Gem Films


 

When I was younger I would divide films into two categories: the science fiction heavyweights and the rest. That's how much the tiny number of heavyweight science fiction films of my youth meant to me. More recently I've come up with the concept of "gem films".

Here's the definition of a gem film: Suppose you are in a movie shop - suppose they still exist - and you point to a film for your friend. You would not do this for Inception, because your friend would already know about this. A gem film is one whose qualities are not widely known. For me, examples of gem films are What's New Pussy Cat, the excellent first half of The Great Race, and animated film Jimmy Neutron. Gem films do not have to be great; they just have to have some noteworthy quality to them. Gloomy Sunday is a good romance with a morbid edge set during World War II. Hard Eight (Siskel and Ebert) is an unsexy film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson about scummy people in Las Vegas. I don't know how good it is, but it's a film I would want to point out to people.

Maybe "gem film" is more useful as a concept than a classification system. Is old anime film Locke the Superman a good film? Is The Dark Crystal not well known? Are the superlative shorts made by Winnipeg animator Richard Condie considered films? When it comes to gem films, Exhibit A is a 1976 comedy called Drive In.
 
 

Drive In trailer / IMDB / entire film


 

Drive In ("Draav In", in Texanese) is something I caught on television decades ago during my channel flipping youth. This seemed like a film from another age even when I originally watched it, which was no more than ten years after it came out. It was charming yet not exactly family friendly. It was fun and a little different. It left a mark on me, a half-forgotten gem film. The film is currently on YouTube. Was it as good as I remembered it?
 
 


 
 

I don't want to portray this film as excellent, but it is certainly worth checking out. During the first half there were a couple of moments there where I said, "I'm in love - with a film!".

What's attractive about the film? It has charm. It has comedy, including some slapstick (if you look closely there's some stunt work). It has young people, sunshine, roller skating, and the hairstyles of the time. There's some kind of nostalgia for me. There's the anthropological thing, seeing how different people behaved at a different place and time.
 
 

  

 
 

Absolutely key to the film is the country music, beginning with Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott by the Statler Brothers. You will like the music even if you're like me and don't go for country music. I find that there is a very strong correlation between movies I love and movies that make great use of music.

The second half of the movie is not as good as the first half. It's probably no coincidence that the country music stops. In addition, the plot's credibility is stretched and there is some ugly violence. The movie within a movie is not as obviously funny as I hoped.
 
 


 
 

 
 

This was a Texas movie made in Texas by Texans. Like other productions, such as Trailer Park Boys (Nova Scotia), this production is a product of a specific region (and while we're at it Evil Dead had Michigan people behind it, animated show Home Movies had Boston roots, Family Guy has New England roots, and South Park originates from Colorado). Have you ever wondered what would happen if Kansas people made a movie? You could check out cult classic Carnival of Souls.

Apparently in Texas the "chief guard" of a small town roller rink openly carries a gun. They're not big on stop signs or seatbelts down there. There are a couple of John Wayne moments in the film, and in the end the young hero wins by using violence.

It's fun to watch the different characters with their different ways of speaking and body language. Something I learned here is that there isn't a culture; there are different ways to behave within a culture. Here in Canada many people have a certain way of speaking with big vowels, so that back comes out as baaack, with a hint of Bach. You're more likely to hear this at the hockey rink than the ballet. I have never spoken with this Canadian accent.
 
 


 
 

"We're in what looks like Ku Kluck country". There is a scene with a black guy and his wife, who does a memorable job with her couple of lines. This bit is preceded with a nice segue and it all has a layer of syrupy slide guitar added to it. There is a subplot, which can be a little confusing, where the black fellow thinks he is surrounded by predatory racists, and everything he sees confirms his .. what's the word I'm looking for here?

Is the production crew laughing during the balloon scene?

"Glowie Hudson to the door. You got you a visitor!" There's a fabulous, folksy fellow on the loudspeaker several times in the film.

That guy with the hat always makes me think of ACDC. He has some nice reaction shots.

The manager - the least Texan-sounding of the lot - is not well treated at the end of the film. I get how Goliath is brought down by a water pistol, but he is just protecting his business from an assortment of obstacles, and also protects somebody's car.


 
 


 
 

I've never been to a drive-in theatre. This was back in the days when vehicles were a big deal, like decked out furry vans. Waterbeds were a neat new novelty. Those nerdy glasses that one of the gangsters wears have become cool nowadays.

"Split". I haven't heard that one in a while. There is also a bit of Internet CB lingo there.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Unnamed Canadian Comedy dates from the same time as Drive In. I saw it at the same time as Drive In. Like Drive In it's a nice comedy and it came from off the beaten path. And like Drive In I lost track of it for decades and was left wondering. I never did track it down.

I like to point this out as a good Canadian comedy. I just caught parts of it. From my perception it had an easygoing 70s vibe. From what I could get of the plot there was a sports photographer named Darryl. He takes a picture at a football game and gets hit by a player. At the hospital there is the old runaway wheelie bed shtick. A lady has a talky scene with a man who seemed like a d.j. She uses her version of Spanish, and says, "Muchos nachos", which I use to this day. At the end of the film a guy and a girl show up at Darryl's apartment, and he stands up stark naked except he is covering himself with an alarm clock. The movie ends when the alarm clock goes off.

Can anybody help me track down this movie? It smelled Canadian and it was shown on CBC.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I saw Let's Do it Again (IMDB) approximately a million years ago with my family. It features Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier who are ordinary Joes who pretend to be gangsters, both with the name Mongo Slade, in order to make a bet with gangsters so that they can raise a pile of money for their community organisation. Their scheme was to use hypnotism - it seems to me that hypnotism was a more popular topic back then - to get an unlikely boxer, played by Jimmy Walker, cheap tag heuer replica to win a fight. Mr. Walker is an actor who has been pidgeonholed as they guy in the old Good Times television show ("Dynomite!"), but I know him as this gangly boxer who was hypnotised into becoming like a tiger.

People are going to remark about how funny Bill Cosby is, and he certainly does much for the production. Actually a lot of people add their little thing. But take a look at the trailer, and watch the entrance of "Mongo Slade". Mr. Poitier is classy, while Mr. Cosby is goofy, as though this is one of his standup gigs rather than a movie. Mr. Poitier also directed the film. This ancient film is dependably entertaining and funny.