Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cool...: "The Double McGuffin" (1979)



When this film came out in 1979, I was eleven years old. Then, it was the best film of my young life. Now, it is okay, but a neat trip down memory lane.

Specks (Dion Pride), Homer (Greg Hodges), Foster (Vincent Spano), and Billy Ray (Jeff Nicholson) are all junior high age buddies at a private boarding school. They have frequent minor brushes with the law, easy going Chief "Tally" Talasek (George Kennedy, in one of his most cuddly performances). The boys are boys until Homer finds a briefcase full of cash in the nearby woods. He takes his friends back to the place he hid it- and they find a dead body with a bullet in the head. The boys then take Tally back, and find nothing.

A mysterious man (Ernest Borgnine) begins hanging around town, sporting Homer's found briefcase. As Tally is called in on yet another dead end investigation over the cash free case, the boys begin suspecting the mystery man of something. Since this is a mystery, I cannot give too much away. Our young heroes enlist the aid of school paper reporter Jody (Lisa Whelchel) and nerdy tattletale Arthur (Michael Gerard), and the group sets elaborate traps to collect evidence on the mystery man and his newly arrived henchmen. Eventually, the group must switch from evidence collecting to actually getting Tally to arrest the men before they carry out a political assassination on Elke Sommer's hard to believe foreign prime minister character.

As I said, this was a better film twenty years ago than it is now. The scenes involving the giant bulky school computers are now just funny. Kennedy's explanation of sending a criminal's photo over the wire to Washington, then having results on that suspect in an hour, is so antiquated as to also be humorous. Even the modern boys themselves must use rotary dial telephones. A few scenes here and there run too long, and the climax is clever but not exactly action filled.

On a positive note, I wanted to be just like these kids. Their dormitory room has secret compartments everywhere, hiding everything from a TV and stereo to junk food and a single beer being saved for a special occasion. They run around and solve crimes, with very little physical harm being threatened. Although set at a school, no one seems to go to class- every kid's dream.

Dion Pride and Greg Hodges did nothing else after this, according to IMDB. That is a shame. Pride warbles the film's flimsy songs, but he has great screen presence as the group's unofficial leader. Hodges is a riot as Homer, whether he is trying to hide the briefcase full of cash or reading a Playboy in the background of a dialogue scene. Spano and Nicholson are also good. Gerard, as the always flustered Arthur, is also funny, and threatens to steal the film from Hodges once he is introduced. I can proudly say I had a crush on Lisa Whelchel before she took the good, took the bad, took them both, and then she had "The Facts of Life." She is so cute here, it is criminal.

Kennedy is good, Borgnine is vaguely threatening without scaring youngsters, but Sommer is given nothing to do but be filmed from great distances and briefly flash the camera. Borgnine's henchmen are played with athletic stiffness by Ed "Too Tall" Jones (Go Cowboys!) and Lyle Alzado.

Camp throws in a few funny inside jokes as well in an otherwise normal directorial routine. A radio has Verne Lundquist analyzing Jones and Alzado's football strategies. A book rack is full of paperback books about the canine icon Benji, who Camp trained and whose films he directed. Little things like this are fun to watch out for.

Orson Welles tells us in the ominous opening narration that a McGuffin is the driving force that propels the suspense forward; the main reason behind the story. Here, it is the briefcase and its constantly changing contents, but also its incredibly fun cast and breezy conspiracy.

Although not as good as I remember it being (and what is after twenty years?), "The Double McGuffin" can still be a charming experience. I do recommend it. (* * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: The Double McGuffin