Today! Because I am the worst case scenario of Thomas Jefferson’s dream –
My Blue Heaven (1990)
Directed by Herbert Ross
Starring Steve Martin (x4), Rick Moranis, Carol Kane, Bill Irwin (x3), Joan Cusack, Melanie Mayron, William Hickey (x2), Daniel Stern, Ed Lauter, Colleen Camp, Deborah Rush, Jesse Bradford, Julie Bovasso, Gordon Currie, Carol Ann Susi, Ellen Albertini Dow (x3)
The third of the three comedies they’d appear in (if you don’t count Rick’s uncredited cameo in L.A. Story), My Blue Heaven makes the most out of teaming Martin and Moranis. Parenthood is more drama than comedy and Little Shop of Horrors only has them together briefly, but My Blue Heaven gives them a pair of conflicting, two-ish dimensional characters and let’s them run. Martin’s witness protected gangster Vinnie needs to stay out of trouble until the trial, and Moranis’s FBI agent Barney Coopersmith is tasked with handling him, to great comic effect.
While Moranis seems obviously suited for the nerdy G-man role, Martin as a slick Italian gangster doesn’t immediately sound right. In fact, Martin originally was supposed to play Barney, but after someone (Schwarzenegger? That can’t be right) dropped out, he switched roles and they brought in Moranis. Genius move! Both are playing extreme stereotyped versions of these parts – they weren’t aiming for a gritty mob film with comedic touches, it’s a wall-to-wall comedy – and their interplay, as well as their romantic entanglements, provide for a solidly underrated gem all around.
Lots of memorable supporting performances abound as well – William Hickey as an aged mobster also in witness protection, leading Vinnie astray, Joan Cusack’s typically brilliant work, here as the somewhat humorless object of Barney’s affections, and the great Bill Irwin, as Barney’s fellow desk jockey FBI guy itching for stakeouts and undercover work. Taking this okay-at-best premise and filling it with talent sure helped in smoothing over some of the janky sequences – the ending is particularly wild. It’s not totally out of left field, given the wackiness of the movie in general, but it can feel a bit all over the place at times.
As another fun bit of circumstance, this movie was released within a month of Goodfellas and both can be traced to Nicolas Pileggi’s Henry Hill biography Wiseguy – the Scorsese film functioning as the direct adaptation of the book, and this as the potential comedic sequel set after the events of the biopic. I’m guessing watching them one after the other wouldn’t produce a cohesive result, but it’s still a fun exercise in cinematic synergy, no?
1990, hmm? Yep, this was another one I saw to death on cable growing up. Why didn’t I go outside more in the early ’90s? Hell, why don’t I go outside more now? Busy writing! Goodfellas would win all the awards, leaving My Blue Heaven with bupkis, so let’s hand over a Best Arugula Shoutout, for Vinnie’s great trip to the grocery store, set to the tune of The Ad Libs’ “The Boy From New York City.”
Hickey, so great as the voice of Dr. Finklestein in #379 Nightmare Before Christmas, becomes our 250th Two-Timer today! Man, we’re going to need to rent out a stadium for inaugurations soon! We also ring Three-Timers up to 64 today, with Irwin (#365 Popeye, #276 Hot Shots!) and Ellen Albertini Dow (#389 Memoirs of an Invisible Man, #348 Road Trip), and induct our 10th Four-Timer with Mr. Martin, having previously appeared in #373 Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, #266 The Jerk, and #302 Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.
Bill Irwin’s dancing in this scene is everything.