TV shows that are spin-offs of popular movies are a fairly regular occurrence. However, few become big hits on the small screen. For every “M*A*S*H” you end up with a dozen of “My Big Fat Greek Life’s” The 1967 film “Good Times” did not lead to the Norman Lear sitcom of the same name. However, it very likely helped lead to another big TV hit of the 70’s…”The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.” This staring debut for the future Academy award winner, and her future US congressman husband, is very similar in style to the variety show they would later produce. And oddly enough, at the same time that show was lighting up the airwaves, the first-time director of this film, William Friedkin, would be bringing new meaning to the phrase “projectile vomiting” with “The Exorcist.”
In “Good Times” Sonny and Cher play themselves. They are enjoying life as the latest music sensation when a telegram arrives inviting them to be in a movie. Sonny goes to visit the strange producer of this project, Mr. Mordicus (George Sanders). Mordicus has a script ready to go, and is wanting to shoot in just a few days, but he needs his stars. Sonny agrees to the project, but he wants some input on the story. However, Mordicus actually has no intention of allowing Sonny to help shape the story.
From there, most of the movie consists of Sonny imagining himself in various types of movies. First he imagines himself in a western as a klutzy sheriff, with Cher as a saloon gal. Later he pictures himself as a Tarzan-type jungle hero, with Cher as his resident Jane. Finally, he pictures himself as a Sam Spade style gumshoe. In all of these fantasy sequences, Mr Mordicus ends up appearing as the bad guy. Various Sonny & Cher hits and not-hits provide regular musical interludes throughout the film.
What’s interesting is that in the end, the couple decides not to do Mordicus’ film because they don’t want to look silly…yet what makes this film work is that Sonny and Cher were not afraid to look silly. Make no mistake, Sonny Bono carefully crafted their image. The sexy siren with powerful pipes…and the guy who you look at and say, “now what’s she see in him?” It works to such great effect. Yes, the skits are corny…but the stars are just so darn likable. I found myself laughing quite a bit. Cher looks great and sounds great…and you can’t help rooting for good ole Sonny.
I suppose it’s become easy to forget that Sonny & Cher were gifted comedically as well as musically. We think of the break up of their marriage, Cher moving to more dramatic roles, her outrageous outfits, Sonny’s tragic death…we forget that these two made us laugh. I mean think about it, this film was made in 1967, a turbulent time. For many music artists of the day, the last thing on their minds was making people smile. But these two said, “have a laugh at our expense”…45 years later, the film is still a breath of fresh air.
You’ve gotta give a lot of credit to director William Friedkin, as well. He employs a great deal of visual creativity especially in the musical sequences. The interesting camera angles and composition are well above the pay grade of what you’d expect for a 60’s teeny bopper flick. It seems strange to say he had a playful approach to the film…the man who terrified the world a mere six years later.