Losers, Lineages, Lust, Lemons, and Lynch: Five Comedies From Twilight Time

That which makes something “the funny” is something we as human beings utterly fail to see eye-to-eye on far too regularly. You don’t know how many times I’ve projected an episode of SCTV onto the television set in a desperate attempt to educate today’s unimpressionable youth, or stalked the aisles of a video store looking for people to start fistfights with just because they were under the false impression Haunted House was a good movie. But I guess our respective taste in comedy (or lack thereof) is just another example of that which makes us individuals. You know, just like a chain-smoking, snakeskin jacket-wearing talentless talent agent’s new used car, his personal preferences that take place within said vehicle, and how he deals with an ever-maddening family.

And if you can picture that, you might just find something to relate to within the confines of this line-up of comedies from Twilight Time, which consists of Woody Allen’s 1984 opus Broadway Danny Rose, the Jimmy Stewart vehicle Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation from 1962, a look at the wonderful world of Used Cars of 1980, the not-so-casual world of casual sex with the UK’s own Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1986), and David Lynch’s oh-so-bizarre thriller, Wild at Heart (1990). Yes, the latter is a comedy, people. I realize there are a few of you out there who beg to differ, but there’s realistically no other way to describe it – and I shall attempt to elucidate that shortly.

First off, Twilight Time continues their apparent Woody Allen retrospective with Broadway Danny Rose, wherein writer/director/actor Allen delivers a staggeringly amusing look at a luckless talent agent in that bygone New York City of the ’70s (as played here by NYC in the ’80s. Danny Rose (played by Allen himself, naturally) ekes out a living managing the most contemptible acts around, such as the world’s worst ventriloquist and a one-legged tap dancer. When his most lucrative account, washed-up lounge singer Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte) gets a chance to return to the limelight once again, Danny is asked to be the beard for Lou’s mistress Tina (Mia Farrow) so that his wife doesn’t get suspicious. Classy, right? Well, naturally, all preconceived notions of a smooth running instantly goes out the window when Tina refuses to play ball (she’s upset at Lou for his having seen another woman on the side – one that wasn’t her or his wife, mind you, because he’s that classy!), and Danny gets mistaken by Tina’s mob family as her lover, and is subsequently targeted by them. The story is told in passing by a group of real-life comedians in a deli. Milton Berle, Joe Franklin, and Howard Cosell make cameos as themselves. A shootout in a warehouse with Macy’s Day Parade balloons and Gordon Willis’ impressive black-and-white photography are true highlights.

As the 1960s rolled around, and umpteen kajillion baby boomers were suddenly wreaking havoc on society, the men and women responsible for such deeds had to stop every now and again to wonder just what the hell they had unleashed. Enter the 1962 James Stewart family-friendly comedy Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation. Roger Hobbs (Stewart) is an utterly overworked banker and extremely overwhelmed (ignored) head of a family that currently totals in at one loving wife (Maureen O’Hara) two young children (Lauri Peters and Michael Burns), two grown daughters (Natalie Trundy and Lili Gentle) with husbands of their own (John Saxon and Josh Peine), several grandchildren, an ornery cook/housekeeper (Minerva Urecal), and special musical guest Fabian (who calls the movie to a screeching halt by singing one utterly awful song). What could possibly go wrong, right? No wonder Jimmy headed for The Cheyenne Social Club. (Interestingly, a scene from this movie was nearly repeated verbatim there, and the premise is strikingly similar to that of the ill-fated sitcom The Jimmy Stewart Show, which co-starred John McGiver, who is also featured in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation.)

Rita, Sue and Bob Too is a 1986 British film that, despite being British, somehow thinks it doesn’t need to use an Oxford comma in its own title. But that’s as irrelevant as the stereotype that all British folk are sexually repressed fuddy-duddies – which we soon learn is not the case with our titular characters. Rita and Sue (as played by Siobhan Finneran and Michelle Holmes, respectively) are two teenage schoolgirls from the dead-end neighborhood of an equally dead-end community who babysit odd nights just so they can watch MTV if nothing else (but it was back when there was music still on MTV – good music, at that – so no worries there). Things take a turn for the much more interesting when Bob (George Costigan), the oversexed father of their clientele, takes the girls for a ride. And what a ride it turns out to be, as a socially-unacceptable relationship is formed between this randy trio! It’s safe to say that Bob is most assuredly living the American dream in Britain. Maverick director Alan Clarke directs this sublime sex comedy from writer Andrea Dunbar (who, died several years later in the very same pub the film opens with). Europop group Black Lace appear as themselves and perform “The Gang Bang” (and good luck getting it out of your head once you’ve heard it!).

Next we move onto my personal favorite pick from this line-up, Robert Zemeckis’ Used Cars. This 1980 comedy centers on a feud between neighboring used car lots (owned by twin brothers, as played by Jack Warden) and the various nefarious measures they resort to both public and private in order to make a sale or bring their competition down has become a cult favorite over the years for its dark humor, and the perceived image of a car salesman couldn’t be any truer. Kurt Russell (a year away from becoming an action star) heads off the troupe of good guys Gerrit Graham (best known for his outrageously iconic role as Beef in Phantom of the Paradise, and who gets the best scene/line in Used Cars, no contest), Frank McRae, and Lenny and Squiggy themselves, Michael McKean and David L. Lander. Deborah Harmon is the innocent and naïve daughter of good Jack Warden, SCTV great Joe Flaherty plays bad Jack Warden’s shady lawyer (read: lawyer – how’s thatfor a stereotype?), Penthouse Playmate Cheryl Rixon helps our heroes make television commercial history, and character actors Al Lewis, Alfonso Arau, Dub Taylor, and Dick Miller have bit parts. Steven Spielberg co-produced this gem from a time when racous comedy still had a little class.

And now, that which some of you have either been waiting for or instantly scrolled down to: the defining of 1990’s Wild at Heart as a comedy. Mostly, this is due to the fact that the twisted, violent romance/thriller stars Nicolas Cage, who can no longer accepted by society as a serious performer in any respect (and who is now appearing in Christploitation movies), and his flamboyant attempts at acting make even the most sincere, somber, and sentimental of lines come off as complete comedy. Director David Lynch’s references to The Wizard of Oz, excessive playing of the Elvis card, and his comical approach to violence – to say nothing of the strange, seemingly-otherworldly characters behind the film’s many onscreen acts of bloodshed and flesh severing – are equally amusing while being downright disturbing. Just like the sight of Nicolas Cage having sex with Laura Dern, which is something that takes up a good half of the film here. Willem Dafoe, Diane Ladd, Harry Dean Stanton (whom I think I’ve only ever see make it to the end credits of a movie once), Isabella Rossellini, and Crispin Glover (in a brief, but incredibly memorable – and moreover, funny – bit) also star in the movie that was nominated for AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs in 2000. So there.

Each film is presented in its intended aspect ratio here, sporting the very best transfers as provided from their respective studios. In some cases, like Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, there’s a slight element of age at play (not to mention that certain look film stock from the ’60s carried), while Wild at Heart is so clear that Nic Cage’s nose prosthetic at the finale sticks out like a clubfooted female assassin with a bleach blonde wig and caterpillar eyebrows. Audio-wise, these Blu-ray releases feature English DTS-HD MA mono, Stereo, or 5.1 soundtracks accompanying (Wild at Heart also sports a Spanish audio option), and isolated incidental scores in either DTS-HD MA mono or 2.0. Strangely enough, the movie with the heaviest accents (Rita, Sue and Bob Too) is the only one here to not feature a subtitle option.

Along with the isolated scores and the proverbial liner notes from Twilight Time’s stellar starlet Julie Kirgo, special features for this lot consist of theatrical trailers for four of the five films. But don’t feel sorry for Rita, Sue and Bob Too, because Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo make up for that with an informative audio commentary. Mr. Hobbs‘ extra extra is a vintage promotional Movietone piece highlighting the film. For the most part, Used Cars and Wild at Heart sport the most bonus materials (that’s right, the movie about used cars is loaded with extras!). The Lynch flick mostly focuses on interviews, while that awesome movie with Gerrit Graham (whom I, if given a time machine and assured my firm belief in the ontological paradox theory of time travel was complete malarkey, would travel back in time to ensure he was offered the part of and cast as Han Solo – you know, just because) contains a wild audio commentary, old video-sourced outtakes, promotional materials, and a second isolated music track featuring an unused score.

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Luigi Bastardo

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