Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday's Forgotten Film: Slapstick of Another Kind

Please note that I'm not trying to punish you, loyal readers, by subjecting you to this. Forgotten films are often forgotten for good reason, and this week I offer a case in point--the disastrous bomb Slapstick of Another Kind.

The movie, a very loose adaptation of the Kurt Vonnegut novel Slapstick, stars Jerry Lewis and Madeline Kahn (both in dual roles) and Marty Feldman (his last film). As for the plot, I'm going to paste the description directly from Wikipedia so you can get exactly what goes on in this film. You will rub your eyes and take another look after reading through it the first time.

"The People's Republic of China is severing relations with all other nations. They have mastered the art of miniaturization, and have shrunk all their people to the height of 2 inches. The ambassador of China, Ah Fong (Pat Morita), announces during a press conference that the key to all knowledge can be found from twins.

Caleb Swain (Jerry Lewis) and his wife Letitia (Madeline Kahn) are called "the most beautiful of all the beautiful people" by the press. However, when Letitia gives birth to twins who are called "monsters", the family doctor, Dr. Frankenstein (John Abbott) informs the parents that the twins won't live more than a few months. The Swains decide to allow the twins to live their short life in a mansion staffed with servants, including Sylvester (Marty Feldman).

Fifteen years later the twins (also played by Lewis and Kahn) are still alive. They have large heads and appear to be mentally retarded. Their parents, who have not seen them in all those years, receive a visit from the former Chinese ambassador who informs them that their children are geniuses who can solve the world's problems.

The parents, along with the US president (Jim Backus), pay the children a visit. They reveal themselves to be well-behaved and intelligent, explaining that they acted "stupid" around the servants because they were simply emulating them. A series of tests reveal that there is a telepathic connection between the twins, and their intelligence is only functional when they are together. Furthermore, when their heads are touching they reach a level of intelligence that has never been surpassed.

Their parents, fearful that incest may be prevalent, separate the two. They become despondent without each other, and the Chinese ambassador appears again to tell them to seek each other out. Once united, a spaceship appears and reveals that they are really aliens who were sent to Earth to solve all of the planet's problems. However, their alien father (voice of Orson Welles) reveals that Earth cannot handle their intelligence and returns them to their home planet."


What does this insane plot look like? Take a look at the trailers below.

The film was originally slated for release in 1982, but stayed on the shelf until 1984, released to horrible reviews and box office. Go figure.

The great thing about this feature is that you can not only applaud a film that was underappreciated and unfairly ignored, you can take the opportunity to discuss a film that makes you scratch your head and wonder, "What were they thinking?"

So, I ask you readers--what were they thinking?

Who was their intended audience? Were they trying to be satirical, or just wacky, or what? Was this a project filmmakers were excited about, or did they know what they had on their hands during filming? These are questions I ask myself when I come across something this weird. I'd love to hear your responses. Thanks!

For more (and better) forgotten films, check out Todd Mason's Sweet Freedom!


Wings1295 said...

Wow. Sometimes I feel like life is a story, or a soap opera, written by some unseen writer. When they need to add something, a thing like this appears. How did I never hear of this, with all those stars in it? For the sheer absurdity of it? How?

Just... Wow.

Phillyradiogeek said...

Joe: it was released in 1984, the year of Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Beverly Hills Cop. Can you imagine Slapstick trying to compete with these blockbusters? It's no wonder this film was forgotten :)

Todd Mason said...

Well, there're several reasons I call the meme Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V...and while I try to emphasize the Good Work that has been overlooked, warnings to the curious are useful, as well (Randy Johnson has one today, which as I note in comments was a direct inspiration to an intentionally goofy but influential and not entirely terrible cult film).

I must admit, I'm fond of only GHOSTBUSTERS in that list of '84 blockbusters, but a film which sits on the shelf for two years almost by necessity will get no push from its distributors...and SLAPSTICK is probably the worst, or tied with BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS for worst, of Vonnegut's novels (I have yet to read TIMEQUAKE, his last to be published, but the other two are much worse than any of his other long fiction and just about all his other fiction I've seen), so even a faithful adaptation might not've been the best approach for the film, but it definitely reads like they didn't make a better choice. Casting Lewis, warmish rather than hot in his post THE KING OF COMEDY years, was also probably not the wisest choice, either...but that career bump from TKOC probably helped get it finally released at all...

Phillyradiogeek said...

Todd: Vonnegut himself was not happy with his Slapstick novel either, from what I've come across the 'Net. A comment on YouTube for the trailer I included here describes Vonnegut as "kind of a hack" in general.

Oh well, he'll always have that cameo in the Rodney Dangerfield movie BACK TO SCHOOL.

Todd Mason said...

No, Vonnegut wasn't "kind of a hack"...his best work is brilliant, and he did a lot of best work (including THE SIRENS OF TITAN, MOTHER NIGHT, and BLUEBEARD, among the often underrated). But the YT commentator has a right to be a fool. KV famously wrote an essay about his novels and other fictional work, and gave only his play HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WANDA JUNE a worse grade than BREAKFAST and SLAPSTICK, as I recall.

Phillyradiogeek said...

I don't have too much of a horse in this race, as the only Vonnegut I've read are the short stories "Harrison Bergeron" and "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow," both of which I enjoyed.

I saw the film version of Slaughterhouse 5, which took me awhile to get into, but appreciated after I let it sink in.