Archive for October 4, 2019

Heroic Surrender

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2019 by dcairns

Descriptions of WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR DADDY? obviously didn’t do it justice because I was really surprised at how good it was. If I’d ignored descriptions and simply visualised a widescreen wartime farce by Blake Edwards — shunting the turgid GREAT RACE from my mind and sticking with THE PINK PANTHER — I might have approached it with more enthusiasm and seen it years ago — but it would also have been necesary for me to picture it at the top end of Edwards’ output. It’s REALLY accom-plished and very funny and in foul bad taste. If turning war into entertainment is a disreputable activity, turning it into a bedroom farce, with battles replaced by harmless punch-ups, ought to earn you a spot in movie Hell’s hottest cauldron.

War’s peace.

We also have a fatal poisoning, two attempted rapes (male-on-female and male-on-male), a burial alive, and the comedy of mental illness. Edwards attributed his slightly vicious sense of slapstick (think of Herbert Lom’s thumb) to his chronic back pain, which drove him to make light of physical suffering. I’m not sure when he first had his trouble with agitated depression (documented in fictional form in THAT’S LIFE) but the persistent strain of madness in his comedies (Herbert Lom again, S.O.B., and others) must surely have some autobio origin.

War’s piece.

For all that, this is a sunny, breezy romp. Written by William Peter Blatty, who I guess had the military experience (black ops!) to give it as much verisimilitude as you can have in a story where Italians and Americans, then Americans and Germans, then men and women, trade uniforms for comic effect.

Dick Shawn in drag: a habitue of the realm of nightmare.

The three leads have no business gelling in this movie, but James Coburn (astonishingly cool — too relaxed for the character as written, but overpowering the writing with sheer charisma), Dick Shawn and Sergio Fantoni somehow work. I only knew Shawn from THE PRODUCERS, where he’s my — and maybe everybody’s? — least favourite element (his character is deleted entirely from the musical), but he’s very skilled here — lots of fine detail work. Even if I don’t quite warm to him as a presence, I am moved to admire the talent. Fantoni is both skilled and likeable, a really funny guy. Turns out I’d seen him in lots of things, from SENSO to ATOM AGE VAMPIRE, but never in a comedy. Some additional storehouse of charm is unlocked.

The same is true of Giovanna Ralli, who can do things here that wouldn’t have suited the gialli I’ve seen her in.

Edwards applies the same genius for anamorphic long takes to the more-or-less serious invasion of a small Sicilian town (odd to think that A WALK IN THE SUN is happening a few miles away in a different genre) as he does to bedroom farce and drunken escapades. If you can overlook the question of “Should he be doing this?” — and the film works really hard to make sure we do — it’s a really dazzling piece of cinema. Edwards can do large-scale slapstick with moving parts — like a tank falling through the earth — which traditionally don’t like to obey the rules of comedy timing. And make it look easy and natural, so that someone like Spielberg might be fooled into thinking he can do it too.

A demented monologue from Harry Morgan rounds the thing off in almost Shakespearean fashion, somehow clarifying the poetic intent and maybe almost justifying the whole thing — the events portrayed, and the film itself, are a kind of All Fool’s Day festival, a suspension of the laws of reason, allowing us to have a holiday, albeit a very suspenseful one, along with the characters, from the conditions imposed by Reason — a prevailing state of Total War.

WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? stars Derek Flint; Lorenzo Saint Dubois; Teocrito; Asst. DA Vittoria Stori; Johnny Nobody; Col. Potter; Archie Bunker; General Burkhalter; Xandros the Greek slave; Nazorine; Karl Matuschka; Mademoiselle Fifi; and Horst.

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