Friday, May 27, 2016

Train Ride to Hollywood (1975)



          Countless recording artists have attempted to capitalize on their popularity by appearing in movies, and the success rate for these endeavors is not particularly high. Rare are the projects that deliver exactly what fans want—for every Purple Rain (1984), there’s a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978). Hidden between these extremes are oddities such as Train Ride to Hollywood, a cheerful love letter to old movies starring the members of R&B group Bloodstone. The movie is pointless and silly, roughly the equivalent of a sketch one might encounter on a ’70s variety show, only stretched to feature length. As such, it’s harmless, and some sequences are fleetingly entertaining, so Train Ride to Hollywood isn’t an outright misfire. That said, it’s a perplexing movie. Since Bloodstone’s biggest hit was the romantic slow jam “Natural High,” one might expect the band’s movie to be a modern love story. Nope. It’s a broad-as-a-barn farce that sorta-kinda takes place in the past. Even stranger, the band doesn’t perform any of its best-known material, instead crooning several originals written in the style of old-timey tunes. And since none of Bloodstone’s members is a gifted actor, it’s not as if Train Ride to Hollywood showcases hidden talents. The movie is too amiable to get dismissed as a vanity piece, but it represents a bizarre approach to brand management.
          Shot and edited with a fair amount of polish but obviously made on a slender budget, Train Ride to Hollywood begins at a concert, where heavyset Bloodstone vocalist Harry Williams (playing himself) suffers a knock to the head. He dreams that he and his bandmates are scrappy Dead End Kid-type strivers eager to become stars by traveling to California. They disguise themselves as porters and hop onto a train carrying Humphrey Bogart (Guy Marks), Dracula (Jay Robinson), Clark Gable (Jay Lawrence), W.C. Fields (Bill Oberlin), and others. Bloodstone’s Charles Love (also playing himself) gets involved with a harem girl, because one of the other passengers is a sheik with seven women. As the episodic storyline unfurls, viewers encounter light comedy in the Hope/Crosby style, musical numbers showcasing Bloodstone’s stylistic versatility, and fourth-wall-braking gags. Some of the weirder scenes involve the whole cast getting wasted on smoke from the sheik’s hookah, Harry boxing a gorilla, and the search for a killer who suffocates people with his armpits. Yet Train Ride to Hollywood is so brisk, gentle, lively, and weird that it’s hard to hate the movie, even though many sequences are painfully stupid. After all, where else can viewers watch Robinson do a bargain-basement Bela Lugosi imitation while saying, “Hey, Bogie, don’t bogart that joint!” 

Train Ride to Hollywood: FUNKY

3 comments:

Alan Beauvais said...

Sorry to focus on a peripheral point, but the music and stage-performances are the ONLY things "Purple Rain" had going for it. The acting and threadbare storyline remain awful. The film was no more than a rushed-together 90-minute theatrical commercial for a truly iconic album. As always, just a personal opinion.

By Peter Hanson said...

All true. My point is simply that it delivered what Prince fans wanted, whereas something like "Sgt. Pepper's" did not. Both are terrible, but one has redeeming values...

Samuel Wilson said...

This film was in heavy rotation in the early days of HBO, and the kids in our neighborhood would converge on the one house that had the channel to watch this movie at least once a week. I guess it's the sort of movie kids of my generation would really dig, though I suppose the Armpit Killer has timeless appeal.