Love in a Goldfish Bowl

I remember watching the show “Laverne & Shirley” when I was a kid. They would mention how much they loved someone called Fabian on many episodes. For that matter, I can remember my mom and her sister bringing up the name Fabian when talking about their teenage years. He was one of the biggest of the teen heart-throbs and today’s movie features him, though he doesn’t end up being the character you’re supposed to root for. That’s somewhat odd for a teen idol in the movies. It’s 1961’s “Love in a Goldfish Bowl.”

The film begins on the campus of a small California college where two students have been making things difficult for the administrators. Gordon Slide (Tommy Sands) and Blythe Holloway (Toby Michaels) have a purely platonic relationship, yet they’ve become a major distraction for each other. Their grades are slipping and the administrators have forbidden them from seeing each other. Most of today’s college students would find this school to be hilariously and unrealistically strict. The dean and his staff know the comings and goings of each student, down to when someone has an asthma attack, and can somehow control who someone does or doesn’t spend time with.

Though Spring Break is approaching, both Gordon and Blythe are lamenting how they will be spending the time off. Gordon’s divorced mother (Jan Sterling) likes to party with guys half her age in Hawaii, and is expecting her son to join her. Blythe’s father (Edward Andrews), a senator from Colorado, expects her to join him in Denver. By the way, the senator’s secretary is played by Mrs. Star Trek herself, Majel Barrett. Since neither one is thrilled with this arrangement, Gordon and Blythe decide to spend spring break together at Gordon’s mother’s California beach house. Gordon even calls Blythe’s father, doing an impersonation of the head of the school, Dr. Frowley (John McGiver), to tell him that Blythe needs to stay on campus to catch up with her studies.

The two successfully make it to the beach and proceed to essentially play house. Gordon gets very wrapped up in being the man of the house and thinking he knows everything about life. Blythe starts to picture herself keeping house, though she seems to be challenged when it comes to simple domestic chores. But…there is no hanky panky going on!

One day, while the two are out on Gordon’s boat, they end up too far from shore. The boat eventually capsizes and the two are rescued by a Coast Guard ship. One of the sailors on board is Guiseppe “Seppi” La Barba (Fabian), who takes an instant liking to Blythe. She, of course, is flattered, while Gordon begins to steam with jealousy. Seppi begins spending just about every moment of shore leave he has coming around to the house to visit Blythe. Gordon and Blythe assure him that they are staying at the house with Gordon’s mother, but Seppi seems to always miss her.

When Blythe tells Gordon that she is going to a party with Seppi, Gordon tells her she can’t go. He’s been growing more and more jealous with each day. Eventually, they work out a compromise and decide to hold the party at the house. Blythe just loves the idea of being the hostess, but things get out of hand when Seppi ends up inviting pretty much all his sailor buddies…not to mention the fact that he starts to get a bit too, shall we say “friendly” with Blythe. Of course, this is all just in time for Gordon and Blythe’s parents to show up and spoil things.

Even for 1961, the premise of “Love in a Goldfish Bowl” is a little hard to believe. These two young, attractive college students have a beach house all to themselves…but the normal sort of spring break debauchery never even enters their minds. Instead, Gordon sits in bed reading and smoking a pipe like the king of the castle…Blythe does the shopping and brings home a surrogate child in the form of a lost dog. They seem a bit like two five-year olds playing make-believe.

When Fabian enters the picture, things should’ve become a bit more interesting. With Gordon turning jealous, there should’ve been all sorts of scheming to eliminate this suave sailor. Having the two leading men involved in back and forth revenge plots would’ve taken things in a fun direction. But Gordon is too clean-cut a character to even launch the first salvo…despite the fact that we’re told he’s a bad influence at the beginning of the film.  Likewise, there was a missed opportunity to turn Fabian’s character into a real slime-ball and give Gordon the chance to rescue the girl.  But, I’m sure having Fabian play the bad guy would not have been good for his image.

Still, the three leads are likeable enough to make the movie enjoyable.  But the highlight performances of the film come from the adult characters.  The parents are so wrapped up in their own world’s…it’s much like the parental units John Hughes often put on the screen in the 80’s.  They provide some good comedic moments in what is otherwise a pretty dry script.

In the end, the film is enjoyable, but a bit too squeaky-clean for its own good.

Warner Archive New Releases – April 10, 2012

It’s Tuesday…that means new releases from The Warner Archive!

- Penrod and Sam (1937)
– Penrod’s Double Trouble (1938)
– Westward the Women (1951)
– If Winter Comes (1947)
– Three Loves Has Nancy (1938)
– Desperate Search (1952)
– I’ll Wait for You (1941)
– Exclusive Story (1936)
– Clear All Wires (1933)
– Bright Road (1953)
– A Yank at Eton (1942)
– Tish (1942)

Little Cigars

If you ever thought that the Lollipop Guild from “The Wizard of Oz” seemed a wee bit shifty, well your suspicions may have been true.  Today’s film features a group of little people, a couple of whom did appear as Munchkins in the 1939 classic, taking to a life of crime when they team up with a sexy blonde bombshell.  It could only come from AIP…1973’s “Little Cigars.”

The film begins with gangster’s mistress Cleo (Angel Tompkins) getting ready to fly the coop with as much of her man’s money and valuables as she can.  She makes her way to a small Ohio town and gets herself a job as a waitress.  Meanwhile, a few of her former lover’s goons are on her trail.

One day, a group of five midgets rolls into town to do their traveling show.  Cleo catches the show, which is pretty unspectacular.  It basically consists of the midgets running around in circles for a while.  In actuality, the “act” is just a distraction so that two of the boys can make their way out to the spectators vehicles looking for anything of value.  Cleo spots them doing this and goes to confront them later in the night…in an effort to get back the gun they lifted from her car back.

Slick (Billy Curtis), the head of the team, sees potential for bringing a hot blonde into the “act,” and suggests Cleo join them.  At first she refuses, but when the mob goons catch up with her she changes her mind and hits the road with the midgets.

The rest of the gang (Jerry Maren, Frank Delfino, Felix Silla, and Emery Souza) take a quick liking to Cleo as they go from town to town doing what is essentially a medicine show…trying to sell candy bars that boost your manhood.  What they don’t make in selling re-packaged 3 Musketeers, they get from picking pockets among the crowd.  But Cleo quickly gets frustrated with this small time stuff (pun intended).  She leaves, but Slick tracks her down to a bar where he beats up the other patrons before bringing Cleo back and bedding down with her.

Now, Slick decides to convince the gang that they are ready for the big time.  They begin a series of robberies all across the country.  For their first job, the boys hide out in the trunk of a car which Cleo drops off at a garage for repairs.  When the place closes for the night, they pop out, jump the lone mechanic, and make off with all the dough in the joint.  As the crime spree continues, these guys sneak under turnstiles to rob a movie theater, hide in broccoli crates to get into a grocery store, and flash guns at lots of people…yet for a long while, nobody seems to be looking for a bunch of midgets running around with a centerfold (Tompkins did appear in Playboy the year before this was released).

Soon the cops start to get wise, just in time for the gang’s last big score…of course.  They even round up a bunch of little people for a lineup…I even spotted Angelo Rossitto, Master from Beyond Thunderdome, in there (Two men enter, one man leaves).  Things go bad for the gang when Slick and Cleo have to leave some of the gang behind during the robbery.  But then, revenge is in order for the rest of the boys.

I honestly wonder how little people feel about this movie.  Obviously, they are capable of playing much more than Munckins, Ewoks, and Oompa Loompas.  They are the “heroes” of this story, but the characters are violent criminals…and that’s a bit jarring to see.  These guys are regularly shootin’ up the place, beatin’ people up, and by the end of the film, when the gang has turned on each other, even threatening to rape Cleo.  The movie definitely has a hard edge, but still squeaked by with a PG rating somehow.

The five actors who make up the gang do a fine job, even if they aren’t allowed much opportunity to develop their characters.  Of the gang, only Billy Curtis is really given much in the way of character development.  Giving the other guys a bit more personality would’ve gone a long way.  Angel Tompkins, though, is great as Cleo!  She’s got a sexy quality and hard face that really fits this role.  Plus, she leaves the character somewhat ambiguous.  We never know for sure if she’s really falling for Slick, or just playing another con…which works great!

There are some elements of the story that don’t seem to work.  The whole traveling medicine show bit just seems pretty unbelievable.  Granted, I was only 2 years old in 1973…but I’m just not convinced that that sort of thing was still common-place in the early seventies.  Something in my gut tells me that this screenplay may have originally been set in the 1920’s or 30’s, but budget-conscious AIP deemed a period piece to be too expensive.

There are certainly some elements of “Little Cigars” that are rough around the edges.  It was, after all, produced by AIP at a time where being PC did not enter many people’s minds.  But the movie is fun, and I think could provide the elements of an interesting remake.  A more believable feel could be given to the crime spree story, as well as the romance between Slick and Cleo…tell me Mini Me wouldn’t be all over that!

Satisfaction

In 1985, Michael J Fox provided an unexpected one-two-punch at the box office with the hits “Back to the Future” and “Teen Wolf.”  Up until that point, Fox was mainly known as the star of the hit TV series “Family Ties,” but nobody was expecting him to become the next big movie star.  But when that happened, it was only natural that film producers would look to one of Fox’s co-stars to possibly set the box office on fire as well.  Enter Justine Bateman in 1988’s “Satisfaction.”

Bateman plays Jennie, valedictorian of her high school class and leader of an all girl band.  Her bandmates include drugged out guitarist Billie (Britta Phillips), cleptomaniac drummer Mooch (Trini Alvarado), and dreamgirl bass guitarist Daryle (Julia Roberts…yes THAT Julia Roberts).  The band is gearing up to audition for a summer long gig playing in a club, just off the beach.  Unfortunately, their keyboardist has quit the band right at the last minute.  So, Jennie ends up recruiting her neighbor across the street, classical pianist Nickie (Scott Coffey).

When the band arrives in the wee hours of the night to find an empty club, they fear they have missed their only shot.  So…they do what any decent human being would do, they find the home of the owner and make themselves at home.  The owner is a washed up songwriter, Martin Falcon (Liam Neeson…yes THAT Liam Neeson).  Falcon has been out of the music biz since the death of his wife.  To make a long story short, the band gets the gig in Falcon’s club and starts to settle into life amongst the richies who frequent the beach during the day.

Each of the band members begin to have their challenges as the summer progresses.  Daryle tries desperately to be accepted into high-society as various rich boys pursue her, Billie takes to trying to overdose inbetween gigs, and Mooch dodges angry punks out to get her for stealing their van while Nickie tries to make the moves on her.

But, then there’s Jennie,, who ends up becoming infatuated with Falcon.  Of course, Falcon does nothing to discourage her.  Call me what you will, but having this former music biz big-wig, obviously much older than Jennie, playing along with the crushes of this girl who is just out of high school ends up putting a somewhat creepy vibe over the whole film.

There really isn’t that much more that happens in the film.  There are many scenes of the band playing their songs, and there is a plot element that involves the group possibly getting signed to be an opening act on a European tour…but nothing ever comes of this.  The movie mainly consists of short episodes that don’t have a whole lot to do with each other.

Still, there are some things to like here.  Justine Bateman does a solid job and her smart-girl-who-also-rocks character is interesting.  Trini Alvarado is also good as Mooch.  I found her storyline, part-time thief/rocker chick falls for clean-cut classical pianist, to be interesting.  Oddly enough, the one character that is really not enjoyable is the one played by the actress who is now the biggest name…Julia Roberts.  No one would’ve ever picked her to become America’s Sweetheart based on this film.

Ultimately, I think the movie can’t decide what it wants to be.  Is it a comedy about a working-class band spending the summer playing for the rich folks down at the beach?  It’s  not funny enough for that.  Is it a drama about a smart girl who falls for an older man?  There’s just no focus.  But, the cast is likeable enough to make the trip somewhat enjoyable.