Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bob Clark, R.I.P.

Filmmaker Bob Clark was killed early this morning in a tragic auto accident that also claimed the life of his 22-year-old son.

Clark boasted one of the strangest filmographies of which I'm aware. From looking at the list of movies he directed, you couldn't be blamed for assuming he was one of the worst filmmakers ever: RHINESTONE, LOOSE CANNONS, BABY GENIUSES, SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2, KARATE DOG, TURK 182. Know this: these movies aren't just bad. They're downright putrid.

However, Clark couldn't possibly have been that rotten a director, at least not always. Because he also has to his credit several absolutely wonderful films, the best known of which is A CHRISTMAS STORY, which has the rare honor of joining classics like MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and HOLIDAY INN as perennials that are repeated constantly at Christmas time. It has touched millions of people, and the man who wrote and directed that film can and should in no way be merely dismissed as the guy who made RHINESTONE.

Other Clark movies include two genuine horror classics--the Vietnam War allegory/zombie flick DEATHDREAM and the suspenseful shocker BLACK CHRISTMAS (which was remade to little acceptance last year)--MURDER BY DECREE, a marvelous Victorian mystery that pits Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson against Jack the Ripper, and PORKY'S, which is not only one of the most influential films ever made, but was also, until last year, the most financially successful Canadian production (in Canada) ever made.

So clearly Bob Clark was someone who, at least at one time, was an important filmmaker to watch for. It's one of cinema's great mysteries how a guy who could make films as brilliant as A CHRISTMAS STORY and BLACK CHRISTMAS could also make films that make Al Adamson look like a visionary. Perhaps that split personality is what made him special. One thing is for certain: no matter his filmmaking skills, he (and his son) were taken from the world far, far too early. And that's a damn shame.

As a sort of tribute, I revisited LOOSE CANNONS tonight, which I actually saw theatrically in Carbondale, Illinois in early 1990, and have watched a couple of times since. Whenever I see it again, I wonder whether it'll be better this time around. But it never is.

To be fair, I don't know how any film with this premise could ever have been good, no matter who was directing it. It's certainly the worst film with a screenplay credit for the legendary science fiction author Richard Matheson, who shares the card with his son, TV writer Richard Christian Matheson, and Clark himself, who obviously "polished" the script. I'd be curious to see an earlier draft, because I'd be surprised if the Mathesons came up with all this nonsense themselves.

The ridiculously labyrinthine plot concerns the effort of neo-Nazis to retrieve a 45-year-old porno movie that shows Adolf Hitler having gay sex and then committing suicide. Von Metz (Robert Prosky), soon to be named chancellor of West Germany, needs to prevent anyone from seeing the film, as it proves the Jewish community's accusations that he was a Hitler ally. The reel lands in the porky hands of sex-club owner Gutterman (played with a cane and earring by Dom DeLuise), who finds himself the target of assassins led by the psycho Grimmer (Paul Koslo).

If that isn't stupid enough, wisecracking Vice detective Mac Stern (Gene Hackman!) is assigned to the case and given a new partner: a former mental patient named Ellis Fielding (Dan Aykroyd) who, whenever faced with violence or stress, takes on a seemingly infinite number of new personalities, including Butch Cassidy, Snagglepuss (!), the Roadrunner, Broderick Crawford, the Church Lady, Peewee Herman and half the cast of STAR TREK. So whenever Ellis and Mac stumble into a gunfight or a car chase, Aykroyd breaks out his C-list of impressions and shamelessly mugs while Hackman looks on with a pained look.

It's one of the most schizophrenic (pardon the pun) action comedies I've ever seen, and I don't know how it got past the pitch stage, except that it was produced by Tri-Star, which made more shitty films than just about any other major Hollywood studio. To be fair to Aykroyd, he's playing an absurd character, and I can't think of any other movie star working in 1989 who could have pulled it off any better, except maybe Robin Williams or John Candy. Hackman, being a pro, tries, but I can't imagine what he thought he could bring to this movie. At least LOOSE CANNONS is fun to spot character actors in, including Ronny Cox, David Alan Grier, S. Epatha Merkerson (LAW & ORDER), Tobin Bell (SAW), Dick O'Neill and a scrumptious Nancy Travis (THREE MEN AND A BABY).

Pitifully enough, LOOSE CANNONS is not the worst film Bob Clark ever directed, but we'll leave SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES for another time.

No comments: