Saturday, March 27, 2021

JABBERWOCKY: The Monty Python Film That Wasn’t

Now, to get it straight, Terry Gilliam’s 1977 medieval fantasy comedy JABBERWOCKY is not a Monty Python film. But it’s easy to see why it was mistaken and marketed as such. It starred Python’s Michael Palin, and featured Python Terry Jones in a small part, and, of course, Python Gilliam directed and co-wrote. And the movie was following MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL so its aesthetics were heavily familiar.

Gilliam: “It was probably a mistake for my first film, JABBERWOCKY, to be set in medieval times, when it came out right on the heels of HOLY GRAIL.”

While these obvious similarities helped to keep JABBERWOCKY from being its own thing, its marketing is what really plagued it. Many of the various poster designs were graced with “Monty Python’s…” Let’s begin with one of the most derivative.

This was one of the posters promoting HOLY GRAIL:

Now this is one of the JABBERWOCKY one-sheets:

Pretty blatant thievery, huh? Too close for comfort, for sure. Now, here’s an ad from a newspaper during the era.

And a German poster for the film that features the tagline “Monty Python Unter Den Raubrittern” which translates to “Monty Python Among the Robber Barrons,” which is quite odd.

To be fair, some of the poster designs would tout “From the director of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL” and not jump up on the false advertising bandwagon.

Although Gilliam highly objected to these terrible re-brandings of his solo directorial debut, the misleading labeling survived into the ‘80s VHS revolution as you can see on the cover of the first videocassette version of the film:

This post was inspired by a recent viewing of JABBERWOCKY. I realized I had bought a DVD of it well over a decade at a big box store that was getting rid of their video inventory via cheap mark-downs of DVDs. Then my copy would stay on a shelf for ages until I finally decided, just last week, that I should give it a whirl. I had seen parts of it when I was a kid, but that really doesn’t count that as it was nearly 40 years ago.

I hate to say I didn’t care for JABBERWOCKY. Palin’s lead was a bit too earnestly dumbfounded by his squalid environment, and a lot of the dialogue was really dull. The fights with the Jabberwocky monster were the film’s most involving moments although the towering creature seemed a lot like the The Black Beast of Aaaaaargghh from HOLY GRAIL.

See? It always comes back to HOLY GRAIL when discussing JABBERWOCKY. I agree with Gilliam that it was a mistake to do a medieval movie so soon after Monty Python’s comic masterpiece set during the same time period. Gilliam would soar to much greater heights with TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL, THE ADVENTURE OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, and TWELVE MONKEYS, but despite all the work he’d done with Python, when going solo, he had to start somewhere.

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Movie Quote Mania: GRAND CANYON

Now, I can’t say I’m a big fan of Lawrence Kasdan’s drama GRAND CANYON which I saw when it was released back in 1991. I remember thinking that it was like a big screen episode of 30something (a popular show at the time) with its neurotic dialogue and white liberal guilt. Not that it matters now as it’s a mostly forgotten film.

But what I absolutely loved about this movie, which was written by Kasdan and his wife Meg, it is that at one point, Steve Martin’s movie producer character, Davis, says

“That’s part of your problem: you haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.”

It was a rare dramatic (and rare bearded) role for the former Wild-and-Crazy-Guy, and Davis’ arc of getting shot in a mugging which leads to an epiphany that he will no longer make violent movies, is one of GRAND CANYON’s strongest strands.

But Davis’ enlightenment is short lived, and he tells his friend Mack (Kevin Kline) that he’s “regained his senses,” and that he “was talking like a moron.”

As Martin and Kline are driving around a large studio lot on a golf cart through sets and sound stages, Martin pontificates: “There’s so much rage going around - we’re damn lucky we have the movies to help us vent a little of it.”

“That line is so tired,” Mack responds. “I’m shocked you’d use it.”

When they reach Davis’ destination, he asks Mack if he’s ever seen SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS to which Mack says “no.” That’s where the line comes in - watch a YouTube clip of the moment:

Martin’s Davis tells Kline’s Mack the plot of SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, which incidentally is where the title O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU comes from, as he thinks his arc resembles that of the protagonist of that classic film. Then he limps away towards a sound stage. And, scene!

So that’s another entry in the Movie Quote Mania series. Stay tuned for more choice movie quotes, and my choice commentary.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Yaphet Kotto Was A Bond Villain, But He Really Wanted To Be Bond Himself

When the great Yaphet Kotto passed away a few days ago, quite a few obituaries singled out his two most famous roles: the villain in the 1973 James Bond adventure LIVE AND LET DIE, and a spaceship engineer in the 1979 sci-fi classic ALIEN. Of course, the accomplished actor played a variety of roles over multiple decades in such notable films as HARD COLLAR, MIDNIGHT RUN, ACROSS 110TH STREET, THE RUNNING MAN, BRUBAKER, and many others, but in a 1985 interview in the sci-fi/fantasy magazine Starlog, it was Bond that he wanted to talk about most.

As a kid, I used to subscribe to Starlog, so shortly after Kotto’s death I dug up the interview. After discussing turning down the iconic parts of Lando Calrissian in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (“I decided I didn’t want to be king of the science-fiction movies”), and Winston Zeddemore in GHOSTBUSTERS (“the first time that producers actually sought after me to play a comic role”), Kotto explained to Starlog’s Brian Lowry that “When I did LIVE AND LET DIE, the only thing I regretted about it was that I was playing the wrong role. I was the arch-villain that James Bond was after, and all. Through the film, I said, ‘You know, I should be playing James Bond.’ Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to play James Bond!”

But it’s one thing to simply want to play James Bond - so many people have had the same dream - but Kotto tried to make it happen.

Kotto: “I wrote a script that was a James Bond-type film - the only difference in this high-action/chase/adventure picture being that it would be a black man. And, I’m prejudiced so I cast myself in the lead role.”

The interview reveals that the title of the 007-ish project was TOMORROW IS THE SAME DAY, and Kotto was hoping for it to be ready for release in late 1985 or early 1986. “The whole purpose of this movie is to change my image in the marketplace,” Kotto said. “I get to wear a tuxedo, nice clothes, say cute lines - you name it.

As film geeks like me well know, TOMORROW IS THE SAME DAY (love that title!) never came to be, but Kotto kept working, including co-starring on all seven seasons of Homicide: Life on the Streets in the 90s and a handful of film roles until retiring in 2008.

I can’t find any mention of Kotto’s supposed Bond-like dream project anywhere else. The Starlog interview is the only source for this information I can locate so I am tempted to think he was just toying with the sci-fi monthly. That makes some kind of sense as it was a publication aimed at teenage nerds, and maybe he thought making up a movie about his playing a master spy would be fun.

I really can’t say, but I like the idea anyway. In conclusion, here’s the cover of the Starlog issue that Kotto’s interview appears in, which really takes me back.

Such a busy roster that this mag features: STAR TREK! Space! E.T.! BABY! LADYHAWKE! V! CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR! A VIEW TO A KILL! And then, at the very bottom of the cover “Yaphet Kotto of ALIEN.” They really buried the lede. They should’ve risen it up on the cover and changed it to something like “Yaphet Kotto reveals that he’s the next Bond.”

Yeah, that would’ve sold more copies for sure.

R.I.P. Yaphet Kotto

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Thursday, March 04, 2021

Movie Quote Mania: A SHOT IN THE DARK

“It’s all part of life’s rich pageant, you know.” – Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers)

This quote, which was prompted by Sellers’ co-star Elke Sommer noticing Clouseau is wet after falling in a fountain (“You’ll catch your death of pneumonia, you will”), appears in A SHOT IN THE DARK (1964), the second entry in THE PINK PANTHER series. You can watch the full clip below.

What’s notable about this line is that it inspired the title of R.E.M.’s fourth album released in 1986. Reportedly the band had rented A SHOT IN THE DARK, and had used the phrase “It’s all part of life’s rich pageant” throughout the making of the record in response to various mistakes. Eventually they decided that it was the perfect name for the album, and the rest is history.

I was reminded of the line when watching a rerun of the ‘80s NBC show, St. Elsewhere, in which one character said it three times. The episode came after the release of the R.E.M.’s Lifes Rich Pageant (no apostrophe), so it may have been inspired by it, but also could have been a nod to the Sellers’ film. Or it could just be because it’s an idiom that’s long predates A SHOT IN THE DARK.

Stay tuned for more Movie Quote Mania.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Blog With A Cause Revisited: What Happened To The THREE IN THE ATTIC House?

One thing I’ve been bad about since I started this blog back in 2004 is following through on some series ideas. I start off with a post that I announce will be the beginning of a new series, then maybe do a second post then I let the series fall through the cracks.

Well, inspired by a thread on Facebook, I decided to revisit a subject from ages ago. Back in the late 2000s, I lived in the historic district of Chapel Hill, N.C. (my home town), and got involved in a small movement to save a house from demolition. The house, the Edward Kidder Graham House on the edge of the UNC campus, that served as the set of an obscure movie from the ‘60s: Richard Wilson’s bizarre 1968 comedy THREE IN THE ATTIC.

The movie concerns Christopher Jones as an unfaithful boyfriend whose three girlfriends (Yvette Mimieux, Judy Pace, and Maggie Threttlock) him in their sorority attic to punish him with more sex than he can take. I wrote about it in The Chapel Hill Newspaper, and on this here blog (read Part 1 & 2). In the summer of 2008, Ernest Dollar (executive director of the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill) asked me to host an outdoor screening of THREE IN THE ATTIC at the Horace Williams House (where I was the Caretaker).

Trouble was that the film was out of print and hard to find on video. I located a bootleg DVD of the teensploitation flick, and we showed that on a big bed sheet in the backyard. The audience appeared to really enjoy it as they laughed a lot throughout.

I introduced the movie by saying, “Durham has BULL DURHAM, what do we have? PATCH ADAMS (filmed in Chapel Hill in the late ‘90s)? No, we have THREE IN THE ATTIC!”

But what I never followed up on is what happened to the Edward Kidder Graham house. I moved to Raleigh in 2009, so I lost track of whether it attracted a buyer. I learned later that it was sold to Molly Froelich in 2010, and she started on the grand task of restoring the house. In 2013, it was sold to Martin and AraLu Lindsey, who finished the restoration. I have no idea if the flurry of activity around the house that the Preservation Society stirred up had anything to do with it, but I’m glad we did what we could to raise awareness of this cool historic home/movie location.

In the years since, THREE IN THE ATTIC has been re-issued on DVD along with its soundtrack (pictured at the top of this post). Although the DVD has gone out of print, the movie is available on Amazon Prime. In 2019, Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD, which is set in 1969 as it deals loosely with the Manson murders, has several references to the film. Firstly, a THREE IN THE ATTIC TV spot shows on Brad Pitt’s television at his squalor-filled trailer.

Among other advertisements for the film we see this glitzy Pantages Theater marquee:

Finally an excerpt of Chad & Jeremy’s “Paxton Quigley’s Had the Course” from THREE IN THE ATTIC plays at one point and is featured on the soundtrack of ONCE UPON A TIME. Seems that this many shout-outs would greatly suggest that Tarantino is a fan of the largely forgotten film.

Such a fan that Tarantino offered Paxton Quigley himself, Christopher Jones, a part in PULP FICTION, but Jones turned it down apparently because he didn’t want to have to order Maynard to wake up the gimp. Since 1970, the James Dean look-a-like Jones’ career largely went quiet with his last film being Larry Bishop’s MAD DOG TIME (1996). He passed in 2014.

So the odd little legacy of THREE IN THE ATTIC keeps on keepin’ on. It’s no classic, or even really a cult classic, but it is a funny curio that captures Chapel Hill in the late ‘60s. I’m glad the house was saved and renovated whether the film had anything to do with it or not. And, of course, I sure hope they paid special attention to the attic.

More later…