Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Foul Play: Late-70s flashback

Written by Cathy of Alex

I was browsing the “On Demand” offerings a while back and turned my attention to the “Free Movies” category. Occasionally, I can find an interesting freebie to select.

Foul Play from 1978 was one of the free offerings. I’ve not seen Foul Play for what must be, at least, 10 years.

I was 10 when Foul Play came out. My parents wouldn’t let me see it. I can’t remember if it was an R. In any event, my parents monitored by theater going pretty closely. The first time I saw it was on an evening movie offering, probably something like “CBS Night at the Movies” a year after it was theatrically released. I watched it with my friend Ann in her cool basement and we sat on her water bed. A typically cool, finished, 70s basement. Stereo, basement rotary phone (green), paneled walls, “Toy in the Attic”.

I seem to remember the movie did well at the box office.

It involves Goldie Hawn’s librarian character, unwittingly (you didn’t think she was playing a rocket scientist did you?), stumbling onto a plot to assasinate the Pope (a fictitious Pope Pius XIII) by a “Tax the Churches League”. There’s an albino, a dwarf, Gilbert & Sullivan, “Stayin’ Alive” and two songs, (yes two songs!) by Barry Manilow (who was hot then like Lionel Ritchie was in the 80s and T.I. today!)

It was interesting to view it again. I thought it was hilarious that the intro to the film “On Demand” was the TCM Movie Classics bit with Ben Mankiewicz. Alec Baldwin must have been out of the country or busy doing the “Marriage Ref”. Seriously, Foul Play is worthy of a TCM opening bit? It’s a classic? It’s even THAT good? No.

It’s a classic in the sense that it’s a cultural artifact. It’s SO 70s. I amused myself with the dialogue, the singles bar, the music (Barry Manilow-you know how down I am with The Nose! Would “Weekend In New England have been a better musical choice?), the reel-to-reel players, the wicker, the ferns, the alka-seltzer commercial plays on a TV in one scene (Plop, plop, fizz, fizz), the John Denver look alike, the big floral couch fabric with matching curtains, the plaid sport coats, the wide lapels, pantie lines, zebra striped sheets, cross hatch head boards, chest hair, and Dudley Moore still can’t get laid.

There’s also the bizarro alternate reality of how a drop dead BLONDE babe like Goldie Hawn is supposed to be believable as a dowdy librarian who can’t find a date in San Francisco(shockingly there appear to be no gay men in San Francisco-another bizarro tidbit). She drives up the coast in a VW convertible with the top UP (probably supposed to be a reference to her seeming uptightness-yet she never wears a bra in the entire movie). Oh, did I mention Chevy Chase (for the love of humanity) is supposed to be sexy cop? (except he looks like a complete doofus with a pseudo comb-over. I thought he was hotter in the National Lampoon films). Also, Hawn lives in an apartment that NO public librarian I’ve ever known could afford. Chase is supposed to be an “on the outs with the sarge cop who lives on a houseboat”, surely “Miami Vice” stole their ideas from Foul Play! Chase’s houseboat bachelor pad, crushingly, lacks a beanbag cushion or an egg chair. Seriously, I’m crushed when I don’t see either of those in a 70s film. I was waiting for Chase to pull out a shag rake and invite Hawn to help him comb his rug! ROFL! See, I should write B movie dialogue!!!.

Foul Play is supposed to be a Hitchcockian homage of some kind. I’ve seen the movie several times and I never picked up on the Hitchcock references. It could be because I was young when I first saw the film or it could be that the Hitchcock references are so subtle. Ok, they are really bad and so obvious that it’s almost groan inducing. Friends, when you are going to do The Master of Suspense you better load for bear not bunnies.

The movie is actually really bad. It’s not even funny overall. However, there are a couple unwitting howlers. “I never knew there was such diversity!”: Hawn about Moore’s blow-up doll collection. The midget Bible salesman was told by Hawn’s PASTOR to go see her? Huh? Never saw that comin’. Hawn’s ultra feminist friend who thinks every man is a rapist in disguise (also very 70s) wears a neon colored, sateen, leotard top to the police station (Remembering that fashion trend I just about died laughing)

Astonishingly, this a film about SAN FRANCISCO in the 70s and no one smokes a joint!! Now, how believeable is that? I definitely think it probably helps to be stoned to view this film. Smoke a big bowl, order some pizza and eat a whole bag of Doritos…ok, where was I? Oh, yes. There is a scene where Chase’s character invites Hawn to smoke a joint with him and she says “No, I don’t do that anymore” Not exactly “Just say no” but we have to know that at some point in her life she was wild and crazy, right?

The Pope in this film is either a dithering idiot or a really kind and gentle man. Like the 70’s he is who he is-no judgement on it! Something for everyone in this film. This/that. It’s by no means an anti-Catholic film. It’s not a pro-Catholic film either. See, like the 70s, it makes no stand. Like the entire decade: not militant like the 60s, not small government, right-wing reassertion like the 80s. It’s just there. In the moment-like this movie.

It is interesting to compare the career of Goldie Hawn with that of her daughter Kate Hudson. Will their early films be their best roles? They both specialize in light, romantic, adventure fare. Neither of them met a foundation undergarment they could stand to wear. Neither of them smoke in their films, curious as Hawn is still a heavy smoker and Hudson smokes as well. Hawn gets caught on camera looking longingly at a pack of Marlboros. I think Hawn has had the same hair style for her whole life.

See Foul Play as a cultural artifact of the late-70s make a party of out it! A drinking game might be fun too! Every time “Ready to Take a Chance Again” comes on either sung or on the soundtrack as an orchestral number take a drink. You’ll be bombed within an hour.


  1. I thought it was riveting. Seriously, the only part I remember is Dudley Moore and the blow-up doll scene. I wonder why that is?

    I wonder if Mitchell would let me do a revue of Warhol's "Trash"? Just thinking out loud.

  2. Ter: Sure, I've already brought the blog down a notch! :-)

  3. Sorry, never saw it.
    Barry Manilow was one of my musical heroes in the '70s. I tried to play his music on the piano...never tried to sing it.
    Well, that's it for me.
    I'm a pop-culture "zero"...too bad for me:<)!

  4. Nazareth Priest: I bet those social evenings in your community hall are a riot! :-)


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