Nathan and I recently attended a screening of Smile (1975) and Silent Running at the CineFamily, as part of their ‘That Guy Series’. The ‘That Guy Series’, is a celebration of films by actors who, when you see them you say, “Oh… that guy!” Some of the guests included Bruce Dern, Tom Noonan, M. Emmet Walsh and Udo Kier. If you want to know more about the Cinefamily and their upcoming programs go to, CineFamily.org
I finally got to meet one of my favorite actors, Bruce Dern, who agreed to an on camera conversation with me, discussing some of his own B Movies, Roger Corman, Corey Feldman and The Burbs. Bruce said, he really appreciates what we’re doing with ABM (video to follow) and thinks we should stick with it.
Alright, now lets get down to Smile, directed by Michael Ritchie. Smile takes us back to the 70’s in full glory. Probably the American Beauty of it’s day, Smile takes a satirical look at middle class mediocrity in a small town, selected to have the California’s “Young American Miss” beauty pageant. Hence, “Come on everybody… Smile. Always keep smiling girls!”
Bruce Dern plays the overly chipper Big Bob Freelander, who’s selected to be one of the judges. Big Bob must make time to juggle his successful car dealership and be with his family while maintaining his judges duties. Big Bob’s the kind of guy who looks forward to his weekly lodge meetings, where the members get dressed up in white sheets and hoods, have barbecues and delight in hazing new members.
Andy (Nicholas Pryor) is Big Bob’s best buddy. Andy’s experiencing a midlife crisis. He dreams of something better and wants to run away from the trappings and gossip of his small town. Big Bob tries to convince Andy that everything’s alright, and that it’s just a phase. And with his heart in the right place, Big Bob is trying to recruit Andy into his lodge to be with a group of men who’ve all attained a nice level of “good enough” in their own personal lives. One more thing, Andy’s marriage is in trouble, thanks to his frigid nagging wife Brenda (Barbara Feldon of Get Smart). Brenda is helping to run the pageant, and is in charge of coaching the girls, and looking out for their best interests. Brenda also, only lets Andy walk on the paper in the living room, to protect the carpet and keep it fresh.
On the other side of things, we have the pageant contestants. Young girls passing through town, with big hopes and dreams. Some find friendship, while others find themselves. It is Big Bob’s preteen son who’s caught snapping polaroids of the girls in their dressing room, creating a small scandal.
At one point Andy asks Big Bob if anything ever gets him down, to which Bob recalls a time in college that his roommates cousin set him up on a blind date with Elizebeth Taylor, who just never showed up. And to the day he sometimes wonders how different his own life would be, if they had that date and he was one of her husbands. Honestly, as I’m writing this, it only registers with me now, that it was a prank that his buddies played on him, but never let him in on…
Smile, is a beautiful movie. I suppose it’s a cleverly hidden coming of age film for teenagers and adults in their 30’s. It gives the characters a tremendous amount of dignity. One thing that stood out for me was director Michael Ritchie’s eye for detail. In the middle of a scene, Ritchie’s direction will take us in to an artifact from the 70’s, like a cheep bottle of Cologne shaped like a giant orange screw. Or a little Hawaiian figurine in the bar who pees Saki into your cup. Michael Ritchie offers us the rare film making you almost never get to see today.
The producers for the audience scenes, actually charged the towns people $8 admission fee if they wanted to be extras in the movie. It was sold out every night and the producers actually made money off it!
-Bruce Dern (Smile)
Bruce Dern shared a few stories, production took 18 days, that nobody was told who the pageant winner was going to be, not even the girl who won, until that part was filmed. Dern also let us in on another little secret, that the producers for the audience scenes, charged the towns people $8 admission fee if they wanted to be extras in the movie. It was sold out every night and the producers actually made money off it. While he didn’t exactly condone the act, I think he was trying to teach a lesson about what you can do and what you can get away with if you can think outside of the box.
Michael Ritchie passed away in 2001, but not before giving us such films as The Bad News Bears, Fletch 1 & 2, The Golden Child and re-teaming with Bruce Dern in 1992 for Diggstown. Also look for a 17 year old Melanie Griffith (Something Wild) and Geoffrey Lewis (Thunder Bolt and Lightfoot) bringing fun little characters to life.