Monday, October 20, 2008

Did they really make movies this bad?

I've mentioned some movies that are so bad they're actually fun to watch: Skidoo and Xanadu are two examples of this. Part of what makes them fun is that you can laugh at just how bad they are, and think, "What was everybody thinking when they made this?" Unfortunately, being able to laugh doesn't work as well when the truly bad movie is supposed to be a comedy. And that's the case with the 1959 movie The Rookie, airing at 10:00 AM ET October 21 on the Fox Movie Channel.

Peter Marshall (the same one who would go on to be master of The Hollywood Squares for 15 years) stars alongside his nightclub comedy partner Tommy Noonan in this dismal service comedy. Marshall plays a sergeant in the US Army in 1945, just as the Japanese are about to surrender. Noonan wants to enlist, but with the Japanese surrender, the Army is demobilizing everybody. But, they don't want the bad publicity of turning down somebody who wants to enlist, so they foist him upon poor Marshall, who was just about to be discharged himself (and is about to get married to the hot Julie Newmar, one of the only bright points of the movie).

Things go from bad to worse, not only for viewers, but for Marshall too. Thanks to a comedy of errors that's at best trite, Noonan is led to believe that Newmar is going to marry him, and he's going to go with Marshall to Japan to serve alongside the occupation. However, a mishap on the ship taking them to Japan result in everybody going overboard, and ending up drifting in a liferaft to a small Pacific island where they're the only people to know World War II has actually ended. This is A Bad Thing because there are Japanese soldiers on the island. Worse, however, is that these "Japanese" soldiers are actually Marshall and Noonan playing Japanese soldiers, and doing so by appealing to every single stereotype they could think of. It's shockingly bad. If you've seen a movie like Al Jolson's Wonder Bar, you'll recall the bad blackface scenes in 1920s and 1930s Hollywood, some of which were so over the top that they would be funny if they weren't so offensive. The yellowface scene in The Rookie, on the other hand, is nothing but offensive.

Finally, we have to criticize the Fox Movie Channel. Not for showing the movie, but for the print they show. The last time they aired it, it was for the most part a pan-and-scan version. That is, except for the closing credits, when Marshall and Noonan were put on the Cinemascope diet: the whole widescreen image was squeezed to fit into a 4x3 screen, resulting in the characters looking taller and thinner than they really were, a la Olive Oyl. The FMC's web-site claim that this is going to be the pan-and-scan version again.

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