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January 26th, 2017

O LUCKY MAN! (1973) ** ½

Malcolm McDowell and director Lindsay Anderson collaborated once again for their second film in a trilogy that began with If… and concluded with Britannia Hospital. It’s a sprawling, messy, and sometimes fascinating satire. It tosses in everything but the kitchen sink, but it has just as many misses as hits. Those hits often pack a wallop though.

McDowell plays a plucky coffee salesman who quickly works his way up the ladder and is sent on the road to make sales. After a series of misadventures, he sets his sights on a job working for a multimillionaire mogul (Ralph Richardson). Eventually, he winds up penniless and tries his hand at acting in a film for Lindsay Anderson.

O Lucky Man! crams in a lot of stuff into its three hour running time. In fact, the film probably could’ve been split up into two separate features and worked much better. The first half features some truly bizarre surrealist tangents, like when McDowell is tortured while everyone has tea, or when he finds himself in a hospital where people are turned into animals. The second half is a bit more grounded, and therefore a tad less successful. While I enjoyed the ending, it certainly is a long time coming.

Throughout all of this, Alan Price and his band show up and act as a Greek chorus. They’re actually very good and the way Anderson utilizes the music isn’t intrusive at all. Trust me, having a band show up randomly and play music is the least weird thing about the movie.

There are some wonderful stretches here to be sure. However, there are just as many clunky sequences. McDowell’s winning performance keeps things afloat whenever the film feels like it’s going off the rails (which is often). I still admired its crazy spirit, even if it wasn’t entirely successful. I liked it better than If…

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HAUNTED HONEYMOON (1986) ½ *

Gene Wilder (who also directed) stars as a radio actor who is about to be married to his co-star, Gilda Radner. He begins exhibiting bizarre ticks that his uncle (Paul L. Smith from Pieces) chalks up to wedding day jitters. He suggests Gene and Gilda go to his family's supposedly haunted mansion in order to “scare” him straight.

I love Gene Wilder as much as anyone could, but Haunted Honeymoon is a train wreck from the get-go. The gags are dire, tired, and uninspired. They revolve around actors in drag (the usually funny Dom DeLuise plays an old woman), fast motion scenes, and people screaming and/or shouting. The film is only 83 minutes long, but it feels much longer and is heavily padded with musical numbers and an extra-long (groan-inducing) ending.

Wilder’s direction is flat and his timing is off. Because of that, 99% of the jokes land with a thud. The only funny part is a variation on a gag from Young Frankenstein, which just goes to show that Mel Brooks’ touch is sorely missed. His performance is curiously low key too as he never once lapses into mania like the great Wilder characters. (He was probably too busy directing to focus on his performance.) He also has no chemistry with Gilda (in her last role) and the less said about DeLuise’s mugging the better.

The horror elements are also downright insulting too. The werewolf make-up is pretty cool, but the stupid twist ending pretty much negates everything remotely horrific about it. (Or does it?) Do yourself a favor and watch Young Frankenstein again.

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