Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox

Ugh. Double ugh. My co-worker recommended this wretched Western Comedy to me for God knows what reason. It's dreadful. I've never been a particular fan of Old West comedies in the first place. I tend to find them shrill or juvenile for whatever reason, probably because their lawless, male-centric settings provoke the silliest impulses in screenwriters.

But this is far far worse than most. It makes Mel Gibson's Maverick look like freaking Blazing Saddles in comparison. I'm usually a fan of both George Segal and Goldie Hawn, but not even their best efforts can save this limp, tired, aimless misadventure. I couldn't find a still from the movie worthy of posting along with this entry, as a testament to the lack of enthusiasm throughout the Web for this 1976 dud.

Segal plays Charlie Malloy, known as The Dirtwater Fox, a conman who occasionally takes up with a ruthless band of outlaws. He's just helped the outlaws steal $40,000 in cash, before ditching them with the money and taking off on his own. He's just getting on his way when he's conned out of the money himself by a prostitute known as the Bluebird (Goldie Hawn).

We first meet The Bluebird as she's performing an obnoxious, incredibly long burlesque song full of stupid innuendos along the lines of "enjoy a fuzzy peach, but please don't touch my plums." This is the first of three times director Melvin Frank will make Hawn perform this little number, in one of a variety of humiliations he will visit upon her throughout the movie.

As you could probably guess, the Bluebird (who eventually disguises herself as a Duchess in a brief subplot about marrying into a rich Mormon family...don't ask...) and the Dirtwater Fox join forces to spirit the money away from the outlaws who seek to reclaim it, and fall in love along the way. Did I already remember to say "ugh"? I hope so.

Let's get back to Hawn's character. She's meant to be light and bawdy, like so many other Goldie Hawn characters, but it just doesn't come off here. Prostitution's just not the best comic affectation. Hawn in her prime was bubbly and sexy, but also clever and kind of mysterious. She could turn you on in an instant, but also turn on you, as I recall from one really cool scene in the midst of the otherwise forgettable There's a Girl in My Soup. There was always something going on behind her wide grin. But here, her character's simply a sex object, and kind of an annoying, distracting sex object at that. More than once, she reminded me of Kate Capshaw from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and that's never ever a good thing. (Although, I'll once again say for the record, very few people truly appreciate the genius of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But that's a blog post for another time.)

The joke during all those "Duchess" scenes is how impossible it is for this woman to stop being a sexual object for even five minutes. "Ha ha," we're meant to think, "isn't it ridiculous that this filthy whore is dressed in finery!" It's not funny, really...just, as I said, shrill.

And Segal doesn't fare much better. He's supposed to be, I think, a charming rogue, but as written, the Dirtwater Fox is such a moron, it's hard to sympathize with him. Imagine if Han Solo never said anything clever, treated Chewie like shit, smoked cheap cigars and threw a constant stream of cliched one liners at any piece of ass that passed his way. That's the Dirtwater Fox in a nutshell. Oh, yeah, and there's no Millenium Falcon or Lando Calrissian, either.

The biggest problem with the whole enterprise is that it's not at all funny. None of the jokes work. None. One particularly painful scene finds Hawn (posing as a Duchess) pretending to speak French to the Dirtwater Fox, in front of one of the Mormons. Their French is really English with a series of bad European accents. It goes on FOREVER, and you get the sense about halfway through the scene that Hawn and Segal know the bit isn't working. I'm serious. You can actually see their enthusiasm for the material drain away mid-scene. Farce is hard, no one ever said it wasn't.

I realize I have gone on for a while about how bad this movie is, and not gotten to all the worst stuff. Every single big moment and set-piece in the movie is based around a tired movie cliche. When the characters are tied up, they use glasses to refract sunlight and burn the rope. Whenever the Dirtwater Fox is in a scrape, he whistles for his horse and leaps on to his back. The Fox even cheats at cards by hiding an Ace of Spades up his fucking sleeve. UGH.

Oh, and there's a long and pointless and unfunny scene in which the couple hide from outlaws in a Jewish wedding. Why put this scene in there? It has nothing to do with anything. It's only in there because Melvin Frank must have thought Jews are inherently funny. With that name, I'm thinking he's a Yid himself, and there's nothing inherently anti-Semetic about the scene. It's just random and kind of desperate, which is how the whole movie plays.


berns said...

Very few people appreciate the brilliance of KATE CAPSHAW in "Temple Of Doom" - it's the best Indy movie, and she's my fave Indy girl. She's hot, she's prissy, and she is forced to ride an elephant and pull bugs from her hair while dressed in silk pyjamas that accentuate her knockout figure.

"Temple Of Doom" is SO the best of the Indy movies...

Robin said...

I thought the scene where they were speaking "french" in front of the Morman "smuck-o" was very funny. Part of the humor in this movie was the complete campiness of it....but hey! I just love to laugh and I am a person that looks for a reason to. The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox had some funny when she dropped the "family crests".

Lons said...

Well, Robbie, liking "Duchess" is certainly your perogative. I'm just not a big fan of camp, I suppose. Oh, and not to be a stickler or anything, but in the future, I'd spell it
"schmuck-o"...More Yiddish-ish

paul said...

I cant take anything you say seriously in your stupid bloody write-ups if you're gonna call Jews Yids when recalling the Jewish wedding scene in Duchess/Dirtwater Fox film

You really are quite an ignorant git. That film never claimed to be a masterpiece to some ignoramus like you to not get it. It's a simple film, so you should get it,

Actually the wedding scene I thought was kinda nice. Im guessing you yourself are an anti-semite, and also learn to spell anti-semetic properly. A N T I- S E M I T I C.
Cheers arsehole

Lons said...

Paul, news flash...I'm a Jew. I used "Yid" as a term of affection in this case. Pointedly so, because the entire point of the paragraph is that Melvin Frank is most likely a Jew trafficking in anti-SemItic behavior.

So, yeah, here are my recommendations for futher blog reading:

(1) Develop a sense of humor
(2) Stop being so sensitive
(3) Give up on blogs always containing proper spelling and grammar
(4) If you don't have something interesting or worthwhile to add, shut up

Anonymous said...

before video tape machines i recorded the "shmucko-french" scene on my tape recorder. i thought it was classic comedy. its a fun movie, appreciate it, or not. dont review it like its shindlers list..gimme a break, if i ever meet Goldie i want to tell her how funny that scene is and quote it in front of her!!!

Anonymous said...

The "French Speaking" scene was hilarious and a classic. Anyone who does not laugh at that needs a funny bone transplant - and is a serious "El Smucko".

Anonymous said...

As a stickler for detail myself Schmucko, you may be interested to know that "Yid" is spelled "Jew.

Chewie on that.

Lons said...

A brief explanation of the use of the term "Yid" in the above review for those who continue to be baffled by its presence:

The entire purpose of the paragraph in which this word appears concerns the possibly anti-Semitic filmmaking of a man who is pretty clearly a Jew himself, director Melvin Frank. (As I note in the review, I consider the film arguably anti-Semitic because it depicts a Jewish wedding as a "wacky" situation, thereby inherently framing Jews as "Others" whose customs are strange and therefore comic to "Normal" people.)

To HIGHLIGHT how Frank is employing this type of comedy, I myself use the word "yid" to refer to the director. This is a common satirical practice, to recreate the attitudes or behaviors being mocked in a slightly different situation or from a different perspective, thereby bringing into stark relief the qualities intended for criticism.

I know "yid" is a term that is sometimes used derisively towards Jews. This is why I used it. If I had just said "Jew," the satirical purpose of the sentence would lose its bite. (That purpose being: Jews simply pointing out the "Otherness" of Jews is not funny.) For you see, I discuss the fact that I myself am a Jew on this blog all the time. Therefore (and try to stay with me here), if you found my use of the term "Yid" offensive, YOU AND I AGREE ABOUT DUCHESS AND THE DIRTWATER FOX? Is a scene mocking Jews for being Jews any less offensive because the script does not include any individual mean words?

Additionally, because the term "yid" is no longer commonplace, I hoped it would serve to emphasize how old-fashioned and out of date the stereotypes played out in the film's "Jew Jokes" really are. Just as it would seem ridiculous, pointless and "of another era" to call a contemporary Jewish person a "yid," so is it shameful and ridiculous to make a film predicated upon Jewish-ritual-as-comedy. (Or, for that matter, Mormon ritual.)

I hope this has been enlightening for you, and that in future responses to posts on this and other blogs, your comments are more carefully considered. If you'd like to learn more about satirical or humorous writing style and techniques, consult your local library.

Anonymous said...

I was a cast member of "Dutchess". We filmed in Colorado with numerous scenes in Central City and in the Oxford Hotel in Denver. I must tell you that the script was being rewritten during filming and the general atmosphere was one of chaos. Melvin Frank was not in the best of health during the shoot, and the Assistant Directors were doing much of the work.
I was primarily in the Jewish wedding scene and it was mostly inmprov. If you note, the song Hava Nagila is being sung by the wedding guests. I volunteered to fetch skullcaps from a local synagogue for the cast members in the scene. I spoke with Mr. Frank and mentioned that Hava Nagila was written in the 1900s, much later than the time frame of the film, but he wasn't concerned with historical detail. Other cast members and I concluded that this film was simply a rauchous farce. The premiere was in Denver. Cast members arrived in special vehicles Old time cars and firetrucks) None of the principles attended. We were dismyed with the film's abrupt ending. an interesting experience observing a hollywood production team in action trying to make the best of a silly film that needed a stronger script and a healthier director. Randall Burns

Anonymous said...

actually the mormon hiring scene and the french speaking schtick stuff was a little creepy. the duchess hiring scene, coach ride and premise after that were anti-mormon.

the jewish wedding thing looked like a campy version of a weepy fiddler on the roof spoof.

i am not a mormon, not a jew, not anti-mormon nor anti-semitic.

just a creepy bunch; mawkishly hugging your weird religio-centric views of the world.

"if you like me you're ok, if you speak against me i'll kill you"

Anonymous said...

why not just sit back and just enjoy it for a good laugh
i feel really sorry for lons
what a pity to hate this funny film
or does he just hate life

muebles rioja said...

In my opinion one and all should browse on this.

Anonymous said...

Lons has a superiority complex, and finds joy in pointing out the shortcomings of others. I'm surprised to see such thought given to such an insignificant flick. It's cute...its from a time when slight comical Jewish themes in movies was wanted. If you can introduce anything through comedy, it had a greater chance of being accepted in the hearts of the masses. So they stuck it in all over the place on the 70s, who cares why or how...its a goofy movie, + Lons...It's really not such a big film that it deserves to be analyzed so. I'm all pins + needles about ur review of 'vampires suck' in 40 years...hey I know...give one of it reviews on the bible. That oughta keep u busy, and people might actually give ashit. Oh + I'm typing from a phone, so please dont stress urself out correcting my spelling + grammer. No one gives ashit. LOL

Anonymous said...

The Buddha got it right some 2,600 years ago - it's the old age, sickness, and death that are real, and hard to deal with. The opposite end of the spectrum is when you're young, falling in love, and, perhaps, getting married - when life seems so wonderful. I heard Hava Nagila for the first time in this movie and fell in love with the tune. Then there is the amazing next number that starts, "Touch me tenderly now" - I would love to find where that song comes from - if anyone knows it please let me know. To me that is the highlight of the movie - when the focus shifts away from the Jewish wedding backdrop to the two main characters, who stop playing roles, drop the charade, and genuinely fall in love...and all the other silliness can be forgiven as youthful indiscretion.

Liam said...

I have watched this film on DVD for probably the 20th time over the years and enjoy it just as much each time. What's wrong with all the folk with very negative comments?