1968, Movie, M, 97 mins


It had been 15 years since Preminger's last comedy, THE MOON IS BLUE, and he seemed to have forgotten what was funny and what was in bad taste by the time he made this star-studded stinker. Preminger, who died in the spring of 1986, was one of film's most inconsistent directors. In this film, he was at his worst. He'd been looking for a writer for another project when Cannon's script came across his desk as a writing sample and he decided to shoot it. Great sums of money were lavished on this dull attempt at humor that failed on almost every level. Gleason is a one-time racketeer who now lives happily with his wife, Channing, in San Francisco where they own and operate a a car wash. Their daughter, Hay (who was billed as being "introduced" but who had actually been in GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER), takes up with hippie Law, which does not delight the essentially conservative Gleason. His retirement from the rackets is interrupted when his old boss, syndicate chief Marx (who was appearing in his final film), sends word that he wants Gleason to perform one last hit. He is to rub out Rooney, who is in prison and awaiting his day before a Senate investigations group probing organized crime. Gleason wants no part of it but when his old pal, Stang, is shot, Gleason realizes that Marx means business. It's arranged that Gleason be sent to the same jail where Rooney resides in baronial splendor (he keeps track of the stock market via a ticker tape in his cell) and Gleason is to find the right moment, kill Rooney and then escape. Gleason's cellmate is Pendleton, a draft-dodging professor who is fond of LSD. He has writing paper that has been dipped in the drug and when Gleason gets some of the drug into his bloodstream by handling the paper, he goes on an acid trip that alters his feelings about crime and he decides against killing Rooney. (In order to lend reality to this, Preminger admitted that he took LSD after first discussing the idea with a prominent New York physician.) Gleason and Pendleton pour LSD into the inmates' soup, then flee the prison in large trash containers which have been attached to plastic food bags filled with helium. They float out of the jail and descend on the yacht owned by Marx, where he lives with his young mistress, Luna. Gleason's daughter is a hostage on Marx's yacht (captained by a dapper Raft) and it looks bad for all until Channing, Law and a crew of hippies attack. Marx sees that he is outnumbered so he dons mod clothes and leaves on a raft with Pendleton as Gleason is embraced by Channing, Hay and Law, his new son-in-law.

It's an attempt at a Damon Runyon story with hippies and LSD thrown in to appeal to the youth market, and the whole thing is a disaster. In the late 60s, Hollywood was completely baffled by the counterculture and in its attempts to pander to it resulted in some of the worst movies ever made, this one being a classic example. Several writers were brought in to try to fix this while it was shooting, including Elliott Baker and Stanley Ralph Ross. By the time Ross was called in, the picture was nearly half done and the scenes Ross suggested be cut had already been shot and roughly edited. Preminger never stinted on wages and paid Ross, Baker and several other writers many thousands in a vain attempt to add jokes but he steadfastly refused to alter the structure of the story and that was its downfall. Talents such as Meredith (the warden), Clark (appearing in his last film, as a prison guard), Gorshin and Constantine (inmates), are totally wasted. Only Nilsson's music and some sharp one-liners merit any attention whatsoever. Despite the impressive cast, the film did little box office business and mercifully disappeared in just a few weeks. leave a comment

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