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THE MALTESE BIPPY (1969).

One of my fondest, childhood TV memories was watching Rowan and Martin's LAUGH-IN every Monday night, and then talking about it the next day, during 4th grade recess. I loved that silly show. Unfortunately, watching it twenty years later, I discovered just how lame and laugh-barren it actually was. Still, the masochist inside me jumped at the chance to check out Rowan & Martin's feature debut (actually, their first film together was 1958's comic-western ONCE UPON A HORSE, but no one remembers that dud), which was spewed out by MGM in the wake of their show's mega-success. No surprise, it went directly into the toilet, both financially and critically. Nowadays, it comes off like a misguided, counterculture version of a Hope & Crosby movie (coincidentally, this pic's director, Tinseltown hack Norman Panama, also directed THE ROAD TO HONG KONG). And even if the two headliners have all the charisma of a 4th-rate Atlantic City lounge act, the supporting cast is worth a laugh in this tepid, horror movie spoof. The ever-bickering Rowan & Martin play Smith & Grey, a pair of nudie-pic filmmakers (Note: The film is G-rated!) in the midst of lensing LUNAR LUST. When their business is unexpectedly shuttered, the pair heads to Martin's big old house in Flushing, New York, where a chewed-on corpse was found in a nearby cemetery, detective Robert Reed is on the case, and the murderer was heard howling in the night. It gets even more convoluted when Dick becomes convinced he's a werewolf, since he too has an uncontrollable desire to howl. In a dream sequence he actually transforms into one (and badly too), complete with sport coat and tie, and riding a motorcycle. Dumb? Absolutely. Funny? Not for one fucking moment. We also get the Hungarian neighbors, the Ravenswood's -- Addam's Family clones played by Fritz Weaver and Julie Newmar, as brother and sister oddballs, who might also be 300-year-old vampires. Plus Carol Lynley as a cute boarder who becomes Martin's love interest (for that hint of science fiction) and Leon Askin, best remembered as General Burkhalter in HOGAN'S HEROES. This is dopey shit which piles on the hoary horror staples including secret passageways, rainy nights, a lost fortune, and bodies that turn up missing the moment the cops arrive. There are even three different endings, all of them idiotic, of course. Unfortunately, its success relies on the charisma of Rowan and Martin, and although Rowan is fine as the fast-talking weasel, Martin is cringeably inane as a put-upon Nice Guy. Unless you've got a nostalgic urge to see Rowan & Martin floundering on the big-screen, this pic is a dumb, bumpy road.

© 1996 by Steven Puchalski.