Saturday, October 4, 2014


(March 1992, U.S.)

I love Sidney Lumet's 1982 film version of DEATHTRAP! I don't just love it, but I consider it to be the absolute best dialogue film I've ever seen and it's highly due to not only the spontaneous wit and spirit of a great actor like Michael Caine, but also his terrific on-screen chemistry with the late Christopher Reeve. And despite the fact that Peter Bogdanovich's film version of the play NOISES OFF sports a huge all-star cast of some of the funniest people of screen and television, including Carol Burnett and the late John Ritter, it's still Michael Caine's comic genius with dialogue, sarcasm and contempt with not only Christopher Reeve (again in this film), but the entire cast as he desperately tries in vain to put together a play within a play, in this case a dreadful farce called "Nothing On" — the type of production in which many doors continually open and shut on stage for the entire theatre audience to see. The setting has been transplanted from English provincial theatre to towns like Des Moines, Iowa and Cleveland, Ohio, where a second-rate theatrical troupe is preparing to perform the Broadway-bound play under the direction of crazed stage director Lloyd Fellowes (Caine).

Among the cast members of this sorry-ass production are a hilarious assortments of scatter-brains, an insecure nose-bleeding hearthrob, a myopic leading lady, a second female lead and an alcoholic English character who everyone else is desperately trying to keep away from the bottle throughout rehearsals and the actual production. The film opens with the final dress rehearsal before opening night, with the hopeless cast still forgetting lines, missing cues, and mishandling stage props. Lloyd is reduced to cajoling, yelling at, and pleading with them to get things right, and just about everything that comes out of is mouth is something to laugh at, particularly if you can relate to having a short fuse when it comes to incompetent, stupid people (like myself!). Complicating matters further are the personal problems and backstage relationships that have fostered jealousy and petty squabbling and intruded upon any professionalism this poor crew can muster during production. In the end, it's all chaos, but of course, in the end, things actually manage to turn out alright, because as the old saying goes, "the show must go on!"

Although there is much slapstick physical comedy to enjoy in NOISES OFF, particularly from John Ritter who practically re-recreates his "Three's Company" character of Jack Tripper every time he trips and falls in the film, the true comic genius of the film is pure dialogue; quick, spontaneous and quite angry at times. Stop to breathe too long or munch away on some very loud food while you're watching and you're libel to miss a few things and believe me when I tell you that you don't want to miss even a single word at any moment as the film plays out an outrageous farce of not only the principles of a comic play on stage, but also the comic bullshit that can and often does take place backstage.

Now despite my sheer positive ravings of this hilarious film, the reviews from critics and audiences were mostly negative when the film was released in 1992. Why, oh why, I ask? What are (so-called) educated people thinking half the time? What is it movie audiences are looking for exactly when it comes to comedy? Are they so far gone in the department of intelligent wit that the concept of pure funny dialogue has completely died in lieu of nothing more than physical stupidity that can only appeal to the Hollywood marketing age department of eighteen through thirty-five?? If that's the case, then I truly don't understand films, the audience, critics or anything anymore!

Now let me tell you a little something about a woman whom I will call Ali (because that's her real name). She was (and still is, I suppose) my wife's best friend since childhood. For many years of Ali's professional career, she was involved behind stage at some of Broadway's greatest musicals and plays (she used to say that literally every stage actor in New York City had at one time in their life been a "Cat", from Andrew Lloyd Weber's CATS). I don't recall her telling too many tales of backstage antics, but I can only just imagine that she must have seen her share of craziness before everyone inevitably shouted, "Break a leg!" So it's to Ali that I dedicate this post of NOISES OFF to. If I had to guess, I'm sure she liked the film, too (I hope!)!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Brooke Ashton: "I don't understand whey the Skeik looks like Phillip."
Lloyd Fellowes: "Poppy! Bring the book! Is that the line, Poppy - 'I don't understand why the sheik looks like Phillip'? Can we consult the author's text to make absolutely sure?"
Poppy Taylor: "Well, I think he..."
Lloyd: "Uh, "What's that, Dad?' Right. That's the line, Brooke, love. We know you've worked over in London in some very classy places where they let you make the play up as you go along. But we don't want that kind of thing here, love. Not when the author has provided us with such a considered and polished line of his own...not at one o'clock in the morning...not two lines away from the end of Act One...not when we're just about to get a coffee break before we all drop dead from exhaustion. We merely want to hear the line, 'WHAT'S THAT, DAD?"!!! That's all. NOTHING ELSE!!! I'm not being unreasonable, am I?"

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