As kids my friends and I went to the cinema all the time but only a few of those mid-60s movies were at all memorable. The two Beatles films are still really good. The Elvis Presley ones introduced impressionable young boys to Ann Margret, Nancy Sinatra and Shelley Fabares (3 times) but were so disposable they disintegrated as we watched. It was not until we blagged our way, underage, into a horror double bill which included Hitchcock’s “The Birds” that we understood the power of a great film maker to provoke and disturb. We kept a closer eye on the family budgie after seeing that too.
There was one film that my best buddy and I loved. On rainy afternoons when we could not play football we listened to “Aftermath” and “Beatles For Sale” while running through our favourite parts of this film.
“It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World” is a bit of mess. Even in the edited version it is still two and a half hours long. It is a sprawling, delirious, absurd farce and, as 12, maybe 13 years old we loved it. We met a guy at school who had seen it in Super Cinerama…lucky bugger. Out of the enormous cast we knew Spencer Tracy, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, Mickey Rooney and Jim Backus (the voice of Mr Magoo). We enjoyed the eye candy provided by Edie Adams and Dorothy Provine. What the film did was introduce us to a bunch of American comics who were just not known in the UK. Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters and Buddy Hackett were new to us and they were great. However, above all of these, was the impact made by Dick Shawn.
Shawn played Sylvester, the beatnik beach bum son of Ethel Merman’s character. He was like crazy wow-wow man and the funniest thing in a funny movie. As I got older Sylvester became even more of a role model for me. If I could choose a way to live it would be in Sylvester’s beach side pad frugging around the bikini clad Barrie Chase as she did the cool slow Twist. It could still happen !
Ten years later we were in London for a week. Friends took the day off and we went into the city for a fun day. We got to choose the movie and picked a new comedy released just that week. “Blazing Saddles”, in front of an unsuspecting audience, was just a gas, gas, gas. I have never heard such unrestrained laughter in a cinema before or after this (well, maybe “Young Frankenstein”). Mel Brooks’ earlier films had not had wide release in the UK. It seemed a wise move to investigate “The Twelve Chairs” and “The Producers”.
“The Producers” is an original classic comedy about planning to fail. The double act of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder (Max and Leo) is perfectly pitched. Kenneth Mars and Christopher Hewett get supporting laughs. Then, into this brilliant film, walks my hero, Dick Shawn, who gives a performance which makes me laugh after countless viewings.
Sylvester has changed in the 5 years since 1963, a hippy now, but he’s still an idiot. He is Lorenzo St DuBois , looking to audition for “Boomerang Baby”. The performance of “Love Power” (one big smell-in !) is a wonderful introduction and L.S.D’s onstage interpretation of Hitler is as good and as funny as it gets.
I would check for anything I could find by Dick Shawn but there was not really a lot to find in Britain. I loved his off-the-wall energy, his commitment to idiocy. I was going to leave this piece with only the two classic clips when I found this from a TV movie, “Evil Roy Slade”, starring John Astin from the “Addams Family” and a few of the “Mad, Mad World” gang.
I know nothing about this film and all I can say about the clip is….LippadochinkawonkadookonklickadipapahchinkaWOW!