The year 1966 was a crucial one for funnyman Morey Amsterdam. His performance on the long-running sitcom “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and his appearances in the popular “Beach Party” movies brought him to wide and appreciative audiences. Yet Amsterdam was pretty much a second banana in those projects, which must have been an ego-blow to someone who had previously been a headliner in clubs and on TV (he was a pioneer in late-night programming with the show “Broadway Open House” in the late 1940s).
As “The Dick Van Dyke” show ended its run, Amsterdam saw the opportunity to re-establish himself as a top-billed star. Recruiting his fellow “Dick Van Dyke Show” second banana castmates Rose Marie and Richard Deacon, Amsterdam decided to produce, write and star in a motion picture. He embarked on a project which most people have charitably viewed as a debacle: “Don’t Worry, We’ll Think of a Title.”
But viewed anew, “Don’t Worry, We’ll Think of a Title” comes across as something very different: an anti-comedy. What is an anti-comedy? It’s an expression that I invented (being Phil Hall can be fun, trust me), and it describes a film that is aggressively unfunny that it becomes hilarious in spite of itself. And “Don’t Worry, We’ll Think of a Title” is so aggressively unfunny that it is nearly belligerent in how it tries to milk laughter from the weakest of concepts.
Amsterdam and Rose Marie play a cook and waitress in a crappy diner run by Deacon, who is on the receiving end of their inept shenanigans from the get-go: just in the first 20 minutes of the picture he receives whipped cream squirted in his face, a pancake on his bald cranium and a cake on his chair (and, yes, he sits in it and remains seated for some time). Fired for gross incompetence, they are hired by an ex-colleague who inherited a bookstore in a college town. But as luck would have it, Amsterdam is mistaken by Communist agents for Yasha Nudnik, a defecting cosmonaut, and a group of Red spies try to abduct him to find out the whereabouts of various state secrets.
The film is an extremely cheap endeavor: it was shot on black-and-white on what appears to be leftover sets from other productions (the closing credits note it was made at the Desilu Studios in Hollywood). Director Harmon Jones specialized in B-level exploitation (most notably “Gorilla at Large” and “The Beast of Budapest”), but he had no clue how to fram a comedy. Since there was no budget for elaborate comedy gags or chases, Amsterdam dipped into his Borscht Belt jokebook and came up with an endless skein of horrible jokes and one-liners which were meant to be digested as comedy. Here is some of the dialogue that he dropped in the movie:
RESTAURANT PATRON: Do you think I could have duck eggs? ^ MOREY AMSTERDAM: You could if you were a duck.
RESTAURANT PATRON: (trying to attract Rose Marie): Girlie! Girlie! ^ ROSE MARIE: Did you call me, sir? ^ RESTAURANT PATRON: No, I called you Girlie.
WOMAN: I only saw my uncle once or twice, as a little girl. ^ MOREY AMSTERDAM: Your uncle was a little girl?
MOREY AMSTERDAM: Did I tell you I had a cousin who was a bookkeeper? Every time he borrows a book, he keeps it.
And those are the funnier jokes! If the film ran longer, Amsterdam would’ve been forced to include knock-knock jokes to pad the footage.
Realizing the material was paltry, Amsterdam corralled a number of TV stars to make gag appearances. Thus, the likes of Danny Thomas (nearly being knocked over by a chicken), Milton Berle (dragging a rope through the bookstore), Steve Allen (looking for a book called “The Sex Life of Armadilloes”), Forrest Tucker (seducing a woman in the diner), Cliff Arquette (as his beloved Charlie Weaver character), Irene Ryan (as Granny from “The Beverly Hillbillies”) and ex-“Dick Van Dyke Show” alum Carl Reiner (extolling the virtues of his toupee) turn up.
One of the spies in the film gets in touch via walkie-talkie with “James Bond,” although the voice responding over airwaves sounds more like Nigel Bruce’s Doctor Watson rather than Sean Connery’s machismo Scottish growl. There’s even a snippet of a Sylvester the Cat cartoon tossed in (most likely without Warner Bros.’ approval). The strangest cameo belongs to Moe Howard, who shows up without the other Stooges in a totally straight role as a lawyer. Why? Who knows?
Throughout the movie, Amsterdam shambles through the proceedings with a wide-eyed and smiling demeanor, as if he is blissfully unaware of the mess he made. Poor Rose Marie is more than aware of the film’s problems and she works overtime to raise laughs, to the point of wearing a bucket on her head and making wild love to a studly young man more than half her age. That last scene alone nearly turns the movie into a horror flick!
And yet, the film is so shabby and pathetic that it becomes strangely endearing. In viewing it, there is the constant apprehension that it cannot get worse, but with each successive reel it gets worse and worse. By the closing credits, anyone who remained through the film cannot help but laugh the laugh of a survivor who made it through a horrible ordeal and is vaguely satisfied that the whole bloody thing happened.
But that was not the reaction at United Artists, which barely distributed the movie in 1966. “Don’t Worry, We’ll Think of a Title” disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared. Amsterdam never had the chance to star in another film and his career went into a decline; he wound up doing guest shots on TV and bit parts in forgettable movies. Rose Marie was luckier: snagged a long-running gig on the classic “Hollywood Squares” game show and rode that until the show went off the air in the early 1980s.
I am uncertain why the film was never released on home video. After all, plenty of bad movies are on video and DVD. Whoever owns the rights to the film is (1) unaware they have the rights or (2) doesn’t want the film in circulation. The bootleg I saw came from a TV broadcast, though I can’t determine when that took place.
But all things told, “Don’t Worry, We’ll Think of a Title” is a delightfully inane little turkey. If you have the tolerance for the “so bad, they’re good” genre, here’s one lost gem worth digging up.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.
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Posted on April 22, 2005 in Features by Phil Hall
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