Ever since Mr. Pinnock and I discovered a copy in the 99 cent bin about five years ago The Fat Spy has been my favorite movie. It possesses all the avant-garde technique of Jean-Luc Godard, mixed with none of the intentionality. A sort of home movie with nationally known third tier stars, directed by Phoebe Cates’ father, with music by the Wild Ones, it stars Borscht Belt comedian Jack E. Leonard in dual roles as “Herman” and “Irving”, the incomparable Jayne Mansfield as a girl named “Junior”, B-movie villain Brian Dunlevy, minor pop sensations Johnny Tillotson and Lauree Berger (a bit behind the curve stylewise in 1966), and Phyllis Diller, in her best film role ever (because she is not playing second fiddle to Bob Hope): the Cruella Devillesque “Camille Salamander”, who schemes to get the secret of the Fountain of Youth away from Herman…or is it Irving? The film is so dubious that, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be set on a desert island, throughout the movie we see Miami a short distance away, across a harbor dotted with boats. I screened it at the Brick Theater a few years ago, and Hope Cartelli, who is the very definition of life itself, fell asleep. THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS HOW GOOD IT IS.
Anyway, who doesn’t admire Phyllis Diller? I thought she was as funny as hell, and she kept right on being a pistol right to the very end. We salute her today as she heads off to that great comedy club in the sky.