The Luminous Dong

SKIN DEEP is a weird one. It felt consistently not good enough to me, but at the same time it has lots of proper laughs and is definitely about something. Casting may be the problem. Blake Edwards never found anyone as suitable as Dudley Moore again. In THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN, the late Burt Reynolds, a good light comedian who had major ambitions in that direction — he wanted Cary Grant’s career, not his own — comes across as creepy, which is exactly what that character needs to not be. Truffaut’s original didn’t have that problem, and he cast a guy who’d literally played Bluebeard.

John Ritter in SKIN DEEP is hampered by a beard that is sometimes real and sometimes not. Obviously he finished the picture, shaved, then got called back for reshoots. Big problem. When a minor continuity problem comes up on set, the director will sometimes say “Well, if the audience is looking at that, there’s something wrong.” But you can’t really use that argument when the problem is on your leading man’s face. The beard is a problem anyway, because it says “yuppie creep” to me, and since a lot of this movie is Ritter letching after women, and he’s supposed to be flawed but charming, the very thing one’s skin ought not to be doing is crawling. I caught mine writhing towards the nearest exit on several occasions, which took me out of the movie, or part of me.

BUT — there’s a scene where he’s overdosed with electric shocks, on an unconvincing pretext, and he does some terrific physical comedy, spasming down the street. Jerry Lewis would approve. Frame grabs just don’t do it justice so I won’t bother.

AND ALSO BUT — everything Nina Foch does and says, as Ritter’s surly ex-mother-in-law, is really funny. Michael Kidd proves to be excellent surprise casting as a glowering therapist. In fact, the characters who disapprove of the hero are the most welcome. The tsunami gag — taken from Edwards’ real-life experience of being hit by a killer wave while meditating, suicidally depressed, upon the failure of DALING LILI, is pretty astonishing. Though the conclusion, “God is a gag writer!” is something Blake Edwards would think and say but not necessarily something Ritter’s character would say as he’s supposed to be a novelist, not a comedy director.

Even at the time, aged twenty-one, I thought the glow-in-the-dark condom scene sounded like it was trying too hard, but it does allow Edwards to stage a bedroom farce with the action reduced to sort-of abstract shapes. Abstract enough to pass the censor, anyway. He’d frequently used lights going off, or characters leaving the room where the action takes place, being reduced to sound effects without physical presence, so this idea of reducing his surrogate to a glowing prick wagging in the void seems a natural development.

Whereas this doesn’t make any sense to me:

5 Responses to “The Luminous Dong”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    This seems cobbled together from ideas left over from “10.” The difference is Ritter is effortlessly charming in a way that Moore isn’t.

    Can’t wait for you to get to “S.O.B.” where Edwards finally lets Hollywood have it.

  2. Simon Kane Says:

    Oo yes, there’s something very Ellis-out-of-Die-Hard about a bearded Ritter isn’t there.

  3. EXACTLY the reference. Although it also brings back vague memories of Thirtysomething. Which are very vague indeed because I never watched it.

  4. chris schneider Says:

    Haven’t seen it in yonks . My main memory, from way back when, is of a big fat “unearned happy ending” wherein all Ritter’s problems are seemingly solved. I really would’ve preferred something like the end of LOST WEEKEND or PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET, something which implies a “happily ever after” yet leaves room for the realists in the audience to perceive how likely that will be.

    I’m curious what you’ll say about BLIND DATE.

  5. Yes, that’s a good call.

    And I missed Blind Date at the time, maybe BE’s last success, so I’m curious too.

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