The Post-Psychedelic Hope and Crosby

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Hey! What are you laughin’ at, fellahs?

I realize not everyone shares my perverse propensity for rubbernecking at car wrecks, so forgive me if this is the wrong advice. Tomorrow in the wee hours, Turner Classic Movies is showing a double feature that is only for the stout of heart and those with an iron constitution.

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1:15 a.a. (Eastern):  Salt and Pepper (1968)

1968. The world is in chaos. Prague, Paris, and the inner cities of America are hotbeds of unrest and violence. Assassinations. The Tet Offensive. And Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford decide to form a comedy team. That’s not so random as it sounds. They were both members of the Rat Pack and had appeared in films together before (Ocean’s 11, Sergeants Three). But now several years had passed and Lawford was very much in the outs with Sinatra, having failed to get him promised access to his brother-in-law JFK. At this stage both Davis and Lawford were in their mid 40s, and the entire dynamics of show business were changing with lightning speed. How to remain current?

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How about the two of them starring as an interracial pair of buddies (Davis is Salt, Lawford is Pepper!) who co-own a psychedelic night club in Swinging, Mod London? And then get sucked into a James Bond-like web of international intrigue, and have to rescue Her Majesty the Queen? And fill it with all kinds of self-indulgent fourth-wall breaking asides, and apparent ad libbed quips in the fashion of Hope and Crosby? But also give the 43-year-old Davis an opportunity to sing rockin’ hot soul numbers like the kids love so well?

Now, certain parties might have thought this concept was genius: “We’ll appeal to BOTH generations! We’ll DOUBLE our audience!” But in reality what happened was the opposite effect. The team offers things NEITHER generation wants. To the young, they offer themselves: old guys! To the old, they offer the embarrassment of seeing mature men trying to dress and act like young people! Love beads! Nehru jackets! That’s what’s happening now, brother!

The film, by the way, was directed by Richard Donner, who went on to helm such mega-hits as The Omen (1976), Superman (1980), The Goonies (1985) and Lethal Weapon (1987).

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3:15 a.m. (Eastern) One More Time (1970)

Look what happened. You see what I did there? I have no idea if public demand warranted a sequel to the previous monstrosity, but they made one anyway. ( I bet Sammy came up with the title. I know I’ve heard him announce, “One MO time!” in many a concert performance). To add to the bizarreness, the film was directed by Jerry Lewis, the only major movie Jerry directed in which he did not also star.

In this one, the “boys” are in danger of losing their beloved discotheque. They go to the castle of Pepper’s twin brother, Lord Pepper (also played by Lawford) for financial assistance, only to have him get bumped off by jewel smugglers. It’s up to Salt and Pepper to solve the mystery, in between self-indulgent fourth-wall breaking asides, and apparent ad libbed quips in the fashion of Hope and Crosby! Can you stand it? I know I can’t! But I’m setting my DVR anyway! I’m masochistic that way!

For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn more about show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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