Monday, July 25, 2016


When The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was cancelled after two and half contentious seasons, Tommy Smothers was convinced that Pres. Richard Nixon had a hand in its demise. Three years later, he tried to exact revenge by producing Another Nice Mess. It's a mess, I'll grant you that.

So obscure that most people weren't even aware of its existence at the time, Another Nice Mess is for people who ever wondered what President Nixon and Vice-President Spiro Agnew would have been like if they talked and behaved Laurel & Hardy. Are you on the bandwagon?

Character actor Herb Voland is Agnew/Laurel, while legendary impressionist Rich Little is Nixon/Hardy. It's an interesting idea; Voland and Little impersonate the comedians quite well, perhaps better than anyone else ever has. 

If you loved Way Out West, you may tolerate
Another Nice Mess. But it's unlikely.
Unfortunately, they haven't been giving a script or a budget worth their talent. Writer/director Bob Einstein is certainly familiar with Laurel & Hardy -- their classic dance from Way Out West, for instance, is replicated here. But Laurel & Hardy made everything appear effortless. Voland & Little, having not worked together before nor being physical comedians, look like they're, well, trying their best. 

I don't remember what's supposed to be
happening here, but it doesn't matter.
Further muddying things, Einstein adds sound effects and trick camera work more appropriate for The Three Stooges, as if realizing his target audience -- stoners, Nixon haters, and stoner Nixon haters -- wouldn't have the patience to sit through a deliberately-paced Laurel & Hardyesque movie. Never play to the stoners.

No performer given, and for good reason.

Too, one misses the infectious music that LeRoy Shields and Marvin Hatley composed for the Hal Roach pictures. While L&H's "Ku-Ku" theme appears from time to time in Another Nice Mess, a pop song titled "I Am the President" is performed ad nauseum by someone trying to sound like Arlo Guthrie. 

Old Hitler wishes he died back at the bunker, as does
the audience.

Oh, by the way, there's a plot, of sorts. An elderly Adolf Hitler is living secretly in the White House, trying to take over the presidency with the help of a sexy intern. That's comedy, folks.

Einstein tries to jazz things up (or pad things out) with clips of the real Laurel & Hardy "watching" the events onscreen; there's also genuine news footage of Nixon campaigning. Taking it one meta-step further, Rich Little occasionally appears as the "real" Pres. Nixon commenting on Another Nice Mess in the White House screening room. His vocal and physical resemblance are eerily spot-on; Einstein should have written a one-man stage show for Little as Nixon, and saved Tommy Smothers some money.

Nixon's shave is interrupted by a 
plumber's snake from Agnew's
bathroom. Just as funny as it sounds.
As bad as it is, Another Nice Mess could have been a lot worse. Entire scenes seem to have been left on the cutting room floor, accounting for its incredibly short 65-minute running time. What remains -- like "zany" running gags featuring Secret Service agents disguised as houseplants -- has been edited with the skill of a logger with a bad case of the shakes. So much for getting even with Tricky Dickie.

Steve Martin, far right, watches his movie
career almost end before it begins.
Bob Einstein was one of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour's writers/supporting players, as was Steve Martin, who makes his movie debut here as a hippie inadvertently launching a brick-throwing fight with Nixon, Agnew and a bunch of innocent bystanders. I don't recall seeing this clip during the American Film Institute's tribute to Steve a while back. 

Steve Martin and Bob Einstein pretend they
had nothing to do with Another Nice Mess.
Dick & Spiro as Stan & Ollie could have worked as a recurring seven-minute sketch on the Smothers Brothers show. But as a movie, Another Nice Mess hangs together like a fallen clothesline. Tommy Smothers himself admitted it was "terrible", allowing it to fall into public domain; prints are as faded as a forgotten 1940s Cinecolor b-movie.

Just for fun, if you ever run into Steve Martin, tell him your favorite movie is Another Nice Mess. His reaction will probably be more entertaining than anything in the movie.


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