Musical redemption or Escape from 1978

Albert Walker over at Den of Geek has a fun article of “Top 10 worst musical moments.” I can’t argue with the abject metaphysical badness of any of Mr. Walker’s choices, but I’m a guy who prefers to emphasize the positive. Below are a couple of great performers who essentially disgraced themselves in Walker’s selections, redeeming themselves musically on film.

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First, though decades later I’m still healing from the scars inflicted by the legendarily god-awful 1978 juke-box film musical, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band,” I had forgotten how bad Steve Martin’s performance of Paul McCartney’s black-humored romp, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” really was. On his only musical, director Michael Schultz clearly had not clue what do do with Martin. His performance is painful to watch and entirely unfunny.

Now contrast this with Martin’s performance in 1986’s “Little Shop of Horrors,” which Albert Walker and I agree is about a million times better. Director Frank Oz also only made one musical, but it wasn’t a problem. I’m sure Martin was probably eager to redeem himself after the atrocity eight years prior, and Oz matched his spot-on interpretation of the song with a pretty huge degree of wit and imagination. I speak, of course, of the “Dentist” song.

Also, there’s no getting over the embarrassment of future James Bond Timothy Dalton crooning the Captain & Tenille to early screen comedy superstar Mae West from another film from 1978, “Sextette.” A definite contender for most brazenly ill-advised movie of all time, the musical comedy featured an 80-somethng West playing sexpot one last time to costars like Dalton, Dom DeLuise, and Ringo Starr.

Now, even at the height of her fame 35 years previously, by today’s standards the generously proportioned Mae West might strike most people as an odd choice for a sexpot, and many of her jokes have become cliches over the decade. (“Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”, etc.) Even at the time, I’m sure male filmgoers would lean pretty strongly towards such thirties sirens as Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, or Bette Davis whose sexiness seems more usual to us today. Mae West, however, was unique in that she played a woman aggressively and openly obsessed with sex at a time when only males were allowed that role, and people were barely allowed to even allude to it in public. It seems clear that men found the idea intriguing and West also was blessed with a great deal of wit and confidence and…something.

Just watch her sing “I Wonder Where My Easy Rider’s Gone” in 1933, and know that she’s not really singing about horse racing. And, yes, that really is a young Cary Grant romancing her.

  

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