Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Scavenger Hunt: My "Guilty Pleasure" Movie

Many people have a movie they love to watch, but which they also know isn't that great of a film. For me, that movie is the 1979 bomb Scavenger Hunt:

Of this movie calls it "[a]n all-star, all-stupid comedy attempt that proves, once again, no actor can triumph over bad material." and further laments, "[h]ow all of these funny actors could have been seduced into working on such a waste of time, money, and effort is a mystery."

The New York Times said "[t]he cast of 'Scavenger Hunt' spends a lot of time searching for good gags, in vain." and speculates that, "When a movie's jokes are so noticeably without punch lines, only a mood of uproarious confusion can save the day. [Director Michael] Schultz takes an orderly approach that only makes the movie more of a mess.", which gives a nice synopsis of the plot and contains one of my favorite reviews, says "This utterly wretched comedy succeeds in at least one respect: it captures the most hideous overtones (aesthetic and otherwise) of the late 1970s. Moreover, the film so wallows in desperation that it first becomes exhausting, and then, eventually, suicidally depressing." It further states that "nothing - not a single godforsaken miserable moment of this movie - elicits so much as one laugh," and wonders "[h]ow in the world Michael Schultz...managed to come up with such a dog, when they had such vast talent at their disposal, is completely baffling."

While I have been unable to locate actual quotes from such critics as Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel,and Leonard Maltin, I know they all had unfavorable reviews of this film.

I'll be the first to admit it: Scavenger Hunt is not a great movie. It is not particularly well-made, a lot of its humor is politically incorrect, it's kind of dumb, its gags are very broad, its characters are one-dimensional, and some of the film's situations over-stretch the limits of believability quite a bit. An award-winning masterpiece it isn't.

Its never even been released on DVD. You can only view it on VHS (or if you're really desperate to watch it, you can catch it in ten-minute segments on YouTube).

But I will also freely admit that I have easily seen this movie 300+ times, can quote the dialogue verbatim, have never tired of it, and still laugh every time I watch it. It's hard for me to admit this because I can be a movie snob at times. But it's 100% true. I love Scavenger Hunt!

This movie is a very, very poor man's version of the much wittier, much better made classic, It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (which I also love). It stars a virtual cornucopia of famous faces from the late 1970s including Cloris Leachman (of Young Frankenstein and "Mary Tyler Moore" fame),

James Coco (Murder By Death (also a favorite of mine),

Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes, The Poseidon Adventure, and several Disney movies including Bedknobs and Broomsticks, That Darn Cat, and The Cat from Outer Space),

Scatman Crothers (The Shining),

Richard Benjamin (The Sunshine Boys, Love at First Bite),

Cleavon Little (Blazing Saddles),

Richard Mulligan ("Soap" (also another favorite), "Empty Nest"),

Tony Randall ("The Odd Couple", Pillow Talk, "Love, Sydney"),

Dirk Benedict ("Battlestar Galactica", "The A-Team"),

and the feature film debut of Willie Aames ("Eight is Enough", "Charles in Charge").

Like It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Scavenger Hunt also contains some surprise cameo appearances by such people as Meat Loaf (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Ruth Gordon (Harold and Maude, My Bodyguard),

Vincent Price (who doesn't have a single on-camera spoken line (although he does have an off-camera monologue)), Liz Torres, Carol Wayne, Pat McCormick, Avery Schreiber,

and Arnold Schwarzenegger (yes, that Arnold Schwarzenegger!).

The general premise of the movie is that Milton Parker, the wealthy president of a game and toy company (played by Vincent Price) dies

and makes the heirs of his estate play a game: "a scavenger hunt, to be exact" to win his estate. Essentially, there are five teams competing for the estate:

1.Parker's widowed sister Mildred Carruthers (Cloris Leachman), her lawyer, Stuart Selsome (Richard Benjamin), and bratty adult son, Georgie (Richard Masur).
2.Parker's son-in-law Henry Motley (Tony Randall) and his four kids.
3.Parker's nephews Jeff and Kenny Stevens (Dirk Benedict and Willie Aames) (who also end up having Mildred's stepdaughter Lisa (Maureen Teefy) on their team).
4. Parker's servants; chauffeur Jackson (Cleavon Little), French chef Henri (James Coco), French maid Babbette (Stephanie Faracy)and butler Jenkins (Roddy McDowall)
5.Taxi driver Marvin Dummitz (Richard Mulligan) (why, you ask? Watch the movie, and you'll find out).

Of course, it becomes a crazy free-for-all as everyone fights to obtain the items needed to win, and even crazier when the villains of the piece, Carruthers, Selsome, and Georgie, cheat in order to win.

I first saw this movie in the theater with my family in 1979. Being 8 years old at the time, the humor was totally up my alley. It was basically family-friendly fare, and many of the jokes are, admittedly, on a level that an eight-year old would appreciate. And although I may have seen him in other films prior to this, Roddy McDowall made a very distinct impression on me when I first saw this film and is also why he's on this list.

I also distinctly remember seeing a rerelease of the film (sometime in the early 80s, although I'm not sure why a movie that did so poorly at the box office would have been rereleased, but I know I saw it with my cousin and his friends) and being excited to see it again and loving it just as much as I did the first time I saw it.

When I had the chance to record the show off of television with my brother's very top-of-the-line VCR (which would seem extremely antiquated by today's standards - its remote was connected to the VCR by a cord, for goodness sake), I was filled with glee. Now, I had my own copy of the movie (albeit edited-for-television), and I watched it nearly every day after school for months and months (no joke), and the poor quality of the recording, the edits, and places where the tracking on the tape would jump or cause screen static is still ingrained in my mind.

Eventually, my tape was worn from being played so much, and so I did something illegal: I rented a VHS copy of the tape from a video store and used my video camera (also antiquated by today's standards) to pirate a copy of my beloved movie. I still have that copy and still pull it out when I want to watch it (which is still fairly often), but I do admit that the there are scenes in the full version that I don't know the dialogue as well because I watched the edited version so many times). It is, however, nice to have the entire movie complete with scenes I did miss when watching the edited version.

The team I love the most is the servants, and I root for them no matter how many times I see the movie and regardless of whether they do or not (you'll have to watch the movie if you care to find out). Stephanie Faracy (a relative newcomer at the time)

always cracks me up as the ditsy Babbette and her interplay with the exasperated Henri (James Coco) always amuses me. Roddy McDowall is so classy, and I love how put-together he remains when many of the other characters are a shambles by the movie's end. Cleavon Little is funny, too.

I adore Cloris Leachman, and even though she, Richard Benjamin, and Richard Masur are painted with a very one-dimensional brush as the villains, I enjoy their chemistry. Richard Masur, who may very well be embarrassed by his role in this movie, is terrific (and stereotypical) as an obnoxious, bratty man child and the comedic tension between him and Richard Benjamin's Stuart Selsome makes me laugh.

Tony Randall is underused, I admit, and his over-eager father doesn't have much to do, but I enjoy his scene with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Richard Mulligan, who I thought was brilliant in the TV show "Soap", is funny as Marvin Dummitz. Yeah, he's another stereotype as a very dimwitted cab driver, but he'a great actor, and I admit I find his antics amusing, and I enjoy his scenes with the delightful Scatman Crothers.

Dirk Benedict (who I also had a crush on as a child) and Willie Aames are fun in their roles, especially when they latch on to two separate characters played by Stuart Pankin and Marji Martin (who I love as Kay; also her film debut).

Why do I enjoy this movie? Well, for one thing, it has a talented cast. While it is true the material is sub-par, most of the actors and actresses who perform it are very funny people and I feel they elevate it somewhat.

I love the music. The composition that plays over the opening credits is my favorite song. It starts with a kind of serious-sounding harpsichord solo, and while the song itself has a somewhat serious, classical sound, the scattered letters that make up the title and the animated ostrich head that pops up and down lets you know the movie isn't going to take itself seriously.

There is some fun scoring in the soundtrack, but one of my favorite moments is the use of Peter Tchaikovsky's Russian Dance from The Nutcracker (which morphs into a cheesy late 70s-style pop song called "Play to Win") as the backdrop for a car chase. (Other compositions from The Nutcracker are used in funny robbery scene involving the servants (in which James Coco makes me giggle with his "I can't see! I have no holes! I can't see! in his French accent (watch the movie)))

I also enjoy the little ditty Scatman Crothers sings over the closing credits called "There's Enough For Everyone".

There are several scenes, in particular, that always make me laugh including one where the servants are trapped in a high school science laboratory (again, James Coco with his "a killer soufflé!" line; one with Richard Mulligan dressed as a mummy in a museum; a series of scenes where Richard Benjamin, Cloris Leachman, and Richard Masur are trying to get a safe downstairs; one where the servants are trying to remove a toilet from a fancy hotel bathroom; Richard Benjamin's awkward face-off with Meat Loaf; and any of the scenes with Avery Schreiber as a lisping, ostrich-like zookeeper trying to protect his flock from the scavengers ("Three! Three!") - Watch the movie.

I love the climactic car chase and the exciting aftermath as the eventual winner of the contest finally claims their victory in a surprising and nail-biting way (okay, I'm exaggerating just a bit, but still, it still feels pretty exciting, even knowing full well how the movie will end).

I love that the movie starts out as a movie about greed and "every man for himself" and and eventually becomes a movie about teamwork and helping one another.

I love Robert Morley's turn as the very staunch, proper, straight man attorney whose job it is to preside over this madness, and you wonder what an actor of his distinction is even doing in this picture

(and one wonders the same thing about Vincent Price, who probably earned a very easy paycheck for his role).

Hal Landon Jr. in his third film role (and who much later played Ted's father in the Bill and Ted pictures)

has a funny turn as Morley's assistant.

Stephen Furst (of Animal House and The Dream Team) also has a small, but joyous, bit part as Merle, which I enjoy.

I love the locale where it was shot, San Diego.

Yeah, the movie has some problems. Much of it seems dated. It isn't particularly PC as far as Japanese, Native Americans, or fat people go (although I will say that all three have victories by movies end). As I've stated, the characters are one-dimensional and often stereotypical beyond belief. It seems impossible , for example, that Richard Masur, while amusing, could be the obnoxious and bratty 9 year-old in a man's body that he is. The villains are clear cut villains from the get-go. You don't really believe Richard Mulligan's Dummitz could be as dumb as he is (although he, too, gets a victory in the end (though that doesn't mean he is the winner)).

Some situations are absolutely beyond the realm of credibility. Marvin Dummitz and Stuart Selsome both have encounters with cars and motorcycles, respectively, that would do far more damage to them in real life than they end up doing in the movie. There is also an incident involving a safe and a car that would make a real-life car undriveable. There is a fall Tony Randall takes that would injure a real man far more than it injures him. There is a ostrich-theft incident that just seems impossible (actually they all do, as does the fact that any of these people can actually transport a live ostrich is any of their vehicles).

Some of the names are cliché: Dummitz for the dumb guy? Milton Parker for the game magnate? Selsome for the shady wheeling-dealing lawyer? Jenkins, Jackson, Babbette, and Henri for the servants? Arvilla Droll for the odd, whimsical character she plays?

Look, the movie is silly, stupid, and witless. I know it. But it makes me laugh. If I'm having a down day, I know I can put it in the VCR (or in one desperate moment when my video was 400 miles away from me, watch it in chopped up segments on YouTube (which completely broke the flow of the movie for me, by the way, but still made me laugh)).

It's not art. It's not great. The reason it's probably never been released on DVD is because it wouldn't be financially lucrative (although if it ever is, I'll be snatching up a copy right away).

But I love it, I watch it, and it is my favorite "guilty pleasure" movie. Please don't think less of me if you hate it (and I will understand if you do), but I hope you grow to love it as much as I do (which is probably impossible).

If you ever have a chance to see it, give it a looksie.

Scavenger Hunt: awesomely bad and awesomely fun!

You know you want to watch it now.


LCannon said...

I watched on YouTube. It wasn't too bad. With the amount of times I was interupted, it was probably actually easier for me to watch it that way. But yes. It just doesn't have the same "theatre" feel. I do remember actually seeing it in the theatre. How funny.

Gay LDS Actor said...

When I saw that someone commented on this post, I knew it had to be you. lol