The catchphrase of Allen Funt’s “Candid Camera” television program was always “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!” I suppose that was better than being completely honest with the people being pranked and saying, “Smile, we just made you look like an idiot in front of millions of viewers.” The show began as a radio program, “Candid Microphone,” it then made the move to TV and it just seems to have never gone away. There were even adult themed versions that aired on cable networks like The Playboy Channel. In the early 70’s, Funt produced two Candid Camera style feature films: “What do you say to a Naked Lady” (which was just released as part of the MGM Limited Edition series) and our film for today, 1972’s “Money Talks.”
It goes without saying that there is no story or plot for us to give a run-down of this time. The film consists of various prank segments, most of which have something to do with money. Such as…in what appears to be a Chinese restaurant, a sign is posted that it costs 30 cents to use the bathroom for five minutes. A gentleman with a clipboard monitors the entrance and collects the money. Funt’s camera’s roll to catch the people’s reactions. Another segment involves a man who realizes he has no money with him to pay various street vendors, like a shoe shine man and a flower seller. In lieu of cash, the man offers to do a tap dance in exchange for the goods…since he is a professional dancer.
One of the strangest segments comes late in the film and involves a woman who is hired to answer phones for a mysterious wealthy client. In the course of taking calls, she finds herself fielding questions about how much it costs to put a hit on someone…and if there’s a discount for multiple hits. The woman just goes along with it! Not exactly sure who finds that kind of stuff funny, but I hope they don’t live in my neighborhood.
Some of the gags are very short and simple. One involves a five dollar bill being put under the back wheel of a car and seeing what lengths people will go to in order to get the money. Another involves a woman looking into a store window while a dollar bill is stuck to her rear end. Will people passing on the street actually reach out and grab a stranger’s butt in order to get a buck? The few times I laughed came from some of these shorter gags. For some reason, one in which a guy at a lunch counter snatches other people’s wallets and begins eating their money did strike me as somewhat funny.
Many of these segments are sloppily edited together, coming one right after the other with no explanation of what the setup is. I’ve seen enough of Funt’s TV programs to know that they usually filled the audience in on the joke scenerio…but here we’re left in the dark. In some cases we’re half way through the joke before we realize what’s going on. And these pranks are all over the place. “Money” is way too broad a subject. Funt himself seems to be unclear of what the focus of the film should be as he goes about interviewing people.
I think Funt must’ve felt like he was being wonderfully deep with this whole thing. Like he was saying, “Take a good look at yourselves people! To what depths do you stoop to get a buck?” Of course, Funt completely ignores the fact that he’s no better than the people he captures with his camera. He ain’t doin’ this for free! He’s chosen to make people look like idiots to earn his dough, is that more honorable than a woman and her two buddies trying desperately to free a five dollar bill from under a car’s wheel?
It’s never really clear as to if Funt is trying to make a social commentary of some sort or not. There are several scenes in which he interviews various people about their views on money that seem more like an attempt to make a straight documentary. Some of theses scenes are downright sad. One interview was just heartbreaking as a young woman explains that she has no motivation to work and is perfectly fine with having dumped her 3-year-old daughter off to be raised by a wealthy aunt. When Funt tells her he doesn’t get it she smugly replies, “That’s your head not mine.”
I know I sound like I’m very anti-Alan Funt here…I’m not. I’ve certainly laughed at some of Funt’s programs in the past. But this film is not really funny enough to be a comedy, and if it was intended as social commentary, well, it doesn’t really succeed in saying anything.