Several years ago I held my own personal one-person film fest through Netflix. One day after watching The Odd Couple, I put in every single film that starred Walter Matthau or Jack Lemmon. Even though a fraction of Matthau’s 104 Jack Lemmon’s 97 film or television appearances were on DVD and available it still took months to watch them. It was a great film adventure which got me to watch some wonderful films with Jack Lemmon such as Glengarry Glen Ross, Missing, Tuesdays with Morrie; and Walter Matthau in Charlie Varrick, House Calls, The Laughing Detective, Hopscotch.
After I’d squeezed every last bit out of my queue my conclusion was that Jack Lemmon movies were overall better films, and Walter Matthau was in a bunch of terrible films, but always seemed to rise above the materal.
So I was a little surprised to run across Walter’s craggy face on Netflix streaming in a movie called Movers and Shakers (1985). It went to the top of my list of must sees; it has a pretty interesting cast: Charles Grodin (who wrote it), Gilda Radner, Vincent Gardenia, Bill Macy (Walter from Maude), Tyne Daly. It clocks in at just an hour and twenty minutes. I figured this had to be a quick wild romp.
Let me tell you, its a very, very long eighty minutes! This movie falls flat on so many levels I don’t know where to start… But I must start with the star and writer whose shoulders this leaden so-called comedy must fall. I’m sure Charles Grodin is a smart guy; I read one of his auto-biographies and found him to be funny and insightful, so how could he write a movie that doesn’t have one solid laugh in it?
The plot goes like this… Matthau plays an executive at a major studio, Gardenia is dying and tells him to make a movie out of a sex manual called Love and Sex. Grodin is a writer who hasn’t had sex in years because his wife Tyne Daly just stares into space when he talks, Bill Macy is an insane director and Gilda Radner is his cheating girlfriend.
Gilder Radner screams at her agent for putting her in this movie.
Like Luigi Pirandello’s Seven Characters in Search of an Author, all our players just wander around from scene to scene, sometimes by themselves, sometimes in groups; they sit in a conference rooms and talk about what ‘positions’ should be in the movie, they go walk along the beach, eat ice cream, go for a ride in a limo, sit and watch old movies. Maybe Charles Grodin is a genius, because he wrote a pointless, humorless, flop film desecting the process it takes to make terrible movie. The moral of the story is that its amazing that any movies get made at all because everyone is so incompetent.
Steve Martin is one wild and crazy guy whose name isn’t in the credits
One of the high (low points) in the film is where all the characters go visit an aging silent movie star named Fabio, played by an uncredited Steve Martin. Steve wears a Bea Arthur wig and a smoking jacket and does his ‘wild and crazy guy’ voice while getting Guava juice for everyone. Meanwhile, Penny Marshall in a negligee runs through the scene shreeking and ordering everyone out of the house. This is ten minutes of the running time of the film. Why do they visit him, who knows, he’s not going to be in their movie, he’s just there and then he’s gone. Then Grodin and Macy run along the beach, Tyne Daly reads a book. Gilda makes funny faces. All the while holding this mish mash of random plotlines together is the droning voice of Charles Grodin a la Blade Runner explaining who everyone is, what they are doing, and why we should be interested.
The voice over is non-stop.
Tyne Daly demonstrates the audience reaction to Movers and Shakers
And as if to throw salt on our wounds the film ends with a musical montage of Charles and Tyne being playful on the beach while Stephen (Tootsie) Bishop sings “Can’t We Go Home Again” which must have been in the thoughts of the poor audience members who saw this stinker in an actual theatre.
However, riding the wave of this cinematic equivant of a flooded basement is Walter. He smirks delivering his lines like a wise, old owl, while thinking, ‘I don’t know why I’m saying this inane dialogue, but I got top billing and a check!’.
And speaking of check. Check one more off my Walter Matthau list…