18 Again!

The critics’ naked loathing of this great film set a record for missing the obvious, such as Anita Morris’s brilliant comic turn, Charlie Schlatter’s amusing parody of George Burns, Red Buttons’ homage to Jack Warden in Heaven Can Wait, and Burns himself, very sage and wry.

At age 81, he and his grandson aged 18 crash into Art’s Clothing and are transformed. Note that the Rossmore Eagles are named for a street called Vine when it enters Hollywood. How seriously this is to be taken is indicated by the second transformation, which happens when they crash through the stained glass of a hospital chapel, and there is a cross on the opposite wall.

The significance of the track meet, apart from the obvious, is in the pair of track shoes lent by grandfather to grandson (who stumbles a bit), and if that is wearisome to critics, let them take their own advice and retire.


Who’s Harry Crumb?

The joke is on Democrats and Republicans or liberals and conservatives. P.J. has a young wife who wants his money for her tennis pro to enjoy. The new head of a private detective agency wants the wife, so he kidnaps the elder daughter for P.J.’s money as ransom.

It’s exactly the ramifications of all this that are the basis of the comedy. The critics fell flat.

Harry Crumb is the latest in a long line of private detectives, he’s lost the family business and now works for the kidnapper. He’s partly modeled on Darren McGavin.

Ransom is paid out at the racetrack, Harry gets stuck in a phone booth “for jockeys only”. The sublime jest of that is typical, and if you don’t get it you’re probably very active in the party of your choice, whatever that might be. As Barney Frank used to say, “I hold my nose and pull the party lever.”

The Temptations sing “Big Fun (Harry Crumb)”. The cast are experts. A surreal brand of comedy pictures the sense of expectation, a doorman fears for his job, sends Harry up disguised as a Delhi air-conditioning repairman, the duct serves for a little spying, Harry nearly freezes, the gust empties his pockets and sends him shooshing miles toward the vent, out of which coins fly to the delighted doorman, then Harry.

The plot construction has him stumble all the way through, his rusty skills sharpen, but the solution comes as a surprise even to him. The kidnap victim is a popular beauty, the younger daughter something of a Cinderella (she’s modeled on Candy Clark). A mental case guards the girl with a cattle prod, electrified.

A rare comedy played entirely along its lines of analysis. In the end, Harry is off on another case, at the Bottoms Up Club in San Francisco, wearing female attire and now the head of the firm.