Thu 9 Jun 2016
JOHN GOLDFARB, PLEASE COME HOME. 20th Century Fox, 1965. Shirley MacLaine, Peter Ustinov, Richard Crenna, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Jim Backus, Fred Clark, Scott Brady, Harry Morgan, Jerome Cowan, Telly Savalas, Jackie Coogan, Charles Lane, Leonid Askin, Richard Deacon, Jerry Orbach. Screenplay: William Peter Blatty. Director: J. Lee Thompson.
YOU KNOW WHAT SAILORS ARE! General Films, UK, 1954; United Artists, US, 1954. Akim Tamiroff, Donald Sinden, Sarah Lawton, Naunton Wayne, Bill Kerr, Dora Bryan, Martin Miller, Michael Shepley, Ferdy Mayne, Shirley Eaton (unbilled). Screenplay by Peter Rogers, based on the novel Sylvester by Edward Hyams. Director: Ken Annakin.
These two films, done a little over a decade apart, are both cold war satires and sex farces set against a never never land of exotic Middle Eastern Arab states (more Grand Duchy of Fenwick than Graustark) and broadly drawn caricatures of both Western and Mid-Eastern types. One is a pleasant, even charming comedy with real laughs and sex appeal, the other is John Goldfarb, Please Come Home.
Starting with the brassy and annoying title song sung by Shirley MacLaine, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home sets the tone for the entire film, loud, obvious, and painful to endure. Fawzia is a fictional Arab state run by eccentric King Fawz (Peter Ustinov at his absolute worst doing incredibly unfunny and offensive slapstick) who is upset his darling son has been kicked off the football team at Notre Dame and wants revenge.
When U2 pilot, John “Wrongway” Goldfarb (Richard Crenna “He said, funny, you don’t look Jewish.”) manages to ditch over Fawzia on a mission over the U.S.S.R. (they don’t call him Wrongway for nothing), and King Fawz learns from his chief minister Gus (Wilfrid Hyde-White) that Goldfarb was a football star and coach, — well you can see where this is going — and nowhere fast.
Meanwhile obnoxious harridan reporter Jenny Ericson (Shirley MacLaine), who gave Goldfarb his hated nickname, has gone undercover in King Fawz harem only to find the old boy is more active than she was told and she is anxious to maintain her amateur standing blackmailing Goldfarb into protecting her.
All this leading to one of those hate turns to romance things so beloved by script writers and here wholly unlikely as the only proper reaction to MacLaine’s character would be homicide and not chivalry. This film really doesn’t like women. It doesn’t like anyone much, but it really dislikes women, the harem consisting of gold diggers with no self esteem whatsoever. Women exist only as sex objects, and the only vaguely intelligent one is a screaming shrieking harpy with a shrill laugh and all the charm of a scorpion.
I like MacLaine, in fact I like everyone involved in making this film including the screenwriter and director, but what any of them were thinking escapes me. This film is an almost physical assault from start to finish, the cinematic equivalent of being slapped in the face with a wet dead fish repeatedly.
Back in Washington the boys (Secretary of State Harry Morgan, CIA chief Fred Clark, diplomat Jim Backus, Sec. of Defense Richard Deacon et al) think Goldfarb is dead, and are concerned about getting an airfield in Fawzia, but having recently presented the king with a set of pigskin luggage (yes, that’s the level of humor here) things are looking bad — unless they can persuade Notre Dame to play a game against Fawzia’s new team with their mystery coach, and Notre Dame loses …
Loud, often racist, rude, crude, painfully unfunny, sexist, silly, strident, and just awful are just a few of the adjectives that come to mind about this painful satire that makes Mad look subtle. There is something here to offend everyone including the total waste of talent. To give you the level of humor here, Fred Clark is the CIA director named Overreach and Jim Backus a diplomat named Whitepaper.
These are the jokes, folks …
I will give Scott Brady this, though. In a film with so many funny men and women being not funny he has a nice turn as the thoroughly flustered Notre Dame coach. It’s not much, but it’s something.
You Know What Sailors Are! starts with Lt. Sylvester Green (Donald Sinden) and friends, Royal Naval officers on a binge, who as a joke build a Rube Goldberg contraption from a pram and three gold balls from a pawn shop on the prow of an Arab destroyer in port and paint it gray. Come the next morning the Royal Navy spies the thing and before an hour has passed they have identified it as Project 998, a super-secret new radar, and want to know how the Arab’s got it first.
In short order Lt.Green is ordered to accompany the Arab ship back home to Agraria and find out from a brilliant scientist living in retirement there, Professor Hyman Pfumbaum (Mark Miller), how the Agrarians got the new radar, and he can hardly tell his superiors it’s a drunken joke.
Traveling with Sinden is the malaprop-dropping President of the Arab state, Akim Tamiroff, who believes 998 is a secret weapon, just what he needs against one of his militaristic neighbors, Smorgisgov, who have his country ringed by missiles, and who decides he must keep Lt. Green a prisoner, so he locks him ups in his harem of beautiful daughters watched over by his eccentric English wife (Dora Bryan) and an army of scantily clad beautiful girls as guards.
“He must be marrying one of my daughters, then everyone will be happy, myself excluded.”
Things get more complicated as Tamiroff and his friend Hyman try to convince their neighbors that 998 actually works by blowing up Smorgsnigov’s missiles deceiving their foreign scientist Stanislaus Voritz (Ferdy Mayne) who has a thing for missiles, and Sylvester’s girl Betty(Sarah Lawton), secretary of his boss (Naunton Wayne) and best friend Lt. Smart (Bill Kerr) parachute into Argaria to break into the harem and rescue him before the Royal Navy gets too suspicious why he doesn’t come home.
You Know What Sailors Are! is genuinely funny, it’s barbs sharp but delivered with wit and not malice, and aimed at pretty much everyone with equal wit and warmth. Tamiroff’s fractured English is a delight — “Bang Crash Ruddy Wallop!” is how he describes his countries plight, and when he and his friend scientist Hyman meet to talk announcing “Let us both talk in broken English so we can misunderstand each other.” — and the girls are genuinely attractive.
There is a funny, but still sexy, musical number with Lawton posing as a dancer trying to capture Green’s attention that compares more than favorably to the jolting and unattractive numbers that dot John Goldfarb with little or no point other than MacLaine and skimpily clad models gyrating unattractively to bad music. You know a Hollywood movie is in trouble when it can’t even organize a sexy Arabian nights style faux belly dancing number.
You Know What Sailors Are! is a pleasant minor satirical diversion, sexist yes, but not jarringly so and not without intelligent and capable female characters, beautifully shot in soft pastel colors with a cast of attractive and talented people poking gentle barbs at themselves and others, probably offensive if you really want to get offended, but all done with such good humor and affection it would be hard to take real offense.
It comes across as a sort of Middle Eastern The Mouse That Roared. John Goldfarb, Please Come Home is a garish assault on the senses, eyes and ears, painfully arch, blatantly offensive, utterly without a redeeming feature, screechingly played at the top of everyone’s voice, and with all the charm and subtly of a herd of sexually frustrated camels stampeding through your china closet.
I’m recommending one of them. Guess which?