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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

PEEPER (aka FAT CHANCE) (1975)

Raymond Chandler’s L.A. detective stories can be played straight (a la Bogie) or ‘kidded-on-the-square’ (see Robert Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE/’73), but they never work as parody. They end up sounding like one of those painfully unfunny skits from an old Bob Hope Special. This sorry attempt has Michael Caine rattling off reams of wiseguy narration and playing the dick, which at least lends his odd Cockney rhythm to things. But poor Natalie Wood, in the usual two-faced dame spot, tries to mix Mary Astor mendacity with Lauren Bacall swank, and winds up lost at sea. Literally. (And she knew it, staying off the screen for four years.) But don’t blame the actors, everything is lousy on this show. The story makes no sense (that’s supposed to be funny); the dialogue isn’t clever, but forced & flat; the costumes & sets, garish & overlit. (We do get a quick tour of the Harold Lloyd Estate, but the rest, including a very modern looking ocean liner, looks chintzy.) Pin the blame on Peter Hyams whose typically flatfooted megging never got between his big ambitions and Hollywood’s faith in a hack who stayed on budget.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Why bother with lame parodies when you can watch the real thing? Try a classic like Howard Hawks’ THE BIG SLEEP/’46 for a real plot, great characters, lively action & suspense; it's even got three times the laughs.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: For all you DIY Michael Caine impersonators (and they seem to be everywhere these days!), here’s a trick for nailing his voice & speaking rhythm. (Courtesy of actor Jim Dale.)

  1. Raise pitch & intensity, slightly.
  2. Put on your standard Cockney accent.
  3. Then (and this is the important bit), ‘You only say – three words at -- a time.’ (Cool, huh?)

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