Saturday, August 04, 2007

Mash Note to Richard Benjamin

I’m sitting here trying to marshal the energy to get on my bike and ride to a far-off video store* so that I can continue with Richard Benjamin Fest 2007. Here’s a rundown of what’s stopping me and why I’m writing instead of doing.
  • I need to put air in the tires of my bike.
  • I haven’t ridden my bike at all yet this year.
  • Getting to the video store is all downhill; getting back is all uphill.
  • It’s windy.
  • I worked 14 hours yesterday and 6 hours today.
  • I’m kinda pooped!
But what could be a better way to spend the evening given such circumstances than sitting down on the couch, slice of pepperoni pizza in one hand, bottle of Lagunitas IPA in the other and viewing a beat-up VHS copy of, say, Diary of a Mad Housewife, starring my very favorite actor of the late ‘60s/early 70s, Richard Benjamin?

Richard Benjamin got a decent amount of acting work back then. He seemed to specialize in Noun of an Adjective Noun movies (Diary of a Mad Housewife, Marriage of a Young Stockbroker) and anything based on a Philip Roth novel (Portnoy’s Complaint, Good-bye, Columbus), but, by about 1980, his acting career had fizzled except for the occasional role as a rabbi. I have a feeling this TV series was the kiss of death for him. Sure, he went on to direct a bunch of (one assumes) crappy movies (e.g., The Money Pit) but there were no more starring roles for Mr. Richard Benjamin. He’s fallen so far off the radar that he doesn’t even warrant a full Wikipedia article, only a stub. Poor Richard Benjamin!

Anyway, after going to an outdoor screening of Westworld (1973) a few weeks ago, I was reminded of how much I love him and his whiny nasal voice and button-down Ivy League persona. By the way, if you have never seen Westworld, rent it immediately.

Here’s the premise. Rich people pay $1,000 a day to go to resort that re-creates life in the Old West, Ancient Rome, and Medieval Europe. You can do whatever you want there! Kill cowboys in shoot-outs, engage in orgies with nubile Roman lasses, or compete in a jousting match. And the resort guarantees that there’s absolutely no way you can get hurt or that you can hurt anyone because all the inhabitants are exceedingly life-like robots. If they get “killed,” they are simply scooped up (while guests are sleeping) and repaired as if they were vacuum cleaners. Richard Benjamin and his pal (played by James Brolin with totally insane feathered hair) are super excited about the possibilities of Westworld.

Richard Benjamin immediately makes a major gaffe when he strides into the saloon and orders a “vodka martini, very dry, with a twist of lemon.” What a candy-ass! The barkeep gives him a whiskey that nearly makes him keel over. Later, though, he totally redeems himself. One morning he’s sitting in the iron bathtub in his room singing “Home on the Range” (what else?) and minding his own business when he hears suspicious noises coming out of James Brolin’s room. Richard Benjamin wraps a towel around his waist, grabs his gun, and saunters over to JB’s room. The door is locked. Richard Benjamin then proceeds to hilariously kick in the door (remember he’s wearing only a towel) to find James Brolin on the brink of being killed by an evil black-clad desperado (played to perfection by Yul Brynner!). In exquisite Sam Peckinpah-style slow-mo Richard Benjamin (don’t forget to picture the towel) pumps about 3 dozen bullets into Yul Brynner. Totally incongruous, over the top, and great.

The movie is off-the-charts campy and thoroughly entertaining. I give it 4 stars. Part of it is that it’s dated, but mostly it’s great satire of a lot of things, including genre movies (both sci-fi and westerns) and the overacting and hackneyed dialogue that are part and parcel of such films (no overacting from Richard Benjamin, though, he’s spot on). There’s an extremely funny scene in which a hysterical resort worker tells Richard Benjamin that he’s doomed. (I've italicized my favorite lines.)

Worker: The machines have gone crazy.
RB:You know about the machines?
Worker: Yeah, I repair'em.
RB: There's one chasing me now. A gunslinger.
Worker: Gunslinger. Must be a model 404, maybe a 406.
If he is a 406, he's got all the sensory equipment.
It's beautiful machine!
RB: He's after me.
Worker: I don't doubt it.
RB: What can I do?
Worker: There's nothing you can do. He'll get you.
You haven't got a chance.
RB: There must be something.
Worker: Fella, don't kid yourself. There are things you could try.
Acid for his visual system, noise for his hearing.
No matter what, he'll always be one jump ahead of you!
You haven't got a chance.
RB: Yes, I do.

Anyway, time to get on my bike and resume RBF2007. I’m thinking tonight’s feature is going to be Portnoy’s Complaint, since B has never seen it. Is he in for a treat! Plenty of gratuitous nudity and even a wank scene--I love how filmmakers in the late '60s/early '70s went hog-wild with sex and nudity once they were finally allowed to. Midnight Cowboy is an excellent example of that, but that's a post for another day.

*Only one video store in town stocks a decent selection of Richard Benjamin vehicles. Pity.

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