Monday, January 20, 2020

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

No one would ever mistake J. Lee Thompson's "John Goldfarb, Please Come One" for a good movie.

Aside from being director Thompson's second back-to-back collaboration with star Shirley MacLaine in 1965, its only real claim to fame during its brief life in theaters during the spring of  '65, was that Notre Dame University threatened Twentieth Century-Fox with a lawsuit for defaming both the school's name and its football players (as buffoons, no less).

"John Goldfarb, Please Come One" is a mess but it's an eccentric mess. It's certainly better (just barely) than the previous Thompson-MacLaine pairing - "What a Way to Go!," a bloated, conventional pseudo-musical dud and shameless vanity production for MacLaine from the year before.

But you have to love a D-level film like "Goldfarb" that conjurs up a buffoonish CIA Chief, names him Heinous Overreach and casts the great Fred Clark in the role.

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 Richard Crenna (in his first major film role following decades on television). While en route to the USSR on a spy mission, former Notre Dame football star Wrong Way Goldfarb crashes 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 for Strife magazine who happens to be on assignment in Fawzia and unwittingly ends up in Fawz' harem and in Wrong Way's arms.

Aside from Clark, 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 and the great Wilfred Hyde-White. And keep an eye out for a young Jerry Orbach.

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

MacLaine, meanwhile, plays her character as a fractured cross between an over-aged cheerleader and an over-heated harem contestant.

By the way, Blatty and MacLaine worked together in the 1960s and, when he wrote "The Exorcist," Blatty modeled the character of Chris MacNeil (played by Ellen Burstyn in the film) after MacLaine, a dubious tribute of sorts. Bottom Line: This film was made for Frank Tashlin to direct. Period.
Note in Passing: 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 cacophonous title song.

Blatty also attempted to adapt "Goldfarb" into a musical comedy back in 2007, 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 that year at The Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place.

 Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you. -J

* * * * *
 (from top)

 ~Poster art for "John Goldfarb, Please Come Home"
 ~photography: Twentieth Century-Fox 1965© 

~Publicity shot of Fred Clark in "John Goldfarb, Please Come Home" 
 ~photography: Twentieth Century-Fox 1965© 

~Two still shots of Shirley MacLaine in "John Goldfarb, Please Come Home"
 ~photography: Twentieth Century-Fox 1965©


Kaiser said...

I thought Crenna was great in this. He should have done more comedy. Hmmmm, I think I'll pop in my copy of "Summer Rental."

Brian Lucas said...

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.

mike schlesinger said...

"'What a Way to Go!,' a bloated, conventional pseudo-musical dud."

Okay, I gave you a pass on "Thoroughly Modern Millie," but this is borderline sacrilege. You are now officially ON NOTICE!

joe baltake said...

Mike, Mike! This one was a real let-down, having been the handiwork of Comden and Green!

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?! Love it!

Why is your heart made of stone, Joe?

jay 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.

Daryl Chin said...

Shirley MacLaine had become a gold-plated star by the time she signed her deal with 20th Century-Fox for WHAT A WAY TO GO! and JOHN GOLDFARB, PLEASE COME HOME, and it showed the problems of finding the proper "vehicle" for her at that time. There was a lot of carping about her 1962-63 films (TWO FOR THE SEESAW, which flopped, and IRMA LA DOUCE, which was a monster hit). The TWO FOR THE SEESAW negativity i never understood: she's actually very good in the movie. A lot of the negativity centered on the (supposed) lack of chemistry between MacLaine and her co-star Robert Mitchum. It seemed to center on the perceived notion of what Mitchum should and shouldn't do: he wasn't playing a tough guy, but a rather befuddled Midwestern businessman (the role had been played by Henry Fonda on Broadway). But MacLaine and Mitchum actually do seem to respond to each other. (In real life, both MacLaine and Mitchum acknowledged that they fell in love and had an on-and-off affair which lasted a few years.) IRMA LA DOUCE was her second movie with Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder, and here, she's rather more manic than in THE APARTMENT, but she's also given the full star treatment (the dark wig is a reminder that the part was originally cast with Elizabeth Taylor, but CLEOPATRA had gone over schedule and Wilder wanted to get on with the film, but MacLaine looks great). However, she didn't like making the movie, even though it was a hit (the highest-grossing comedy of the year) and she was nominated for an Oscar, and she would never work with Wilder or Lemmon again. So here you have two movies for Fox which try to define her star persona, and the results weren't pretty. She comes on as a hyper, shrill variant of Betty Hutton: she's too much, but there's no hint of vulnerability. (With movies like GAMBIT and TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA, she would calm down, but it was too late... with GAMBIT, one trick was to have her mostly silent for the first half hour or so.) But it's odd that these movies were specifically written for her, so you have an idea of how some people saw her at that time.

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. -J

mike schlesinger said...

Sorry, but WAWTG is brilliant. The premise is irresistible: A woman who doesn't want to be rich turns out to be a jinx that leaves her a wealthy widow several times over. The little mini-movies are adroitly and accurately done, and you don't often see seven big stars in a non-roadshow picture. (Mitchum and Newman weren't exactly at home doing comedy either, but both acquitted themselves admirably.) As for Shirley, the idea that she's shrill throughout is nonsense. The only times she goes over the top is when she realizes each husband has died, which is thoroughly legitimate. Throw in that tip-top production and costume design, and little treats like a slew of beloved characters including Margaret Dumont as her mother, and you've got a film that's as excellent now as it was in 1964. I will not budge on this.

As for GOLDFARB, I saw it when it came out in 1965 and found it silly but harmless. I'll have to see it again for a more thoughtful reaction.

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'.

Paul B. said...

“Over-heated Harem contestant"
"Maclaine honks out the cacophanous title song”
one of the funniest reviews ever…Paul.

joan said...


Paul Harris said...

When you say this film should have been directed by Tashlin are you expressing an opinion or is this a statement of fact ? Was he slated to direct this film at some point ?

joe baltake said...

An opinion, Paul. Tashlin was made for this material, not Thompson. -J

Charles W Callahan said...

Guilty pleasures they may be, but I have affection for both pictures.
I even bought the soundtracks.