Sonny and Cher in “Good Times”

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Today is Sonny Bono’s birthday. As I’ve already blogged about Sonny here and Cher here, I thought today I’d write about a highly interesting movie I watched a few weeks ago, their 1967 co-starring feature Good Times.

You would think a movie with all the elements I am about to describe to you would be extremely well known, if not notorious, but I am glad it’s not… it’ll be a sad day indeed when there are no more amazing worlds to discover. Good Times plays almost like an audition reel for their much more successful television variety series four years later. Its meta-existential premise is that Sonny is evaluating a screenplay to be the team’s first starring movie vehicle, just as he was actually doing at the time! This gimmick allows much of the film to be comprised of what are essentially black-out comedy skits, with Sonny and Cher starring in parodies of popular Hollywood movie genres: a western, a gangster movie, a Tarzan picture, etc. And these are quite funny.

The gangster skit. That's Cher in the blonde wig -- looks like Terri Garr!
The gangster skit. That’s Cher in the blonde wig. Looks like Teri Garr — who, amusingly, was a regular on their show a few years later

What’s even more bizarre and interesting though are the bits in between. It’s kind of downbeat and melancholy. Sonny and Cher, playing themselves, bicker incessantly, a kind of all-too-true harbinger of troubles in their own marriage. At the same time, that relationship is at the root of so much of their comedy, and it is established in this movie for the first time. I think their comic relationship as played here and on tv is absolutely unique and very brilliant. They could have done a sitcom easily. It’s a bit like Ralph and Alice Kramden, only amped up. Cher is aloof and cooler-than cool. (She’s a mere baby in this movie, 21 years old). Sonny never gets any respect, mostly because he’s always scheming and failing. Another level of weirdness: it looks like it was filmed in their actual house.

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But there are still more layers of weirdness. Playing a sort of Mephistophelean movie producer is none other than George Sanders, working his way downwards toward The Death Wheelers. And the whole thing is directed by William Friedkin, who would go on the triumphs of The Excorcist and The French Connection a few years later. This was his first directing credit.

And of course the whole thing is full of groovy music. Unfortunately none of this batch of tunes became hits, nor did the movie, which took a massive budgetary loss. It’s kind of surprising, really. In tone, as well as chronology, the movie falls between The Beatles’ first two smash pictures and the Monkees Head. But Head didnt do so well either. I suspect by ’67, the counterculture was writing off Sonny and Cher as faux hippies being pushed at them by the show biz machine. Which would be ironic given the extent to which this movie rails against the show biz machine.

Here’s an entertaining bit of from the western number:

To learn more about show business history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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