We now move into an era of filmmaking I know little about. With very few exceptions, I stopped seeing new movies after about 1980. My interests turned backwards through film history, rather than forward. Of these five movies, only “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad” (1988) was familiar to me. And that was because I had enjoyed the four episode TV series “Police Squad” that aired in 1982. Regarding the movies that were new to me: With “Top Secret!” (1984), it was interesting to see how ZAZ handled a transitional event between “Police Squad” and “Naked Gun.” I did not consider it to meet the level of either of those efforts, but it did have its moments. Two films on the list surprised me: “Sidewalk Stories” (1989) and “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004). “Sidewalk Stories” was a compelling story, effectively told (after I saw it, I learned it was a remake of Chaplin’s “The Kid” from 1921). I’m not a big fan of “social commentary” films, but it moved me emotionally. This seems like a movie that just barely fits our definition of slapstick, but I am glad I saw it. I was fully prepared to dislike “Anchorman” just on the basis of its initial popularity and its lasting impact on pop culture, but I enjoyed it in spite of myself. My first surprise was to see Christina Applegate as co-star. She is a skilled comedienne who honed her craft on the TV series “Married...With Children” (1986-1996). My second surprise was that the comedy held up throughout the film. There was no question about this movie fitting the definition of slapstick -- all the elements were present. It won’t make my list of favorites, but I would watch it again.
That covers all but “Strange Brew” (1983). I have mixed feelings about this movie. I remember watching SCTV at the time and found the MacKenzie Brothers skits to be the best part of it. But I quickly came to feel that it was a simple routine that was weakened by repetition. By the time the movie came out, I was indifferent to it and never saw it. When watching the film, I had a slight wave of nostalgic enthusiasm, but it faded quickly to my earlier indifference. Clearly, it fits the definition of slapstick, but it didn’t hit the comic heights of “Naked Gun,” which is our other TV to movie translation. Two thoughts come to mind: First, this is an example of the change in target audience that took place after the imposition of the new production code in 1968. Before the new code, films had to be approved for general audiences of all ages. But after the change, films were created to appeal to specific demographic groups with different levels of maturity. Ironically, this “higher level of maturity” resulted in creating more juvenile films like this one -- films that had limited appeal to begin with and that do not age well. Second, this “TV to movie” attempt reminds me of the many movies in the forties that attempted to bring radio shows to movies. Shows, such as “Fibber McGee & Molly,” “The Great Gildersleeve” and “The Life of Riley,” were translated to film in an attempt to capitalize on their radio popularity. Each of these efforts resulted in mediocre films that failed to recreate the spirit of the original show. Their primary appeal was to fans of the shows, as it was a chance to see what had previously only been heard. “Strange Brew” seems like this, as it was obviously made to capitalize on their TV popularity. As an aside: I think the only really successful “translation” of radio characters to movies was ventriloquist Edgar Bergen & his dummy Charlie McCarthy teaming with W. C. Fields in “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man” (1939). This movie brought to film the famous “radio feud” between Fields and McCarthy that played out on “The Chase & Sanborn Hour” during the 1937 broadcast season.