. Someone sent Ringo the ring, he can’t get it off, therefore he must be sacrificed.

So the Kaili cult chases the Bee-AT-Tills around, led by Leo “Number 2/Rumpole” McKern, a rotund, bug-eyed Australian putting on a south Asian accent.

Also chasing them is Victor Spinetti, a scientist whose British-made contraptions keep breaking down, and his henchman, Roy Kinnear. Eagle-eyed viewers will remember Spinetti from the first Beatles movie, A Hard Day’s Night. You know: the good Beatles movie.

There are a few nice moments in this one though, to be fair.

Two old ladies are watching the Beatles enter their attached-on-the-inside homes. One old lady has to encourage the other to wave at them because they’re such nice boys. “Fame hasn’t changed them.” Inside, the Beatles’ home is one long bizarre flat filled with gewgaws, vending machines, a grass lawn that is being tended by a man using chattering false teeth, rotating book shelves, and so on. It’s delightful to look at.

John and Ringo are in an elevator:
Ringo: What was it that first attracted you to me?
John: Well, you’re very polite, aren’t you?

The Beatles are having a two lagers and lime plus two lagers and lime in a pub:
George: I’m always getting winked at these days. It used to be you didn’t it Paul?

The Beatles were all (infamously) stoned during the making of the movie, and Richard Lester, the director, didn’t bother to tell them what the damn thing was about either, so all their performances were… what’s lazier than “mailed in”?

The Monkees TV show was based on this nonsense. So there’s another entertainment vehicle with incredible music, and shitty everything else.

With my sluggish Internet connection, it took me two hours, and several restarts, to download this movie. (It’s 1.3 gigs.) And I didn’t even bother to get it in HD. It was 12 bucks from iTunes. Was it worth it? Sure, I’ll  fast forward to all the music videos next time I watch it. They may have been bad vaudevillians, but the Beatles made some of the greatest music ever.