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Fowler’s Flix 01.23.19: That Man Hates These Cans!

Universal Pictures / Shout! Factory
Steve Martin stars as hapless imbecile Navin in the comedy classic "The Jerk."
Fertile Ground Compost Service
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The 70s and especially the 80s, for me at least, produced some of the funniest films ever committed to film and released to a general public.

Over the past few weeks, a few have been released to home video—some I viewed for the 100th time, some I haven’t seen since the original release and, as namely as these flicks are, I’ve never seen at all. This seems like a good a time as any to reevaluate these films, don’t you think?

If you can forgive his performance as Dr. Maxwell Edison in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Steve Martin’s first true chance to showcase his absurdist comedy chops came in Carl Reiner’s 1979 classic The Jerk (Shout! Factory).

Born a “poor black child,” Martin takes the classic rags-to-riches tropes of imbecilic Navin Johnson and gives it a stupidly clever sheen that makes this movie more than infinitely rewatchable.

When Navin leaves his poor Mississippi home for greener pastures across the United States, he has his fair share of misadventures, from romance with Bernadette Peters to legal action from his own real-life director Reiner. Each vignette generously builds on the previous, never once being afraid to reach high for the lowest common denominator of laughs and believe me, there are plenty.

Not as funny but still worth a couple of confused chuckles here and there is Pray TV (Kino Lorber), a 1982 TV movie starring John Ritter and Ned Beatty, which I wholly had confused with Pray TV (also known as KGOD) starring Dabney Coleman, as well as In God We Trust starring Marty Feldman, both from 1980. I guess televangelism was huge that year, and there wasn’t even a Robert Tilton scandal to exploit.

Regardless, this Pray TV finds piously progressive minister John Ritter accepting a gig from one of the biggest televangelists on television. Torn between his newfound celebrity and his need to help his parishioners, Ritter has more of heart-wrenching choice to make, kind of putting the so-called side splitters on ice for a while.

Additionally, this innocuous movie had a huge campaign against it via Jerry Falwell—the more you know!

In 1987, one of the most hyped comedies of the summer, Dragnet (Shout! Factory) was released into theaters with moderate excitement. When it finally came on cable, I got a chance to see it and thought it was moderately entertaining. Over 30 years alter—and many years of the Dragnet TV show under my belt—I now have a definite appreciation of Dan Aykroyd’s straight-laced take on Joe Friday and…that’s about it, really.

I take that back. The story about a local televangelist—them again!—siding with a porn publisher for the harebrained scheme of doubling everyone’s profits, is obviously something Jack Webb never would have done on TV, but Aykroyd and an 80s-era Tom Hanks sure are having a lot of fun with this, with plenty of sex and drug gags to be snorted along the way. I’d say it’s worth a thirty year repeat viewing.

We come full circle and back to Steve Martin in 1988’s uproarious Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Shout! Factory). Partnered with a suave Michael Caine, together they are a couple of high-rolling con-artists bilking the women of France out of thousands of dollars. When they make a high-dollar bet to swindle a large sum of money from a surprising mark, things twist in a darkly apropos way, offering a very deserving finale.

Finally, from 1989 is the supposed classic When Harry Met Sally (Shout! Factory) starring, of course, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. Directed by Rob Reiner at his height of, I guess, his comedic prowess, this tale of two people so clearly in love but instead deciding to be friends is, after 30 years and multiple failed relationships later, a personal bag of hammers to the heart for me to watch.

So I guess the less said about it, the better. Still, at the very least check out The Jerk if you get a moment or two.

Next week: Revisionist westerns ride again!

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About the Author

Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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