“I’d walk a mile for a chuckle.”
Great line, huh?
It comes from 1957’s excellent Sweet Smell of Success. It’s a simple statement that perfectly captures a sense of ennui. In seven short words you get a feel for how the character’s been numbed by the daily grind, how he’s surrounded by unremarkable people and grown disappointed in the way life has turned out to be little more than an exercise in coping.
But you also sense he’s hanging in there, waiting for something, anything, to magically whisk him away from his ingrained cynicism, even if it’s just for a moment or two.
“I’d walk a mile for a chuckle.”
I say it all the time.
Not that I put it into practice.
For a start I’m far too fucking lazy. If I did actually adopt it as a mantra, I’d have to change it a fair bit so it went something like: “I’d cycle a mile for a chuckle, but only if the weather were good and I got an ice-cream at the end of it.”
Guess that doesn’t have the same ring.
Anyhow, I might not be prepared to travel 1.6 kilometers to be amused, but I am committed to illegally downloading movies in my bedroom, especially if they provide an unexpected and extended chuckle.
Here are three that always snap me out of my torpor, if not manage to prevent me from toppling headlong into that pit of self-annihilation.
Like I said, I’d walk a mile for a chuckle.
Bub in Day of the Dead
Bub might very well be the ultimate in comic relief.
Humanity is on the bare bones of its sorry ass. All that’s left is a ragtag handful trapped in an underground bunker. And those poor bastards are outnumbered 400,000 to 1 by ravenous zombies. Despite that somewhat bleak setup, Romero is still confident enough in his depiction of a post-apocalyptic world to chuck in a joke character.
In fact, Bub is the best thing about this second sequel to the groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead simply because he’s unanticipated. After all, by 1985, zombie movies had already been shuffling along in their cannibalistic form for nearly two decades. Day suffers from this familiarity (as well as a poor soundtrack, lots of ropey acting and a guy with a really distracting Jamaican accent) so Bub’s a nice surprise.
He’s the work in progress of Dr. Logan, an outwardly rational man determined to make captured zombies behave in a civilized way. You know, make ’em more human. His training regime is a fantastic depiction of insanity because you can see what he’s driving at and yet at the same time you have to marvel at its mind-boggling futility.
Former soldier Bub is his star student. Indeed, he’s the only student because every one of the others have failed the basic requirements of refined behavior and been dismembered. Anyhow, after God knows how many experiments, Dr Logan has now pinned all his hopes on his pet to provide the solution to humanity’s darkest hour.
So far he’s got him to recognize ‘toys’ like a toothbrush, a book or a telephone. An attempt to shave with a safety razor simply rips the rotting flesh from his face. Such simple scenes are funny, but also poignant, especially when Bub seems to start recognizing himself in the mirror, as if memories of a past life are slowly resurfacing.
Perhaps none of this would work if it weren’t for Sherman Howard’s performance. He’s bloody great, somehow managing to inject real personality into Bub despite the thick layers of makeup. Slack jawed, with the dimmest of comprehension in his eyes, and swaying on his feet as if he’s had a bit too much to drink, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my old PE teacher, Mr MacKenzie.
Best of all is when Bub meets a prize military asshole by the name of Captain Rhodes, the encounter resulting in a handgun being yanked out. Bub, already trained to be unruffled by the presence of humans, merely straightens his back and salutes the aggressor. All the observers laugh, even the other gun-toting military asshole in the room, prompting Dr Logan to ask an utterly unamused Rhodes to return the greeting.
“You want me to salute that pile of walking pus?” he cries. “Salute, my ass!”
It’s always a sad day when it’s plain to see someone’s sense of humor is far below that of a reanimated corpse.
Now don’t get me wrong. Bud’s escapades are not wildly funny, but he’s a distinctive creation and gently amusing. He lingers in the mind and it’s nice to pay the decomposing sweetheart a visit from time to time.
Dr Lecter from Hannibal
Silence was brilliant, Hannibal is terrible, but at least it never commits the cardinal sin of being dull. From this high-octane nonsense’s second scene onward, it’s pretty much a laugh fest.
Obviously it’s not meant to be a comedy, but you can’t help being amused by the way they handed Jodie Foster’s iconic role to some deathly pale ginger chick. If you take Wise away from Morecambe and replace him with another geezer, you just don’t have the same double act, know what I mean?
Now Julianne Moore’s a decent actress, but her po-faced performance here is one of Hannibal’s many faults. For a start there’s no nuance. All Starling’s doubts and vulnerabilities have gone, replaced by a steely professionalism. She’s always getting the better of arrogant, testosterone-fuelled men with pat exchanges, the likes of which only exist in the movies. She’s so smart, battle-hardened and on the money about everything that she’s slipped into a caricature of the Strong Female Role before ten minutes are even up.
Then there’s the old boy Hannibal. It’s just intrinsically funny that a man who so ingeniously broke out of soul-deadening custody decides the best way to celebrate his newfound freedom and endless chutzpah is to become a working stiff. Now he’s giving lectures? You gotta be fucking kidding, although at least Ridley Scott wisely leaves out any scenes where he bitches about his commute or frets over his pension plan.
Plus, it’s plain daft he’s wandering around in public, despite being on the list of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted. Don’t people have eyes anymore? At one point he effortlessly moves from Italy to America. I don’t get it. How come those fussy Customs bastards give him a free pass? They swiped my three-quarter squeezed toothpaste the last time I got on a plane and yet somehow it’s alright for an extremely well-known serial killer to breeze through? At least in Thomas Harris’ bloated source novel, Lecter underwent extensive facial surgery.
Lecter also suffers from a lack of good lines. Beforehand he always had such a memorable sense of humor. That’s partly why we liked him so much. Here he says okey-dokey at least twice while his electric dialogue with Starling has been replaced with stuff like: “You have very shapely feet.”
The supporting characters don’t fare any better, either, with the exception of Gary Oldman’s revenge-obsessed Mason Verger. Perhaps the most one note of the lot is Ray Liotta as Starling’s boss, Paul Krendler. He’s obnoxious. Oh, and sexist. Does that count as two? Maybe I’ve underestimated the skill of the writing here. Whatever the case, he’s a pig with a capital P.
Saying all that, he’s central to one of the greatest bits of twisted black comedy I’ve ever seen. It really is sensationally good.
Krendler returns home to be easily overpowered by Lecter, despite being the younger, stronger man. Meanwhile, a drugged Starling wakes up in a lovely black evening gown to come downstairs and find Lecter cooking in the kitchen. Krendler, however, doesn’t look like he’s shaping up to be good company. He’s simply slumped in a chair with a maniacal expression wearing a baseball cap the wrong way round.
“Feeling hungry, Paul?” she hears Lecter ask. Krendler gives a hearty laugh. “Very!”
Starling enters, only for Lecter, ever the gentleman, to show concern she’s not resting. She sits as Krendler is asked to say grace, but even under the influence of strong pain killing drugs he still manages to call her ‘white trash’ and offer her a demeaning job as a filing clerk when he becomes a senator.
Then in a great reveal, Lecter takes off Krendler’s cap to expose a red line around the top of his head. Next there’s a bit of finicky scalpel work before the top of his cranium is removed like it’s nothing more than a blood-stained Frisbee.
“You see,” Lecter explains, merrily cutting into the newly exposed, grey-white flesh, “the brain itself, Clarice, feels no pain.”
He slips a slice into the frying pan, prompting Krendler to enthusiastically half-shout: “That smells great!”
Starling can only retch, an understandable reaction that grows more pronounced when Lecter starts feeding her despised boss his own lamentably underdeveloped brain.
And so, yeah, I’ve obviously put the boot into this massively successful flick, but this grisly scene alone with its superb special effects makes it worthwhile. Apart from that, its bloody silly two hours just fly by so it’s a no-brainer to recommend it.
Or more accurately, ahem, a half-eaten brainer.
Paul Kersey’s final rampage in Death Wish 3
Again, this isn’t a recognized comedy, but this vigilante train wreck is consistently funny, even if not one shred of its bare-assed lunacy takes place in any recognizable part of the universe. In fact, its plausibility wouldn’t be dented if Bronson were decked out in a spacesuit and the entire fucking thing set on Mars.
Do I need to explain the plot? Well, it’s the usual series of old war buddies and new squeezes getting murdered while limp dick cops and the ‘system’ look stupid before Bronson sorts it all out with a bit of mass murder. Well, I say a bit, but it’s actually excessive even by 80s Action standards.
Anyway, to get in shape and take on a heavily armed gang of much younger thugs, Bronson doesn’t do one or two pushups.
Oh no, sir.
He does four.
Once the intensity of this near SAS-style training is over, he gets a massive handgun delivered by mail and, quite liking it, somehow gets his hands on an anti-tank missile launcher. I’m not even sure he had to sign for it.
Bronson looks faintly bemused throughout, perhaps wondering what happened to the salad days of The Great Escape, Dirty Dozen and Once Upon a Time in the West. No one wore spandex in those classics, but pretty much every gang member is clad in it here, apparently hell-bent on auditioning for a Jane Fonda workout video. Face paint is also all the rage, as if they’re off to a children’s birthday party.
Bronson is more than a match for these bastards in their cutoff T-shirts, especially as he’s capable of sometimes breaking into a fast waddle. It’s not all work though and he makes sure he takes time off to bed a smitten public defender twenty years his junior. He also befriends an elderly Jewish couple, but has to make his excuses halfway through dinner to go and murder some irritating hoodlums trying to steal his car.
Another mate, who refuses to leave the crime-ridden neighborhood despite it being like Iraq on a bad day, gives Bronson a World War Two .30 caliber machine gun. We sense Bronson won’t be auctioning it.
Things start hotting up and it’s not long before he’s blown a fist-sized hole with his trusty Magnum in the back of the Giggler, a terrifying purse snatcher who can run and giggle. How the hell has such a talented dude remained otherwise unemployed?
But now there’s pain and fury on the streets at the Giggler’s tragic passing, prompting the snarling leader to call in a twenty-strong biker gang coz, you know, already having fifty men at his disposal is not enough to deal with one paunchy man in late middle age.
Suddenly Bronson ups the ante. He teams up with a Mexican pal, whose wife has just been gang raped and killed, using the enormous machinegun to blow merry shit out of the criminal scum from the third floor stairs of a fire escape. God knows how many he kills. Then he’s on the ground mowing ’em down, his bloodlust unabated.
By now the neighborhood is basically a war zone with passing cars being riddled with bullets, people falling off burning buildings, a bit more gang rape, and cops slugging it out toe to toe rather than adopting some sort of tactical response. Even children and housewives are gleefully joining the mayhem.
Bronson links up with a colluding police chief, who is more than happy to walk down the street in broad daylight to indulge in a few extrajudicial killings. Meaningful glances are tellingly exchanged. Hell, these are real men, they understand the world’s animalistic nature, and their bonds have been forged in the white-hot theatre of war. The only question is: Are their lips going to meet over a pile of bullet-ravaged corpses?
Alas, no, but perhaps Bronson will break the near-unbearable sexual tension by whipping out his foot-long cock during the inevitable showdown with the gang leader and beat him to death with it.
Actually, such a scenario would’ve been more credible than what actually happens. Bronson turns the guy into toast with the aforementioned rocket launcher, leaving onlookers to puzzle over a heap of burning goo in the middle of the street. After this slightly excessive use of firepower, akin to using a double-barreled shotgun to sort out a mosquito, the other scumbags just run away, obviously convinced Bronson’s no longer playing fair.
The only sane way to tackle this utter celluloid travesty is to get a couple of mates round, sink a few beers, and spend ninety minutes smirking, sniggering and sometimes uproariously laughing.
God bless Michael Winner.
I sure do hope he’s enjoying a nice steak and a fat cigar in heaven’s best restaurant before toddling off to film yet another gang rape.
Dave Franklin likes to think he can also do dark comedy. What the fuck does he know?