Thursday, August 06, 2009

cinema obscura: J. Lee Thompson's "John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!" (1965)

No one would ever mistake "John Goldfarb, Please Come One," director J. Lee Thompson's second film in a row with Shirley MacLaine, for a good movie. In fact, its only claim to fame during its brief life in theaters during the spring of 1965, was that it was threatened with a lawsuit by Notre Dame for defaming the school in general and its football players in particular.

It's a mess but it's an eccentric mess - and it's certainly better than the previous Thompson-MacLaine pairing, "What a Way to Go!," a bloated, conventional dud (and vanity production for MacLaine) from the year before. I mean you have to love a film that conjurs up a buffoonish CIA Chief and names him Heinous Overreach (played by the great Fred Clark).

The plot, concocted by no less than William Peter Blatty, involves a dim-witted U-2 pilot for the USAF, nicknamed Wrong Way Goldfarb (played by a miscast Richard Crenna in his first major film role following years on television), en route to the USSR on a spy mission. A former Notre Dame football star, Wrong Way crashs in a mythical Arabian country called Fawzia. He is apprehended and held captive by King Fawz (Peter Ustinov), who happens to be a football-obsessed tyrant and who wants Goldfarb to organize a local team for him.

MacLaine plays a mouthy reporter on assignment in Fawzia for Strife magazine, unwittingly ending up in Fawz' harem and in Wrong Way's arms.

The supporting cast consists of such ace character actors as Jim Backus, Harry Mogan, Richard Deacon, Scott Brady, David Lewis, Jackie Coogan, Chalres Lane, Leon Askin, Jerome Cowan, Milton Frome, the great Wilfred Hyde-White and Clark.

Yes, the film is awful, but this cast is compulsively watchable.

Keep an eye out for the young Jerry Orbach. While it's impossib le to track down "John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!" on home entertainment, the Fox Movie Channel will air it Thursday, 27 August at 4:00 p.m. (est).

Oh, yes, John Williams' score for the film, never recorded, was released belatedly in 2007 in a limited-edition CD. Shirley MacLaine, ever the good sport, honks out the title song.

By the way, Blatty reportedly got the idea for "The Exorcist" while making "Goldfarb." Ellen Burstyn's Chris MacNeil character in that film is said to have been modeled on MacLaine, a dubious tribute of sorts.

Note in Passing: Blatty adapted "Goldfarb" into a new musical comedy, with music and lyrics by Michael Garin, Robert Hipkens, and Erik Frandsen, choreography by Jennifer Schmermund and Anahid Sofian, and direction by Jeffrey Lewonczyk. It was staged for four performances only in August of 2007 at The Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place.


Erin said...

Oh no you didn't diss "What a Way to Go"! Then again, for me there is no such thing as a Shirley MacLaine vanity piece. Plus Robert Mitchum in a romcom?!

Why is your heart made of stone, Joe?

jbryant said...

I haven't seen this utterly wacky sounding film, but as a fan of MacLaine and Crenna in particular, it would be a must-see if the opportunity ever arose.

Y'know, Crenna's earliest success was in TV comedy (Our Miss Brooks, The Real McCoys). I think it was fairly rare in those days for a TV comedy actor to successfully segue to dramatic films, so I always admired Crenna for carving a new niche for himself (The Sand Pebbles, Wait Until Dark, Un Flic, Body Heat, and a number of hard-hitting TV movies, such as his Emmy Award winning turn in The Rape of Richard Beck). But he made a welcome return to comedy in The Flamingo Kid, for which he deserved an Oscar nomination (he got a Golden Globe nod). I always like him, and it's still hard to believe he's no longer with us.

J. Kaiser said...

I thought Crenna was great in this. He should have done more comedy. Hmmmm, I think I'll pop in "Summer Rental" ( which I bought in the winter ).

joe baltake said...

It may have turned to Stone, Erin. I grew up loving Shirl. Had a serious crush on her and loved her early years (in which she played victims) and her later years (in which she played victimizers). But those middle years! "What a Way to Go" & "Woman Times Seven" - both missed opportunities that are difficult to watch. Sorry.

ShakesTheClown said...

'Goldfarb'is as awful as they come. 'What a Way To Go' isn't good, but it's more watchable than Goldfarb, in my opinion. So is 'Woman Times Seven'. Best movie of Shirley's middle period, as Baltake calls it, is 'The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom' from '68. It's not that good either, but it's mildly amusing.

Heck, Goldfarb is even worse than that TV show she did, 'Shirley's World'.