Comfortable and Furious

The Hollywood Knights (1980)

The Hollywood Knights has been labeled a virtual copy of American Graffitti, which is a fair accusation in that it is a nostalgia trip through the early sixties with a constant soundtrack seemingly lifted whole from AG. There are important differences, however, as AG is a shallow exercise in milking Boomers for cash (a task Lucas would perfect over the next few decades) that reaches awkwardly for profundity as the young protagonists stumble towards adulthood.

Hollywood Knights, on the other hand, uses nostalgia as a frame on which to hang dumb jokes, clever pranks, and a welcome helping of T&A as the Eisenhower 50s yields to the rebellion of the 60s. It never claims to be profound, beyond arrested adolescence screaming its last; maybe you relate to it, or maybe you are one of the fuckheads who despised the idea of peace without honor. Either way, it is more entertaining than its predecessor and is a greater movie by virtue of having better racks, a funner subtext, and a strangely hot Fran Drescher.

On Halloween night in 1965, Tubby’s drive-in is to be torn down solely due to the menace of the gang Hollywood Knights, who terrorize the moral guardians with flaming bags of dogshit on front steps or drive-by moonings. The clear and present danger from this malevolent force is like an amorphous hydra, ever present and ready to retaliate with eggs to the windshield should a compatriat fall. They are everywhere and nowhere at once. The pillars of this society consist of Jack and Jacqueline Friedman who meet with community movers and shakers in Beverly Hills. Their goal is to take down the miscreants in their midst, and they are sure of success as God is on their side.

Ms. Friedman is a bit distracted from her mission from God by constantly groping and copulating with her friend Nevans in whatever hallway or car is available. Jack is also the high school principal (or something) who is a source of sputtering rage whenever the Knights intrude on his wholesome plans for the school. When the pep rally is interrupted by gang leader Newbomb Turk’s transcendent version of Volare, or the talent contest is bested by a Knight portraying a one-armed violinist, Jack is apoplectic with helpless rage.

The first and last line of defense against the Knights are police officers Bimbeau and Clark, who are quick to anger and kick ass, usually of the wrong people, and using force for the sake of.  They mirror pretty much any cop you run into who got into the job as an outlet for impulse and anger control problems. More importantly, they represent the face of Nixon’s Law and Order ideology that backs the Silent Majority of the Friedmans. Together they are all-powerful yet impotent, having all the money and enough political connections to demolish a private business for personal reasons. And yet they must stand helplessly and watch as their imagined ideal society falls to pieces despite their zealotry, signified by an offending ass hanging out a window.

Newbomb Turk, as played by Robert Wuhl in the greatest performance of his career (take that however you will) is the spiritual leader of the Knights and his passion for reducing the moral majority to its proper level is equaled only by his imagination for some fucked up gags. It isn’t enough to block the public toilet at the drive-in that Officer Bimbeau is about to use; Newbomb also locks the door, detaches the doorknob, piles the doorway two feet deep with garbage, and plugs the police car’s exhaust to ensure that the cops are at boiling point when they extract themselves from the pile of rotting shit they fell into. Now, that’s being thorough. They anticipate every opportunity to spoil the well-constructed facade that decent society has crafted, all in the name of fun, and to revel in bringing everyone to the same level. As Ms. Friedman gets rogered by her buddy, the Knights are there to ensure it becomes a public event. When high society has a party, the punch is spiked by that most precious of fluids. And the caterers are carefully instructed to drive right across the garden because it will be demolished the next day anyway to make space for the Newbomb Turk Memorial Library.

There are a couple of subplots that seem tossaway until they fit into the larger picture of a nation in transition. Four pledges to the Knights are dropped off naked in the middle of Watts with instructions to 1. carry a spare tire all the way back to Tubby’s, and 2. request in person a song on their favorite radio station. On the way, these honkys manage to bond with some black dudes and score some weed on the way to accomplishing their goal. The hippie generation thus was born. Sort of. The other subplot has Tony Danza and Michelle Pfeiffer reflecting on their imminent divide. She is aspiring to be a nude double for actresses who sound less bubbleheaded than her, and he is a drunken bum. This doesn’t go very far, other than highlighting the long term of being a Hollywood Knight, in that old age does not bode well for those talented only in faffing about. Danza’s friend is about to ship out to Vietnam, which is ‘nothing’ to those in the know. As California Dreaming blares from the speakers, he is coming to know fear for the first time. All these things, including the recklessness of youth and the enjoyment of time wasted, is coming to an end.

Theirs is an example of the panic inevitable when one comes to realize that upon growing up, there will be nobody to catch you when you fall. The fucking around and showing up the prudes are victories, but are bittersweet at best. On one hand, it is satisfying to watch the ridiculous policemen fail in spectacular fashion to assert their authority, and the moral guardians get caught mid adulterous coitus in a humiliating spectacle. On the other, even in defeat, these twits still rule the world, and will continue making life miserable for the rest of us. And we either become them, or rebel pointlessly at the bottom of society. Not much of a choice, but we all must make it.