Or better yet, and more likely, end your Saturday in that fashion.
In the wee wee hours of tomorrow morning TCM will be showing two notorious psychedelic classics, starring (as such films always do) a fair representation of middle aged squares in ensembles with actual rock musicians and genuine weirdos, and a handful of marginally “representative” young people.
2:00 am E.S.T.
After a lifetime of reading about it (it was Groucho Marx’s last film, among other things) I finally got to see this cult classic on TCM about five years ago. Then, as now, they played it in the pre-dawn hours, much where it belongs. The film is almost impossible to describe, so I’ll just try to hit it in fragments. Directed by the great Otto Preminger at a time in his career when he was desperately trying to remain au courant, this nutty film stars the Great One Mr. Jackie Gleason as a retired mobster, whom with his wife Carol Channing, is worried about his hippie daughter and her hippie boyfriend.
Forced by the top mobster “God” (Groucho Marx) to do one last hit, he goes undercover into a jail so he can bump off fellow gangster Mickey Rooney before he can testify before a Senate commission.
“God”, and his main chick “Luna”
While in jail, Gleason does LSD. His trip is enjoyable in just the way you would imagine (“I can see MATHEMATICS!” he screams at one point).
Along the way, we meet just about every character actor in Hollywood, a mishmash of old and young: Austin Pendleton (in his first Hollywood role — and bald!), Frankie Avalon, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, George Raft, Peter Lawford, Fred Clark, Frank Gorshin, etc etc etc. Harry Nilsson, who also wrote the soundtrack and its several songs (including the famous musical closing credits), also has a small role as a prison guard.
At the time, when there was a lot of this kind of stuff going on, it no doubt seemed less than the sum of its parts, and it bombed with both press and public. Now however, it has the added value of being a historical curiosity, and I highly recommend seeing it at least once in your life just to say you did. I, of course, would be glad to watch it on a loop until the end of my days.
3: 45 am E.S.T.
The Big Cube (1969)
As luck would have it, I watched this movie for the first time less than a week ago; for some reason TCM has it on heavy rotation! At any rate, it’s fresh in my mind, but I’m going to annoy the Duchess by DVRing it again anyway. This strange Mexican financed film features cinema great Lana Turner in one of her last roles as the victim of a plot by LSD peddling med school drop out George Chakiris (West Side Story) to get his hands on her fortune. The film is an uneasy hybrid of old school melodrama a la Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls and new realities — and it doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on the new realities. Charikis’s character is internally inconsistent (he’s a bohemian dropout, but he’s also a scheming fortune hunter?) And there are just weird little touches (the hippies like to take their LSD in sugar cubes dropped into — get this — large mugs of beer) that make you wonder what planet this is taking place on.
Most of all, Chakiris and Turner’s orphaned, somehow Swiss, stepdaughter (Karin Mossberg, in her only screen role) try to make Turner go insane (or commit suicide) by freaking her out on several acid trips. These are somewhat rewarding scenes, but for the fact that the film-makers seem to have the mistaken idea that the only emotion produced on an LSD high is terror. If that were true, who on earth would anyone ever do it recreationally?
As in all such movies, the best scene is the party scene at the go-go club, featuring a dude with a target drawn on his face, and a woman who’s thing is to impersonate a large bumble bee.
The plan to help Ms. Turner regain her sanity is the most melodramatic, unrealistic and ironically way-out of all.
To find out more about the squares of old time show biz, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
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