Wednesday, January 22, 2014

John Goldfarb, please stay over there!

When I blogged about Dondi back in April 2011, I had nothing but bad words to say about it. A movie that gives Dondi a run for its money in sheer awfulness despite having stars and presumably a big enough budget is John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!, which is airing on the Fox Movie Channel tomorrow at 3:00 AM and repeated at 11:00 AM.

John "Wrong Way" Goldfarb, played by Richard Crenna, is an Air Force pilot, whom we see at the beginning of the movie running into journalist Jenny Ericson (Shirley MacLaine) in a government building in Washington. She gave him the nickname "Wrong Way" some years back when, as a college football player, he ran the wrong way on the football field. However, he's had a series of similar incidents in his career since then, and he's none too happy about running into Jenny. Goldfarb is being asked by the CIA and its head, Heinous Overreach (Fred Clark) to go on a U2 reconnaisance mission over the Soviet Union. Jenny, for her part, is trying to get info on the US relationship with the Arab oil sheikhdoms. In a plot twist, Jenny's editor decides the best story for her to get involves going undercover in a harem in one of those countries, taking clandestine photos and using US diplomatic channels to get those photos out.

Jenny gets sent to Fawzia, which is run by King Fawz (Peter Ustinov). He's got a son, Prince Ammud, who is going to college over in the States -- specifically Notre Dame -- and has taken up football. So King Fawz has decided to use hsi petrodollars to help start a football program to be Ammud's plaything, although the longer-term goal seems to be getting Notre Dame to come over to Fawzia to play a game.

Thanks to John Goldfarb's nickname, and the title of the movie, you can probably guess what happens next. He has problems with his plane, and instead of going over the Soviet Union, he ends up over Arabia, being forced to make an emergency landing... in Fawzia. Imagine his surprise when he first meets Jenny as a harem girl. The authorities back in Washington are trying to figure out a way to get John Goldfarb back to the US without creating an internatinoal incident, which is tough since they don't even know where he landed! Meanwhile, Goldfarb and Jenny, who aren't exactly the best of friends, are trying to figure ways out of their predicaments. Goldfarb's has been made much more dificult by the fact that King Fawz has learned the Goldfarb played football. Fawz makes him the coach of the "University of Fawzia" football program, and expects him to lead the team to victory over Notre Dame -- or else.

Where to begin with how this film fails spectacularly? I think I'd pick Peter Ustinov, who shows up before the other problems. I've never been a particularly big fan of Ustinov's work, as I've always gotten the impression that someplace just below the surface, there are antics about to break out. Those antics break out here, and in a very bad way; he's far more irritating than the worst Jerry Lewis parody, or even the tic-ridden Dr. Strangelove character (in Peter Sellers' defense, the other two characters he plays in the movie are done well). Fawz's harem looks like it's taken out of one of those Bob Hope movies from the same era: somebody's stereotyped misconcetion of what a king's harem would be mixed with an attempt to be hip for the 1960s. Some people might find it offensive; I only found it dumb. And then there's the football game that climaxes the movie. Here, it looks like the filmmakers were trying to take what the Harlem Globetrotters do in basketball, and transfer it to the football field. A lot of Hollywood's portrayals of football are unrealistic; this one is simply an insult to viewers' intelligence, regardless of whether those viewers are football fans or not. The closest part to a redeeming aspect of the movie is the government flunkies back in Washington. In addition to the already mentioned Fred Clark, there's Richard Deacon from The Dick Van Dyke Show as the Secretary of Defense; Harry Morgan from M*A*S*H as the Secretary of State; and Jim Backus of Gilligan's Island as the State Department's Middle East expert. Even here, though, these characters are used for the standard tropes about US incompetence in foreign affairs.

All in all, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! is terrible on so many levels. But, as always, you might want to watch and judge for yourself. I don't think this one is on DVD, so you'll have to catch the FMC airings.

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