Classic SNL (sorta-)Review: March 2, 1985: SNL Film Festival

RATINGS SYSTEM:
***** - Classic
****  - Great
***   - Good/Average
**    - Meh
*     - Awful

Author's note: Because this is mostly a clip show, this review will also be a "clip show" of sorts, featuring my original reviews of the sketches from their respective episodes. Some minor alterations have been made for clarity. As well, there will be no final thoughts segment in this review, though I invite my readers to discuss whether there are any sketches that should have been added or removed.

MONOLOGUE

  • Billy Crystal does stand-up about wandering toddlers at drive-in movies, performs a few “no-talent” impressions, and discusses the inherent wrongness of Edward G. Robinson appearing in a biblical epic.
  • A very strong start to the show, though Crystal reuses the “my nipples get hard” line from his hosting gig the year before here. The routines all hit with the audience, though, and he has a strong segue into the clips with his Yul Brynner impression (which he previously did on the show as “Kitty Brynner”).
  • “Where’s your Messiah now?” was never actually said by Robinson in The Ten Commandments; that particular quote originates from Crystal’s stand-up.

****

FILM: SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING (dir.: Claude Kerven, aired 10/06/84)

  • Gerald (Harry Shearer) and Lawrence Orbach (Martin Short) chase their dream of competing in the Olympics.

 

  • A contender for one of the best pieces in the show’s history. Just the sight of Shearer and Short with dopey grins on their faces as they do their routine to Frank Stallone’s “Far From Over” and John Williams' "Raiders March" is hilarious, but there are just so many pieces to this that come together beautifully: the utter seriousness with which Shearer’s character approaches this dream, Short’s physical humor, and Pamela Stephenson’s overlooked scene (which is edited out of this version) in which she returns to selling door-to-door for Amway (as the potential customer is seen hiding). Christopher Guest manages to walk away with the sketch as the brothers’ choreographer, an unnamed proto-Corky St. Clair character (“Hey, you! I know you! I know you!”)
  • Lawrence Orbach is another SCTV import; while the version of the character that competed on Half-Wits was by no means intelligent, the SNL version seems to be even slower.
  • Written by Christopher Guest, Martin Short and Harry Shearer; Guest’s lines were all reportedly improvised.

*****

MISCELLANEOUS: AUDIENCE

  • Ricky (Billy Crystal) opines on the previous film to an audience member (Janice Goldfinger Crystal).
  • This was short and not particularly memorable aside from the fact that the woman Ricky bothers is actually Billy Crystal’s wife.

** 1/2

COMMERCIAL: KANNON AE-1 (dir.: Claude Kerven, aired 05/07/83)

  • Even Stevie Wonder can use the camera's new simplified controls.
  • This is hilarious and very tight; Wonder was a good sport for doing this commercial, and the scenes of his "photography" escalate nicely to the scenes where he's "playing" tennis, and there's a funny joke at the very end with him removing the lens cap from the camera when John Newcombe (Joe Piscopo) has it.

*****

SHOW: FERNANDO'S HIDEAWAY

  • Fernando (Billy Crystal) discusses film in the booth with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.
  • This was fairly dry, though there were a few funny moments like Fernando expressing disappointment David Hasselhoff wasn’t in a movie and the critics explaining the criteria for an Oscar nomination (you have to be in a movie, and it has to play at least one week in LA County), and Siskel and Ebert disagreeing over Mariel Hemingway’s breast size.
  • I love that some people in the audience cheered Ebert mentioning his work on the screenplays for Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, and Siskel gets a fun line by saying Ebert’s movies “had a bad screenplay”.
  • The line about Dune star Sting being “busy knocking candles over” is a reference to The Police’s “Wrapped Around Your Finger” video.

***

FILM: WALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT (dir.: John Fox, aired 11/17/84)

  • When his mean boss (Jim Belushi) keeps him at work late, grocery store employee Virgil (Rich Hall) uses the automatic door opening mat to make shoes that open every door around him.
  • This is a classic and very well constructed; the hook reveals itself nicely, there’s a nice little detail of Hall wearing his normal shoes when approaching his boss’s apartment, and the film ends strong. While there is dialogue in the opening scene (featuring a great performance by Belushi) and when Hall apologizes to the woman who walks into the door when the mat is moved, the humor mostly comes from the visuals.
  • The song playing when Hall walks through the streets of New York with the shoes is “The Street Only Knew Your Name” by Van Morrison, off the Inarticulate Speech of the Heart album.
  • Written by Hall and Andy Breckman.
  • After the film concludes, an audience member is captioned “Unemployed Elevator Operator”.

*****

COMMERCIAL: BUDDWEISER LIGHT (dir.: Henry Holtzman, aired 02/11/84)

  • A hockey player (Joe Piscopo) brings out his best in a brawl with the player (Robin Williams) who stole his wife.

 

  • A parody of a real series of Budweiser Light commercials, but the main joke holds up without requiring knowledge of the real ad campaign. My particular favorite moment was the shot of a bloodied, toothless Piscopo and Williams enjoying a beer together on the sidelines.
  • This was directed by Henry Holtzman of advertising firm N. Lee Lacy and Associates, which gives this an extra polish. 

****

SHOW: LIFESTYLES OF THE RELATIVES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS (dir: John Coles, aired 10/06/84)

  • Robin Leach (Harry Shearer) profiles Katharine Hepburn’s maternal third cousin Nelson (Martin Short), a hot dog vendor in Central Park.
  • The first sketch of the 1984-85 season features three of the new cast members and immediately signals a new SNL that makes increased use of the show’s film unit. I’ve always thought it was a bold move to start the season with a taped piece, though this contributes to the premiere feeling less like a real episode of SNL and more like a clip show or special.
  • Most of the comedy comes from the disconnect between Short’s character’s appearance (half-shirt, beer gut, and a bandaid on his thumb) and decidedly unglamorous lifestyle (including a $475 Plymouth Valiant), and his approximation of Kate Hepburn’s patrician voice and mannerisms, though there are some good bits in the interview (reselling a hot dog that Dom DeLuise choked on, his Sunday ritual involves eating a huge bowl of bran and being indisposed for three hours). Short also gets his first of many chances to demonstrate his knack for physical comedy with a small bit of physical business involving his stand’s umbrella.
  • It’s Christopher Guest who walks away with this piece, though, with his quick appearance as Anthony Haden-Callas, the straitlaced professor nephew of Charlie Callas (also named for Guest’s elder half-brother) who can’t seem to control his facial expressions and funny voices.
  • The obviously edited-in-after-the-fact shots of Shearer as Leach nodding were a nice touch.

*** 1/2

MISCELLANEOUS: CANDY STAND

  • Candy stand operator Willie (Billy Crystal) mistakes John Candy and Eugene Levy for Siskel and Ebert; invites them to host next week’s show with Hall & Oates.
  • This is mostly a promo for what would have been next weeks show had a two-week Writer’s Guild of America strike didn’t get in the way of those plans, though Candy and Levy are good at playing along with Crystal in Guest’s place. I found the ending gag of the giant bucket of popcorn for Candy a little cheap, though.
  • It really is a shame that the show advertised never happened; I wonder what kind of sketches they would have come up with that week, especially since Candy and Levy worked with Martin Short on SCTV. The shows cancelled by writers’ strikes always seem to be the biggest cases of “what may have been” (Franken & Davis / Grateful Dead in 1981, the potential show with Gilda Radner in 1988, Dwayne Johnson / Amy Winehouse in 2007).

***

FILM: NEEDLEMAN (dir: Henry Holtzman, aired 05/12/84)

  • Nerdy oral surgeon Ira Needleman's (Gary Kroeger) video dating tape is an elaborate music video.

 

  • A breakthrough for Gary Kroeger and one of the most memorable things he did over his three years on the show. he pulls off the right balance between his character's nerdiness and swagger in the video. 
  • According to BMI, this was written by Eliot Wald, Nate Herman and Andrew Kurtzman; the end credits of the original show this appeared in credit choreography to Theodore Pappas.

*****

MISCELLANEOUS: BILLY OUTRO

  • Billy Crystal says to stay tuned for a film starring Eddie Murphy and the first set of Siskel & Ebert’s reviews.

FILM: PROSE AND CONS (dir: Laurie Frank, aired 10/03/81)

  • Magazine editor Terry McDonnell and literary agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar agree: prisons have become the latest hotbed of budding literary talent.  Maximum Security inmate Tyrone Green (Eddie Murphy) reads his award-winning poem.
  • A very well done short film; definitely the first classic of the entire 1981-82 season.
  • I've always loved the one prisoner telling his agent that "People who watch Merv Griffin don't read books!  Any agent in the business knows that!"
  • Eddie Murphy walks away with the whole thing when he reads the poem "Kill My Landlord".  The audience response when he gets to the part "C-I-L-L My land-lord!" is so big, the laughter and applause practically drowns out the last word in the poem ("Death!").
  • The Norman Mailer / Jack Henry Abbott credits at the end refer to a then-current news story where Mailer and other critics had championed prisoner Abbott's literary talent and got him released from prison, only for Abbott to fatally stab someone six weeks after his release.  The film still holds up despite its topical basis, but until I got the background the end credits just seemed like a silly throwaway gag.
  • Written by Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield.

*****

MISCELLANEOUS: SISKEL & EBERT I

  • Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert give their thoughts on Prose & Cons, Needleman, Walking After Midnight, Lifestyles, and Synchronized Swimmers.
  • I’m not going to give a review for this, but it is interesting to hear their thoughts and whether the audience disagrees with them (they groan when they give thumbs down to Needleman). Of this group of films, they enjoy “Magic Shoes” and “Synchronized Swimming” the most and say they want to see “Lifestyles” (whose target they call “the dumbest show on TV”) every week.

COMMERCIAL: HITCHHIKER (dir: John Fox, aired 10/02/82)

  • Thumbing his way to Springfield, a young man (Tim Kazurinsky) learns the dangers of hitchhiking first-hand when he accepts a ride from an attractive woman.
  • One of the more durable filmed bits from the 1982-83 season, with a good use of Bernard Hermann's "Scene d'Amour" from Vertigo and a strong twist at the end, with the woman hitting the accelerator while in the throes of passion.  The scene of Kazurinsky excitedly taking off his clothes in the passenger seat always makes me chuckle.
  • The stock footage of the car going over the cliff was reused many times for the Toonces sketches in the late 80s and early 90s.
  • After the film, the attractive woman from the film is seen in the audience with the caption “Survived Crash”.

***1/2

FILM: VIDEO VICTIMS (dir: Claude Kerven, aired 09/25/82)

  • A documentary reveals that video game junkies like Alan are the victims of a multi-billion dollar industry that feeds their addictions.

 

  • This is very well done, with great cinematography, music, narration and acting, and some very funny details ("Doin' the Donk", the way the final joke with the group that produced the documentary is set up).  Part of the reason this piece works so well is because Kerven stuck with outside actors for this piece; it wouldn't have had as strong an impact with one of the regulars in the Dr. Spiegel role.
  • I can't believe they went there with the joke about the girl earning money for Dig Dug "the hard way - a quarter at a time."  They would never get away with that line now.
  • I can't really identify most of the players, but the actor playing Dr. Spiegel has been used on the show a few times in the early 80s, and they actually gave him an in-character audience caption for the SNL Film Festival in '85.  If anyone knows who he is (or any other actor, for that matter), let me know.
  • I'm pretty sure Lieb Lensky is the wizened old man with the thick Eastern European accent playing Timmy ("Have you played Tron? It's totally awesome!" "Timmy is 11 years old.").  I spotted him in a small role in The Silence of The Lambs.
  • Addendum: director Claude Kerven confirmed Lensky was Timmy, and also identified Lily Nell Warren as Cindy (the Miss Pac-Man addict).
  • After the film concludes, Dr. Spiegel is seen in the audience with the caption “Malpractice Defendant”.

*****

MISCELLANEOUS: BILLY INTRO

  • Billy Crystal says the following film features one of his favorite characters he’s ever done for the show.

FILM: BALLPLAYERS (dir: Christopher Guest, aired 10/13/84)

  • Negro Leaguers Leonard “The Rooster” Willoughby (Billy Crystal) and “King Carl” Johnson (Christopher Guest) recall their careers.

 

  • While the film was very well written, directed and performed, and is in the same vein as Guest’s later improvised documentary features, the big thing that needs to be addressed here is that Crystal and Guest are playing these roles in blackface. Had the roles of King Carl and The Rooster been portrayed by black actors in old age makeup, I’d rate this much higher; as it is, the problematic aspects of this piece are a major taint, despite some good moments (smelt night) and the participation of Dave Winfield and Yogi Berra. SNL didn’t have any black performers this season, though (something that would be addressed in next week’s Jesse Jackson show), and this wouldn’t be the last time this season that a performer appears in race makeup (though I would argue none of those appearances are quite as big an issue as this one).
  • Crystal has said on several occasions this was one of his favorite pieces he did for the show, most recently in a Rolling Stone article on SNLers’ favorite sketches; while I can see that the motivation behind this piece was out of affection, intentions don’t excuse actions.
  • Written by Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest

** ½

MISCELLANEOUS: SISKEL & EBERT II

  • Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert review Ballplayers, Video Victims, and Hitchhiker, and focus on Fernando (Billy Crystal) with their X-Ray segment.
  • Again, I’m not going to rate this; Siskel thought Ballplayers was well made but said nothing, while Ebert loved it for nailing the cadence and clichés of the subject matter. The audience groans when Ebert says he liked “Video Victims”, while he and Siskel both call the producers out for putting a film they previously gave a good review to in the lineup, while both critics slam Hitchhiker. The X-Ray segment has Ebert slamming Fernando’s softball questions and sameness of approach, while Siskel says he wants him to be “run to death” on the show (in my opinion, it sometimes feels this way by this point in the season).

FILM: WHITE LIKE EDDIE (dir: Andy Breckman, aired 12/15/84)

  • Eddie Murphy disguises himself as a white man to expose the different treatment white and black people face in America.
  • A classic satirical look at white privilege, written and directed by Andy Breckman. While the differences in treatment (giving each other free things and public transit cocktail parties once the last black passenger leaves) are played for laughs (as are a couple of digs at “white” culture: Dynasty and Hallmark cards), what gives this sketch its power is that it’s rooted in the truth, and, as Shawn King wrote for the Daily News in 2015, the truth is very much less funny.
  • A number of familiar faces turn up here: writer Jim Downey plays the newsstand clerk who gives Murphy the free newspaper, Clint Smith plays the makeup artist, and Eddie’s older brother Charlie Murphy is one of the people being made up at the end. The actor that played the doctors in Video Victims, Buckwheat Buys the Farm and Buckwheat Dead turns up here as Bob (the white loan officer) while character actor Mike Hodge plays Harry (the black loan officer).

*****

MISCELLANEOUS: NEXT WEEK

  • Billy Crystal and the rest of the cast will be back with a new show next week.
  • Aside from Billy Crystal, this is the only point in the show where the rest of the cast shows up aside from on film, and even then, this is the only appearance for Mary Gross and Julia Louis-Dreyfus tonight. Some of the casts’s facial expressions are funny (Guest seems to be doing a deliberately fake-looking exaggerated smile while Martin Short looks devious).

GOODNIGHTS

  • Billy Crystal is alone on stage with Siskel and Ebert; he just addresses them before saying “Goodnight everybody!”.
  • The goodnights cut out for a promo before the credits roll on the original broadcast.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS

  • Synchronized Swimming
  • White Like Eddie
  • Kannon AE-1
  • Prose and Cons
  • Needleman
  • Walking After Midnight
  • Video Victims
  • Monologue
  • Buddweiser Light
  • Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich & Famous
  • Hitchhiker

SHOW LOWLIGHTS

(none)

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast and film actors

  • Jim Belushi: 1 live appearance [Next Week]; 1 filmed appearance [Walking After Midnight]
  • Mark E. Corry: 1 filmed appearance [White Like Eddie]
  • Billy Crystal: 5 live appearances [Monologue, Audience, Fernando’s Hideaway, Candy Stand, Next Week]; 2 filmed appearances [Ballplayers, Siskel & Ebert II]
  • Jim Downey: 1 filmed appearance [White Like Eddie]
  • Mary Gross: 1 live appearance [Next Week]
  • Christopher Guest: 1 live appearance [Next Week]; 3 filmed appearances [Synchronized Swimming, Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich & Famous, Ballplayers]
  • Rich Hall: 1 live appearance [Next Week]; 1 filmed appearance [Walking After Midnight]
  • Mike Hodge: 1 filmed appearance [White Like Eddie]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 1 filmed appearance [Hitchhiker]
  • Gary Kroeger: 1 live appearance [Next Week]; 1 filmed appearance [Needleman]
  • Irving “Swifty” Lazar: 1 filmed appearance [Prose and Cons]
  • Lieb Lensky: 1 filmed appearance [Prose and Cons]
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus: 1 live appearance [Next Week]
  • Terry McDonnell: 1 filmed appearance [Prose and Cons]
  • Charlie Murphy: 1 filmed appearance [White Like Eddie]
  • Eddie Murphy: 2 filmed appearances [Prose and Cons, White Like Eddie]
  • Joe Piscopo: 2 filmed appearances [Kannon AE-1, Buddweiser Light]
  • Harry Shearer: 2 filmed appearances [Synchronized Swimming, Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich & Famous]
  • Martin Short: 1 live appearance [Next Week]; 2 filmed appearances [Synchronized Swimming, Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich & Famous]
  • Clint Smith: 1 filmed appearance [White Like Eddie]
  • Pamela Stephenson: 1 live appearance [Next Week]; 1 filmed appearance [Synchronized Swimming]
  • Lily Nell Warren: 1 filmed appearance [Video Victims]
  • Robin Williams: 1 filmed appearance [Buddweiser Light]
  • Stevie Wonder: 1 filmed appearance [Kannon AE-1]

guests

  • Gene Siskel: 3 appearances [Fernando’s Hideway, Siskel & Ebert I, Siskel & Ebert II]
  • Roger Ebert: 3 appearances [Fernando’s Hideaway, Siskel & Ebert I, Siskel & Ebert II]
  • John Candy: 1 appearance [Candy Stand]
  • Eugene Levy: 1 appearance [Candy Stand]

DIRECTOR BREAKDOWN:

  • Andy Breckman: 1 film [White Like Eddie]
  • John Coles: 1 film [Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich & Famous]
  • John Fox: 2 films [Walking After Midnight, Hitchhiker]
  • Laurie Frank: 1 film [Prose and Cons]
  • Christopher Guest: 1 film [Ballplayers]
  • Henry Holtzman: 2 films [Buddweiser Light, Needleman]
  • Claude Kerven: 3 filmes [Synchronized Swimming, Kannon AE-1, Video Victims]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • September 28, 1985
  • August 2, 1986

Known alterations:

  • Billy Outro and Next Week removed

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here