Tag Archives: Paul Williams

The Set of 400: #5 – My Favorite Sadly Temporary Side Effect

Today! Because it’s not often you see a guy that green have the blues that bad –

The Muppet Movie (1979)

Directed by James Frawley

Starring Jim Henson (x3), Frank Oz (x10), Dave Goelz (x7), Richard Hunt (x3), Jerry Nelson (x6), Charles Durning (x4), Austin Pendleton (x2), Orson Welles (x5), Cloris Leachman (x6), Dom DeLuise (x8), Steve Martin (x7), Richard Pryor, Bob Hope, Milton Berle (x3), Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, Elliott Gould (x5), James Coburn (x4), Carol Kane (x6), Madeline Kahn (x9), Mel Brooks (x6), Telly Savalas, Paul Williams (x3), Bruce Kirby (x2), Caroll Spinney (x2), Scott Walker

The gold standard of Muppet productions. The zenith of the entire franchise. The culmination of nearly 25 years of Mr. the Frog’s place in the cultural landscape, beginning way back with Sam & Friends in 1955. After this, and the subsequent completion of The Muppet Show’s dynamite five year run, the felt gang would achieve superstardom few puppets have entertained before or since. A groundbreaking, world-altering comedy/musical motion picture unduplicated in success or popularity through the entire course of human history. The Muppet Movie is the greatest thing ever produced by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Kermit, for one, is stunned by this adulation

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The Set of 400: #54 – My Favorite Death by Pies

Today! Because I gave up yesterday/But they still want more –

Bugsy Malone (1976)

Directed by Alan Parker (x2)

Starring Scott Baio, Jodie Foster (x3), Florence Garland, John Cassisi, Martin Lev, Paul Murphy, Sheridan Earl Russell, Albin Jenkins, Dexter Fletcher

My favorite modern-ish, live-action, non-puppet led musical, Bugsy Malone is nonetheless anything but conventional, what with its world of 1920s child gangsters belting out grown-up songs with adult dubbed voices. If you’ve never seen it, it is a pretty jarring choice, but again, these aren’t really children’s songs, so it works more than it doesn’t. The film, however, is very definitely a kid’s movie, and so may not seem like an obvious first time pickup for the adults out there. But if you somehow avoided Bugsy Malone all these years, you owe it to yourself to see this glorious bit of filmmaking.

First off, and most notably, you have Jodie Foster – the greatest child actor of them all – as the third lead. This is her second list film from 1976, neither of which are Taxi Driver, and while she’s easily the most talented person in the film, it’s hard for me to immediately hand over that MVP. Chachi/Bob Loblaw Scott Baio gives her a solid run as the title good guy mobster, everyone’s pal Bugsy, while the competing mob bosses – John Cassisi’s Fat Sam and Martin Lev’s Dandy Dan – are equally terrific in their opposing comic styles. Hell, actor/director Dexter Fletcher (who completed Bohemian Rhapsody once Singer got canned, and then helmed Rocketman, which hasn’t been released as of this writing, so I don’t know if that’s a positive or not) has a terrific, brief role as Baby Face. The child actor cast is first rate. Even the much maligned Florence Garland (who was thrust into the lead as Blousey when the previous actress grew too tall) gives a pretty game effort, even if she’s a bit unsuited to play opposite Baio so much.

Oh my God, how cute are these little criminal shits?

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The Set of 400: #77 – My Favorite Face Plunger

Today! Because I was not myself last night/Couldn’t set things right with apologies or flowers –

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Directed by Brian De Palma (x3)

Starring William Finley, Paul Williams (x2), Jessica Harper (x2), Gerrit Graham, George Memmoli, Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor, Peter Elbling

Despite being a lifelong Paul Williams fan – who lands fully three musicals in my top 100, er, 77 films – Phantom of the Paradise didn’t get onto my radar for a very long time. In fact, and in fairness, it probably shouldn’t have even been eligible for this list, as I only first saw it a few years ago, almost certainly since the release cut-off date I used for new movies. But I’m exploiting the loophole wherein that rule only applies to new movies, not when I first saw them, plus it’s my list, and who gives a shit? So welcome to the countdown, Winslow!

I have no good sense of what Phantom of the Paradise‘s place is in the world. I don’t remember ever hearing of it before I saw it – I’m pretty dismissive of De Palma films, even if this is his third appearance on this list – but the fact that this is a full blown Williams musical is more surprising it didn’t come up at some point. And I mean, it is pretty bizarro stuff. This Phantom of the Opera/Faust mash-up, updated for the ’70s, is part parody to be sure, but also part horror movie, as a lot of the goings on are played very seriously, after a point. Plus again, there are like ten songs, which don’t always perfectly fit with the plot or the film in general, as they vary from total Broadway to surf rock, and it’s kind of a low budget affair. So I get the feeling this movie is way off in the cult realm, if anywhere.

The aforementioned face plunger

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The Set of 400: #273 – My Favorite Cabbie Bias

Today! Because I’m using rented bullets for my gun. We’ve all got problems –

The Cheap Detective (1978)

Directed by Robert Moore

Starring Peter Falk, Madeline Kahn, John Houseman, Stockard Channing, James Coco (x2), Eileen Brennan, Dom DeLuise (x3), Louise Fletcher, Marsha Mason, Abe Vigoda, Vic Tayback, David Ogden Stiers, Scatman Crothers (x2), Nicol Williamson, Paul Williams, Phil Silvers, Fernando Lamas, Sid Caesar, Ann-Margret, James Cromwell, Jonathan Banks (x2)

A spiritual sequel to the zany Neil Simon comedy Murder By Death, The Cheap Detective is a more direct parody than its predecessor, taking Peter Falk’s twisted Bogart impression and slamming Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and The Big Sleep together into one silly 1940’s San Francisco mystery, replete with Nazis, secret identities, Romanians, stolen treasure, and an acronymed pseudo-villain named Vladimir Tserijemiwtz, which works out to Ezra C.V. Mildew Dezire Jr.!

Many members of the large cast appeared in Murder By Death as well, including Coco, Brennan, and Cromwell, but Falk’s is the only character transplanted over more or less intact, even with a different name (Lou Peckinpaugh here, Sam Diamond in Murder). These movies are in the rare group of Neil Simon screenplays that weren’t adapted from his stage plays, which includes The Out-of-Towners, The Goodbye Girl, and Seems Like Old Times. They do, however, have that indefinable Neil Simon-ness about their jokes, which mostly land, even if they can verge into mild racism here and there. Ah, the 1970s!

And some vintage Sid Caesar shtick!

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