Sunday, January 15, 2017

1980 Week: The Hollywood Knights

          The career of writer, producer, and director Floyd Mutrux took another strange turn with The Hollywood Knights, a shameless—and shapeless—imitation of American Graffiti (1973) with none of that picture’s deft characterization and sociopolitical weight. The movie also cops from Animal House (1978) by depicting anarchistic youth-run-wild vulgarity. Whereas Mutrux’s earlier directorial efforts explored such themes as ambition, disconnection, drugs, and music, The Hollywood Knights is an ensemble sex comedy without any recognizable sense of purpose. The movie has endured on cable and home video largely because some its players achieved fame elsewhere, notably Tony Danza (a costar of the sitcom Taxi at the time this film was made) and Michelle Pfeiffer (who found her breakout role three years later in Brian De Palma’s gonzo drug epic Scarface). Yet it says a lot about The Hollywood Knights that the film’s real star is obnoxious standup-comedian-turned-character-actor Robert Wuhl, who made his big-screen debut here. As goes Wuhl’s charmless performance, so goes the rest of the picture.
          Set in 1960s Beverly Hills, the movie tracks the adventures of the Hollywood Knights, a white gang devoted to antagonizing cops, getting laid, and making mischief. The Knights’ principal prankster, Newbomb Turk (Wuhl), takes endless pleasure in doing things like breaking wind to the tune of popular songs or depositing flaming bags of excrement at people’s front doors. You get the idea. Over the course of one chaotic evening, local parents and police officers try to stop the Knights’ last hurrah, since the burger joint that serves as the gang’s HQ is closing and the gang marks the occasion with epic buffoonery. The “highlight” is Turk grabbing the microphone at a school assembly so he can perform “Volare” using flatulence for percussion. The movie also has anemic romantic subplots. In tiresome scenes that exist almost completely separate from the rest of the movie, macho Knight Duke (Danza) struggles to accept that his pretty carhop girlfriend, Suzie Q (Pfeiffer), has dreams of an acting career and might outgrow him. Elsewhere, Newbomb improbably talks Sally (future sitcom star Fran Drescher) into a tryst even though she spends the whole movie whining about how repulsive she finds his antics.
          All of this stuff is brisk and colorful, but none of it is particularly funny. Quite to the contrary, most of the gags sputter or thud. That said, The Hollywood Knights has a lush visual style that it doesn’t deserve, because top-shelf cinematographer William A. Fraker, the six-time Oscar nominee who shot Hollywood classics including Rosemary’s Baby (1968), lensed all five features that Mutrux directed.

The Hollywood Knights: FUNKY

1 comment:

Guy Callaway said...

Even visually, "obnoxious" is a great description of Wuhl. With a different lead, this might of been slightly less terrible.
Poster art by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder!