Sunday, April 21, 2013

Film classics of the 20th Century


Among the classic films the US has produced is Outrageous Fortune -- a rare thing, a Touchstone Picture that is actually funny.  That 1987 classic is directed by Arthur Hiller from a script by Leslie Dixon.  It pairs Bette Midler and Shelley Long for comic gold.  What's the film about?

Bette Midler: Some guys are chasing us 'cause one of them stole a virus that's going to kill and destroy all the plants and all the trees for thousands of miles all the way around.  We stole it back. So now they're trying to kill us.  You get it?

George Carlin:  Jesus, the sixties were good to you, weren't they?

Yes, the always hilarious Carlin is in the cast.  So are Peter Coyote, John Schuck and Florence Stanley.

In this caper film, Shelley Long is an actress wanting to train with a master teacher (who is, in fact, a KGB agent) and Bette Midler decides she'll do it as well.  Uptight Long and foul-mouthed Midler are at odds and have nothing in common -- they think.  But both are sleeping with a spy played by Peter Coyote.


They discovered this when Coyote dies and they both go to see the body -- only to realize that he's not dead, this isn't his corpse.

In real time, Kevin Thomas (Los Angeles Times) observed:

Debuting writer Leslie Dixon has come up with a female bonding movie in "Outrageous Fortune" that allows Long and Midler to be sensational together and as individual presences. Under Arthur Hiller's direction, "Outrageous Fortune" has the smart, raucous drive of Touchstone's previous hits "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" and "Ruthless People," but don't expect the satirical thrust of those movies. This is a very broad comedy-adventure, pure and simple, in which the laughs come with gratifying regularity, much as they did in Hiller's "The In-Laws" and "Silver Streak." (There are deft touches, however, particularly in the beginning.)
Carrie Rickey (Philadelphia Inquirer) noted, "Written by Leslie Dixon, Outrageous Fortune's truly outrageous script goes below the belt - and comes up with belly laughs."  Yes, boys and girls, long, long before a word of Bridesmaids was ever written, Leslie Dixon was doing what Kristen Wiig supposedly invented.   Pauline Kael noted in her 1987 New Yorker review the film was "an old-Hollywood chase comedy repackaged with what is being called 'female raunch' -- i.e., comparative anatomy." 

Karen Hollinger explains in her book In The Company Of Women:  Contemporary Female Friendship Films, "Dixon, in fact, took over the screenwriting project from a group of male writers who were unable to complete the script.  The success of Dixon's screenplay can be attributed to her combination of female friendship with the male buddy plot formula."  And Daniel Stephens (Top 10 Films UK) observed last November:

Both Midler and Long are clearly having a great time with their roles, their creative freedom allowing them to play off each other. Midler was rightly nominated for a Golden Globe but Long is equally as impressive. There’s a wonderful scene when Long uses her acting ability to con a couple of drug dealers into revealing Sanders’ whereabouts, the intrepid twosome becoming Cagney and Lacey for a brief moment. Long also leads from the front when attempting to pull the wool over the eyes of an airline desk clerk while trying to gain information of Sanders’ flight. The pair are also equally funny when they dress up as hormone-riddled teenage boys to get access to a flea-bitten brothel where they believe their man might be hiding. Midler and Long are a perfect fit, their individual talents combining to create one of the best “buddy” combinations of the 1980s. It is also refreshing to see two women given both the platform and the freedom to excel in a genre overpopulated by male pairings.

To track down their lover and confront him, they have to find him, and that requires a trip to New Mexico, help from Native Americans, cross-dressing to enter a brothel and much more.


Shelley Long:  Honey, I'm an actress.  I love to dress up and pretend.  And the hat is fabulous. But what we need right now, is to find a man.

George Carlin:  Well, okay.  It's not going to be that great.  I'm a little bombed.

Shelley Long:  What?

George Carlin:  And it's still 20 dollars.

Shelley Long: No, no, no, no.  We're looking for a specific man.

Bette Midler:  So we can kill him.

George Carlin: Oh, then you need a witness.  Hey, I'll stand up for you in court.  "I saw the whole thing.  It was an accident.  The axe slipped out of your hand."


Whether Bette knows it or not, she never had a better comic partner in film than Shelley Long.  (That includes the very funny First Wives Club where the three leads were too often off in their own storylines.)  It's a testament to the ongoing sexism in the world of film that no effort was made to reteam Long and Midler after their box office hit and despite efforts by Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton to kick-start a project for the three of them after their blockbuster, no effort was made to reteam the three of them.

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