Wednesday, August 22, 2007

cinema obscura: Richard Quine's "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad" (1967)

Richard Quine's "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad" (1967) is the cult film that never was. At turns eccentric, experimental and awful, it's a surprise that this witty attack on momism ever got made, particuarly by a major studio.

Based on the off-Broadway hit by Arthur Kopit, the film casts a game Rosalind Russell as Madam Rosepettle (a reference to Madam Rose?), a certifiable steamroller who dotes on her Venus flytraps and cat-eating Piranhas and her babified son Robert Morse (who still wears Doctor Dentons)and who keeps her late, taxidermal husband Jonathan Winters carefully preserved.

The singular Barbara Harris (in her second film role, following 1965's "A Thousand Clowns") plays the babysitter at the resort hotel where Madam Rosepettle, Junior and Dad are ensconced. Natually, she falls for Junior, whose name is actually Jonathan. On the sidelines are such cinematic loons as Hugh Griffin and Lionel Jeffries.

The film doesn't work but it's not exactly unwatchable, thanks to Quine's sure hand which manages to produce several curious/memorable sequences.

Incidentally, Quine started out as an actor and appeared in 25 films, including Rosalind Russell's "My Sister Eileen" (1942), in which he played the role of Frank Lippincott, the young man nursing a crush on Janet Blair's Eileen. Thirteen years later, he would direct Betty Garrett, Janet Leigh and Jack Lemmon in the musical remake for Columbia, with the role of Frank Lippincott going to Bob Fosse, who also choreographed the film.

Another 12 years later, in '67, he would reunite with Roz Russell for "Oh Dad, Poor Dad."

Quine, who had a fascinatingly eclectic career as a filmmaker ("Pushover," "Bell, Book and Candle," "The World of Suzie Wong," "Synanon," "Strangers When We Meet," "Sex and the Single Girl" and "The Moonshine Wars"), died in 1989, a suicide by gunshot. For years, Kim Novak was his muse.

Quine's two best films - "Operation Mad Ball" (1957) and "The Notorious Landlady" (1962), both co-written by Blake Edwards - have yet to be released on home entertainment in any form.

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Poster Art for "Richard Quine's "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad")

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8 comments:

jbryant said...

Richard Quine is one of my favorite directors, and I appreciate the frequency with which you've spotlighted his films this year (even if you didn't like Full of Life as much as I did). I haven't seen "Oh Dad, Poor Dad," but it sounds like equal parts disaster and hoot.

My favorites are Operation Madball, Strangers When We Meet and Pushover (would kill to see The Notorious Landlady, and I've somehow never managed to catch all of Bell, Book and Candle - must remedy that!). In just the last year, I've re-watched Paris When It Sizzles, It Happened to Jane, and The Solid Gold Cadillac, all of which are good fun. Quine also did several good episodes of Columbo. His first dozen shorts and features seem to be incredibly obscure. Most were co-written by Blake Edwards and sound like light comic or musical fare.

jbryant said...

Richard Quine is one of my favorite directors, and I appreciate the frequency with which you've spotlighted his films this year (even if you didn't like Full of Life as much as I did). I haven't seen "Oh Dad, Poor Dad," but it sounds like equal parts disaster and hoot.

My favorites are Operation Madball, Strangers When We Meet and Pushover (would kill to see The Notorious Landlady, and I've somehow never managed to catch all of Bell, Book and Candle - must remedy that!). In just the last year, I've re-watched Paris When It Sizzles, It Happened to Jane, and The Solid Gold Cadillac, all of which are good fun. Quine also did several good episodes of Columbo. His first dozen shorts and features seem to be incredibly obscure. Most were co-written by Blake Edwards and sound like light comic or musical fare.

joe baltake said...

"The Notorious Landlady" is excellent, with a particularly literate script. By all means, see it if you can. Columbia/Sony has just about buried it.

chris schneider said...

Funny, after my last comment about Quine's benighted "Sex and the Single Girl," to find another mention of this director.

I like "Bell, Book, and Candle" a lot. All the standard wisdom about the queer subtext in this John Van Druten adaptation is quite true. What struck me, though, the last time that I saw "Bell, Book, and Candle," was how "out" -- at least according to the standards of the time -- the relationship between the Lemmon character and the French nightclub performer proved to be.

As for "Oh Dad," though ... isn't that picture supposed to have uncredited footage directed by Alexander Mackendrick? The director of "Don't Make Waves" would, I'd imagine, be quite familiar with this style of material.

Paul Denton said...

Thanks so much for remembeirng Richard Quine.

Daryl Chin said...

"Oh Dad, Poor Dad" was one of the first off-Broadway hits to make a transition to Broadway. Strangely enough, the original off-Broadway cast (including Jo Van Fleet as Madame Rosepettle and Barbara Harris) was replaced in the movie (Hermione Gingold replaced Jo Van Fleet, and Alix Elias replaced Barbara Harris), but the play did a cross-country tour, and Van Fleet and Harris played their original roles. (If you saw "Oh Dad, Poor Dad" in Chicago or in San Francisco, for example, you got to see Van Fleet and Harris, while if you saw it on Broadway, it was Gingold and Elias.)

The Broadway production didn't last too long, but the touring company lasted for almost a year, and then most of that cast went into the movie (with the notable exception of Jo Van Fleet, replaced by Rosalind Russell).

Daryl Chin said...

Sorry my mistake: i meant to write "the original off-Broadway cast was replaced in the move", because most of the original off-Broadway cast made it to the movie.

joe baltake said...

Great stuff, Daryl. I had no idea that Quine used so many actors from the off-Broadway cast. Thanks!