Monday, September 24, 2012

Elmer Thud: "Elmer" (1976)

Christopher Cain, noted director, had to start somewhere. Sadly, while one of his first films is a learning experience for the production team, it is a bore for the audience.

Elmer is a dog. Elmer cannot bark, and lazes around tripping Mr. Russell (Frank Russell). Russell and young son Dean (the director's son, Dean Cain, way before "Lois and Clark") decide to drive Elmer out to "Grandpa's farm." Elmer gets out of the car at a gas station and is immediately lost in the woods. Meanwhile, Jerry (Phillip Swanson) and his uncle Buck (no, not John Candy, but the film's executive producer, Wallace M. Dill) take off in a rickety small plane and immediately get lost in a thunderstorm. The plane crashes in the woods, and Jerry is blinded.

Elmer finds Jerry and the two travel together. Meanwhile, local colorful characters (and possible brain trauma victims) Chuck (Michael O. Hanks) and Buddy (James Reidy) decide to go hunt for Jerry so they can be in the local paper and become rich and famous...oh, the suspense...

G-rated nature adventure films like this are a dime a dozen, and "Elmer" does look cheap. The elder Cain, who also wrote this, lets Hanks and Reidy improvise, a skill neither actor possesses. Even if you forget about the banal predictability of the film, and the sloppy editing, and the suicidally depressing musical score, you cannot fail to notice Cain's awful padding of the film. One sequence, where Chuck and Buddy discover Elmer, Jerry, and a skunk near some boulders, runs so long and quickly becomes so pointless, I was exasperated.

Even if you don't have two nickels to rub together to make a budget, the least you could do is try to make the most of a cheap situation. All the acting is pretty bad. The sets are cheap, the hospital looks like someone's garage, and the story is as compelling as a grain of rice. The film is dedicated to the young actor Phillip Swanson and the fourteen million other blind citizens of the country. If Swanson was blind, I was not aware of it. Maybe it's a good thing since his first name is misspelled in the opening credits. His name comes after Elmer's; yes, the dog gets top billing.

I hate to come down on a film that had hopes for something better, but "Elmer" is a failure. (*) out of five stars.