Friday, September 3, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: CLEVELAND SMITH - BOUNTY HUNTER (1982)

With great silliness comes very little responsibility. Particularly if you are in your 20s and are Sam Raimi, Josh Becker, Scott Spiegel and Bruce Campbell.

Armed with a super 8 movie camera Raimi and company made a fistful of legendary short films including the infamous short film WITHIN THE WOODS (1978) that became the basis for what I still believe is his best film, THE EVIL DEAD (1981). Many of these films have not been seen due to Raimi's legion of legal buzzards who used to swoop down and attack anyone who even breathed a word about them. Sam Raimi himself claimed during his few public appearances back in the old days that he did not want them to be seen. Period. This was presumably due to rampant copyright worries (that should have been easily shrugged off as "parody") and a surprising amount of good old fashioned Midwestern xenophobia.

In 1982, Scott Spiegel and Josh Becker wrote and directed what has to be the first RAIDER'S OF THE LOST ARK parody this side of MAD Magazine. Starring suitably attired Bruce Campbell as Cleveland Smith, the film sets the tone by having Smith strike a match and peer around in darkness only to burn his fingers. Cleveland navigates some skeletons to grab a pair of rubber pants and is promptly chased by a giant rolling boulder... that squishes him to it and he rotates with the boulder in glorious miniature. He is also chased by African native headhunters (as imagined by white suburban kids from Michigan) who throw spears at him. This sets off a series of stumbles and fumbles the likes of which Bruce Campbell is known for and has sort of parlayed into a career of sorts.

Leaping from brontosaur cranium, escaping Nazis and quicksand, smashing into trees and dropping into cannibal cauldrons are all in a days work for Cleveland Smith. Being a well rounded adventurer, in order to save himself from the soup tureen and fellow adventurer Sally (Cheryl Guttridge) from the cannibal chief's bed, Cleveland whips out a Groucho Marx ventriloquist doll and scares the head hunters off with a plethora of bad Henny Youngman-style jokes.  Just when you think it couldn't possibly get any sillier, the cannibal chief, "Big Daddy" (is that Sam Raimi in blackface?!), rolls up in a Caddy and says "Weeell, whats do we got heeere?" Ummm... some more politically correct viewers might wonder the same thing. While even the early '80s were more enlightened than this, it's still goofy enough to be not terribly offensive, unless you or a loved one are actually an African cannibal headhunter, in which case I would suggest not watching the film.

Of course no Indiana Jones mockery would be complete without a scene where Cleveland faces off against a sword-wielding foe. "Taste leather, sword man!" says Cleaveland as he whips out his whip, lashes himself around the ankle and allows Campbell to do his patented one-man flip routine. The cannibal, busy swinging his sword around, falls into a dozen pieces. The film finishes up it's cartoon-influenced tomfoolery with Smith avoiding an obvious trap only to plummet over a cliff, at which point Sally says "I guess he really fell for me".

Loaded with bad jokes, questionable humor, a multitude of pratfalls, goofs and one-liners, this may not be the greatest thing to be born out of RAIDER'S mindblowing sucess, but it moves so fast and is over so quick, it's a pretty damned entertaining diversion for those born with a deficit of attention span.

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