Saturday, June 28, 2014

What the Hell Are You Watching?!! -- One More Time

We've all been conned, my friends. We have been told repeatedly that anything that was done by any members of the legendary Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. , etc.) is cool in its booze soaked, cigarette smoked way... despite moments of who cares performances by the stars.

Now, suppose this philosophy encounters another who's strong-willed ways of operating are capable of knocking over the Rats' cart.

Like most movie fans, there are many times when I've watched a Rat Pack movie and enjoyed it. Of course, I like Ocean's 11, but I really like 4 For Texas, a comedy western which stars Frank and Dino, the ultra chesty Anita Ekberg and even the Three Stooges (with Curly Joe).

Then there's One More Time...

Released in 1970, the flick stars Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford as hip nightclub owners, respectively Charlie Salt and Chris Pepper in Swingin' London. Laughford is about as unhip as one can get and poor Samula's attempts to shine utterly fail.

This flick is also a sequel to Salt and Pepper (1968), which was directed by the very capable Richard Donner (Superman the Movie, The Banana Splits) and introduced a not at all funny teaming of Rat Pack A-Teamer Sammy with C-Teamer Peter Lawford (less than Joey Bishop). That first mediocre effort with these two generated enough money for United Artists to order up a sequel, thus the title One More Time. Very simply, it's a convoluted mess whose contrived non-sensical story elements destroy almost any entertainment value.


The story starts with Salt and Pepper being framed and about to go to jail, hoping that Pepper's government connected twin brother can help them. The twin (Lawford wearing a fake mustache and talking in a nasaly voice) who is also a James Bond type. He gets shot down. This situation requires Chris Pepper to take his brother's place in a case that is going on. Here's where it gets really confusing. He decides not to tell his partner, Salt, who has been told instead that Pepper was shot. Salt believes his buddy is actually the dead man, who he mourns throughout most of this "comedy."
Making matters worse, the government types and Pepper allow Salt to join them in trying to solve the case, never hinting until almost the film's end that Pepper's brother was actually killed (and Pepper couldn't care less about that either).

A lot of the film's non-story involves the mourning Salt walking around Pepper's brother's castle in Britain, where we get a virtual solo performance by Sammy overflowing with the type of unfunny comic mugging that would suit Jerry Lewis much better.

I've been holding off the biggest kick to the groin from this film, in part because it seems like too easy a target. Okay, here goes: It was directed by Jerry Lewis. In fact, it was the only film he directed that he did not star in. Let me add here that I am not a Jerry Lewis hater. In fact, when I was a kid, I liked his movies a lot. In addition, as a director, while not always working as intended, his films can be interesting, filled with odd moments and ambitious direction. I enjoy the unusual Family Jewels, and; like just about everyone else in the world; The Nutty Professor.

Having dropped all that Jerry Lewis goodwill, this movie does feel like the worst of his stuff at times, especially with Sammy doing Lewis-like shtick and even looking at the camera. Sammy also does a "Here Come The Judge" riff like those he did at this time on the Laugh-In TV show.

That Lewis shtick can get pretty heavy handed, particularly when Sammy puts on a Mantan Moreland-like bit while looking for a scary, secret passage.

Hold on, though... This is the moment of the film that I really was looking forward to. Charlie opens a door and looks in to a dungeon below. Standing in the dungeon are Peter Cushing (as Dr. Frankenstein) and Christopher Lee (as Dracula). Cushing gets the better part of it, because he actually speaks. Lee just looks threatening and shows his fangs. Still, the scene is a nice touch that also shows Lewis was aware of the popularity of Britain's Hammer Studios and their top monsters. [I placed the images from this scene at the bottom of the page.]

As I said, just before the end, Salt learns his buddy Pepper is alive. No big deal, as the last fragments of a story fall apart, with the film's stars breaking character and talking about another possible sequel. I'm happy to say that this Rat Pack mini-franchise choaked right here without there being One More Time Again.

By this time, the Rat Pack chic had run out of gas with the nostalgic resurgence decades away. It couldn't save this film, but I also wonder if Lewis subconsciously sabotaged it, given his Rat connection to Dean. Nah... sounds too conspiratorial.

The sadder truth may be that Lewis was a limited director who was only repeating the same bits over and over again rather than carving out new comedic terrain. That suggests that The Nutty Professor may have been an accident. I'd rather not think that, instead preferring the possibility that with Nutty Professor, Lewis honed his comedic vision down to the exact state of being he was always trying to attain.

On this particular film, Lewis may have been out of his comfort zone, saddled with a bad script that rarely had the co-stars together, which may have forced him to use what he knew best, hoping it would work. It didn't..

Unless you're a Lewis fan, this may be for Hammer completists only... and you'll probably have a lousy time.

-- F Kurtz



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