Monday, February 20, 2012

Foul Play (1978)

Directed by Colin Higgins
Starring Goldie Hawn, Chevy Chase, Dudley Moore 
Rated PG

Take these. Without them, you are a walking light-bulb... waiting to be screwed.” 

The arch-bishop of San Francisco (I have no idea if that’s a real thing; seems feasible enough) has a murderous twin-brother who happens to be a member of a nameless revolutionary group. Said group plans to make a statement by assassinating  the pope while he’s in town visiting  the opera (!). In order to achieve this goal, first he assassinates his twin brother and takes over his duties. Then he hires a trio of hitmen to pull off the job. This team consists of a guy with a giant, jagged scar ripped down the middle of his face (Return of the Living Dead’s cremator, Don Calfa), a creaky old bastard called “The Dwarf” (Marc Lawrence, who is not dwarf-y in the slightest), and an albino (William Frankfather)  named Whitey Jackson (!) who, distractingly, looks just like SNL’s Jon Hader in a Col. Sanders outfit. 

So, that’s the plan. Seems flawless enough. But there’s one complication. Goldie Hawn.

She plays a librarian (!) named Gloria, who picks up a hitchhiker one fateful day. He happens to be an undercover cop about to bust the pope assassination scheme wide open, but he’s being hotly pursued by the albino and his gang. He hides the photographic evidence of the plot in a cigarette pack and asks Gloria to hold it for him. She thinks he just wants to quit smoking. They agree to meet later that evening at the Nu-art Theater (which is actually in LA, but whatever) for a ‘date’, and she’s supposed to give him back the cig pack then.

The Nu-art, by the way, is managed by a smarmy, licentious Chuck McCann, who is having an affair with one his ushers, played by Russ Meyer’s Up!/Slumber Party ’57 star Janet Wood

Anyway, when the undercover cop shows up, he’s already bleeding to death. Gloria reports the crime but the body quickly vanishes, so everybody thinks she’s just some kind of  nut. I should mention at this point that Goldie Hawn looks amazing in glasses. However, she does not look like what they probably intended, i.e. “smart” Goldie. She still looks like  ditzy Goldie, just a hot-nerd ditzy Goldie. 

Before he croaked, the cop told Gloria to “Beware of the dwarf”. So when she hears a dwarf was looking for her at the library, she starts to get nervous. Things really get dicey for our heroine when the albino shows up and attacks her in the stacks. She escapes his clutches and runs through the streets looking for safety. She ducks into a bar and picks up a harmless looking schlub named Stanley (Dudley Moore), insisting he take her home immediately. He agrees. As you would. 

Of course, she’s not out for sex, just a temporary safe haven. Unaware of this, Stanley pulls out all the ridiculous pervy-dude stops, including porno 8mm loops projecting on the wall, Bee Gees blaring away on his Quadrophonic stereo, blow-up dolls, disco lights, a drop-down bed, the whole bit. She’s pretty horrified at this display and promptly storms out. 

When she gets home, scar-face is waiting for her. She stabs him with knitting needles and then the albino shows up and stabs him in the heart. Then he knocks her out and dumps the body. Long story short, rogue police detective Tony (Chevy Chase) and his partner Fergie (Brian Dennehy) are assigned to the case. Naturally they think Gloria’s insane (dwarves, albinos, missing bodies, etc), but Tony’s sweet on her, so they go along with the ruse. Eventually they figure out she’s legit, and it’s up to Tony and Goldie to get to the opera house in time to stop the sinister plot before the pope is popped. Along the way, they destroy nearly every car in SF. 

Oh, also: a dwarf bible salesman (Billy Barty) shows up at Gloria’s. She thinks he’s the dwarf assassin and throws him out the window! 

Foul Play is marred a bit by a syrupy Barry Manilow soundtrack, but otherwise it’s a fun and twisty ride. The plot is ridiculous, but for the most part, the cast plays it all pretty straight, making this more of an action movie with laughs  than a straight comedy with action/mystery elements. Speaking of ridiculous, casting Goldie as a librarian  is almost as insane as casting Chevy Chase as a functional, no-nonsense cop. So, clearly, a few leaps-of-faith are required for maximum enjoyment.  Everybody’s game, though, and Foul Play is littered with great character actors, including Burgess Meredith as Gloria’s feisty landlord, Reform School Girls’ own Pat Ast as the madame of a low-rent rub n’ tug, and Marilyn Sokol as Gloria’s man-hating best bud Stella. Also – and this may be a singular thrill – I very much enjoyed peeping at all the stereo systems so prominently (and inexplicably) featured throughout the proceedings…so much  8 track!

Anyway, fun, kooky stuff, well worth a look. 

- Ken 


  1. This is one of my all time favorite movies! Thanks for reviewing it!

  2. And it didn't occur to you to mention that Goldie Hawn is flagrantly braless in that classic 1978-kind-of-way for the entirety of the film? I guess you DID enjoy it!


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