‘Now, Voyager’ in ‘Summer of ’42,’ ‘Twister’ in ‘Atomic Twister,’ and a Five-Movie Chain

Some time back I instituted the “Double Dip” tag, indicating cases where characters in movie a watch movie B, and character in B watch movie C. As of now, there are two examples — Brief Encounter, which is seen in several different movies and in which characters watch (the fictional) Flames of Passion, and The Shining, which is seen in Twister and in which characters watch Summer of ’42.

Well, now it’s down to one, because the Twister/Summer of  ‘42/Shining train just got expanded to a new tag, which I’m calling “five-spot.”

It stretches out on both ends. Summer of ’42 , set on Nantucket in that wartime summer, has a scene where the three teenage buddies go to the movies. They probably would have enjoyed another night better: the coming attractions posters are of two Warner Brothers pictures with plenty of action: The Wagons Roll at Night (a circus melodrama and Humphrey Bogart’s follow-up to They Drive By Night) and the Gary Cooper classic Sergeant York. (Oddly, both movies came out in 1941.)

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Tonight’s feature, however, is the women’s picture of all women’s pictures, the Bette Davis–Paul Henreid starrer (I love using Variety-speak) Now, Voyager. In some ways, though, it’s a felicitous choice, the uber-romance on screen possibly increasing the chances of the sex-obsessed boys making time with their dates.

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Watch that right arm! Aggie (Katherine Allentuck) and Hermie (Gary Grimes).

In every post on this blog up till now, I have included a clip of the movie-in-movie scene. Summer of ’42 foiled me, however, for technical reasons I won’t get into. (But I will say I am a little ticked off at iTunes.) Instead, here’s a clip of a part of Now, Voyager we see the kids watching, the ending, with its famous last line. And spoiler: it’s got the guy-lighting-two-cigarettes bit, which has been spoofed so often it can’t not look funny.

And finally, I was checking the “Connections” section of Twister‘s entry on IMDB and lo and behold, it says that “extracts” from the film are seen in the 2002 made-for-TV movie Atomic Twister, directed by Bill Corcoran. I’m definitely not able to provide the relevant clip, as I have no access to Atomic Twister. But if anybody does — or can name another five-spot, or even four- — you know where to find me.

Update: I am speaking sincerely when I say it’s nice to have your own personal fact-checker. At least that’s how I think of the linguist, writer and all-around smart guy Ben Zimmer, who frequently helps me out in the area of accuracy quality-control. Ben actually called me out on two mistakes related to the supposed watching of Twister in Atomic Twister. First, the latter is very much accessible — it’s on YouTube in its entirety.

On the second mistake, Ben reports:

I can’t bring myself to watch the whole thing, but flipping through I’m not seeing “Twister” anywhere. (The kids *play* Twister at one point, but they don’t *watch* “Twister.”) The TV in the house is on about 33 minutes in, but it’s showing a western. I wonder if the “extracts” mentioned on IMDb are just reused footage? This is a TBS movie, and Turner had the rights to Warner Bros. movies like “Twister,” so I think it’s possible.

Reading that, and thinking about IMDB’s phrasing (“extracts … are used”), I realize he’s got to be right, and it’s a case of reused footage.

So does this still qualify as a five-spot? Up until now, every post on this blog has been about a movie or TV show where a movie or TV show is actually playing or showing. On the other hand, the title of the blog is “Movies in Movies” and the subheading is, “Films and TV episodes that cleverly incorporate films or TV episodes.” Twister in Atomic Twister qualifies on both counts (except maybe the “cleverly” part).

So I’m going to claim blogger’s prerogative and keep the “five-spot” designation.

 

‘Happy Endings’ in ‘New York, New York’ (and ‘Spaceballs’ x∞)

The recent post on Scream 4 brought up the question, are there any other cases of a movie in a movie in a movie? Ben Zimmer was quick to bring up Mel Brooks’s Spaceballs (1987) in which Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) and other characters watch themselves watching themselves watching themselves… (In a less endlessly recursive way, Blazing Saddles was shown in Brooks’s Blazing Saddles.)

 

I’d say it merits an asterisk, as does the only other movie-in-movie-in-movie example I’ve found, New York, New York (1977). Actually, I’d give Martin Scorsese’s film two asterisks. The first is because this twelve-minute sequence was cut out of the original theatrical release, only to be restored in 1981. The second … well, I’ll explain. In the movie, set in the 1940s, Liza Minelli plays singer/actress Francine Evans, who, after breaking with saxophonist Jimmy Doyle (Robert DeNiro), whose middle name should be “Nogood,” hits it big, including landing the starring role in a movie musical called Happy Endings.

In Mean Streets and Taxi Driver we learned Scorsese is fond of Times Square marquees, but he takes it to a new level here. At the start of the sequence is an establishing shot.

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We know it’s Times Square because of the Hotel Astor (lower left), which was on Broaadway between 44th and 45th Streets. And we know it’s 1949 because that’s the year of the two other (carefully selected) films on the marquees, John Huston’s We Were Strangers and Mark Robson’s Home of the Brave. Happy Endings, meanwhile, is opening at  the “New York Music Hall” — a riff on Radio City Music Hall, actually half a mile to the northeast.

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We go into the theater only to see a Happy Endings scene set in a movie theater. Francine plays “usherette” Peggy Smith; in the the stylized set (production design by Boris Leven), still more movie marquees (including the Apollo, a Scorsese favorite) are seen behind the audience. Also behind them is a beam of light from a projector — it contains, tantalizingly, the movie within the movie within the movie, which we can’t quite see.

 

Peggy meets Donald (Larry Kert) who turns out to be a movie producer and makes her a star. There are a series of production numbers, and we see superimposed titles and marquees (more marquees!) of her starring roles: Princess Sargeant, The Girl from Rio (actually the title of a 1969 spy movie), The Long Waltz (possibly a nod to Scorsese’s own The Last Waltz, and inadvertently misspelled in the marquee).

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In a Star Is Born–like arc she loses Donald when she eclipses him, but (happy ending) gets him back … but wait, it was all a dream, and she’s back as an usherette. But wait! She meets Donald again — and all of a sudden, Peggy jumps into the movie screen, a la Buster Keaton. So there’s your movie in a movie in a movie. With asterisk.

 

And if anyone’s interested in seeing the whole twelve-minute sequence, here you go:

 

 

 

‘Darkness at Noon’ and ‘Talking at Noon’ in ‘The Good Wife’

Picking up on the thread of TV series with continuing fake TV series, YouTube user Charlie has helpfully put together this montage of scenes from two fake shows — Darkness at Noon and Talking at Noon — that periodically showed up in the CBS drama The Good Wife (2009-2016).

Some good stuff there, as when Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) glances at the screen and asks her daughter, “What’s going on?” The response: “He shot the bald guy, now they’re blaming the other guy, now she’s in trouble.” Pretty elegant recap.

Or the troubled hero’s soliloquy: “People just think there are black hats and white hats, but there are black hats with white linings, and white hats with black linings, and there are hats that change back and forth between white and black, and there are striped hats. Evil rests in the soul of all men… and there is nothing you can do but curse God.”

Another nice touch is the spoiler-dispensing Talking at Noon, the chat show about the show within the show. It’s takeoff on AMC’s Talking Dead, which debuted in 2011 to hash and rehash that network’s The Walking Dead, thus inventing the now-thriving genre of “aftershow.”

According to an IndieWire article, Darkness at Noon began as a shot at another AMC show, Low Winter Sun (which had been cancelled after one season by the time Darkness at Noon appeared, which seems a bit punching down) and “evolved into an ongoing satire of TV-antihero tropes.” To me, the dopey dark existentialism evoked another cable cop show HBO’s True Detective.

In fact, every platform has its pluses and minuses, specifically when it comes to shows about crime, criminals, and the law. The premium cable of HBO and its brethren, with its primo production values and near-total freedom in terms of sex, violence, and language, sometimes seems to rely on, or revel in, those things at the expense of character and plot, and invoke a cheap nihilism. Basic cable — like AMC and FX — to me often hits a sweet spot, in shows like Fargo and Better Call Saul, but even they tend to operate with a surfeit of testosterone (note the Everest-like left breast of the Darkness at Noon corpse) and be overly concerned with who is the biggest “badass” (a favorite approbative word on Talking Noon).

The shortcomings of broadcast TV are pretty well known. Most of them relate to various sorts of unrealisticness. The Good Wife, which was the brainchild of show-runners Robert and Michelle King, was definitely better than most. I watched it for the last two-thirds of its run and enjoyed, among other things, its unusual savviness about politics and the law, the better-than-average use of “ripped from the headlines” plots, and great characters portrayed by Alan Cumming, Christine Baranski, Sarah Steele, and Stockard Channing, among others That list, along with the (not as strong IMHO) title character, suggests the good job it did reversing TV’s traditional gender imbalance.

But the show also had its share, and at times more than its share, of soapy melodrama. To get a small sense of that, here’s Wikipedia’s summary of one of the not-so-great characters:

Blake Calamar (Scott Porter) is a private investigator for the firm who competes with Kalinda. He tries to frame Kalinda for putting a doctor in a coma but fails. He finds out that her former name was Leela Tahiri and Peter helped her change it. In return, she slept with Peter.

When stuff like that happens, as someone once said, there is nothing you can do but curse God.

 

‘The Terrance and Phillip Show’ in ‘South Park’

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Terrance and Phillip

I believe I’ve only covered one instance of a fake TV shows in a real one, The Itchy & Scratchy Show in The Simpsons. But it’s a pretty pervasive phenomenon, as I learned from an Entertainment Weekly article by Chancellor Agard and Ernest Macias. They list the ten best uses of the trope (I think they go in reverse order of best-ness):

  • Chicago Penthouse (spoof of reality shows) in The Good Fight.
  • The Valley (Southern California soap) in (Southern California soap) The O.C.
  • Inspector Spacetime (Dr. Who parody) in Community.
  • El Amor Prohibido (telenovella) in Arrested Development.
  • Terrance and Philip in South Park.
  • Due North (Underground spoof) in Insecure.
  • Defamation (Scandal spoof) in Dear White People.
  • MILF Island in 30 Rock. 
  • Invitation to Love (daytime soap) in Twin Peaks.
  • Darkness at Noon in The Good Wife.

As the list makes clear, this is generally a satire of either specific or generic TV content. (Fake-movies-in-movies are a similar deal.) The spoofs range from blunt to sharp, as spoofs tend to do.  (I cracked up at the tagline for MILF Island, a summer reality show: “Twenty-five super-hot moms. Fifty eighth-grade boys. No rules.”) But the more interesting cases are where the fake shows combine satire with a meta-commentary on the “real” program. That’s definitely the case with Itchy & Scratchy, with Invitation to Love, on Twin Peaks, which I plan to cover in a future post, and I imagine (haven’t seen it yet) with The Valley.

And with Terrance and Phillip, which basically takes all the criticisms of South Park, sees them, and raises them two. Is the animation crude? T and P is even cruder, with characters’ heads that are horizontally cut in half and bob up and down to portray talking. And is the humor crude? Again, even cruder, consisting almost entirely of fart jokes and bad ethnic insults. Here’s a South Park fan site on the characters’ origin story:

The two characters have heavy accents, ostensibly to represent stereotypical American views of Canadians. The “aboot” pronunciation has also been used in The Simpsons and Canadian Bacon. The fact their career is based on an accidental fart Terrance made on the The Ed Sullivan Show at the age of six, because that was the only part of their act Americans understood, may be saying something about Canadian perceptions of Americans.

The duo popularized a catchphrase in the show-within-a-show, as they would invariably say “You FAH-ted!” and then giggle to almost any farting sound.

And here’s a clip from a recent episode. Terrance and Phillip are the ages they would be in 2017, given the Ed Sullivan appearance (an implicit commentary on the convention of animation characters never getting older).  They’ve got a new show, on Netflix, but their humor is the same old thing.

Next: Darkness at Noon (and Talking at Noon) on The Good Wife.

‘Stab 6’ and ‘Stab 7’ in ‘Scream 4’

Among the many gaps in my knowledge, one of the gappiest involves slasher/horror films. Like, I’m aware they exist, that some smart people like some of them, and that Wes Craven is a personage, but after that I’m pretty much done. So when a Google search led me to the opening scene of Craven’s Scream 4, (2011) it was all new to me.

Take a look.

 

Having seen the clip, you might be able to guess what my Google search was: “movie in a movie in a movie.” A few other contenders pop up, but this was the best, as we open with (what turns out to be) a scene from (the fictional) Stab 6, which has been watched by characters (played by Anna Paquin and Kristin Bell) from Stab 7, which has been watched by characters (Aimee Teegarden and Britt Robertson) from the “real” Scream 4.

That Russian-doll setup suggests the very self-aware quality of the whole Scream series (I have learned), in which the eerily similar Stab series serves as a sort of running self-conscious commentary. How can you not like a slasher movie where a slasher-movie-slasher-movie-in-movie character (Paquin), scoffs, “A bunch of articulate teens sit around and deconstruct horror movies until Ghostface kills them one by one. It’s been done to death. The whole self-aware, meta shit. Stick a fork in it.” Right before she gets stabbed in the throat by Kristin Bell, who must have loved playing against nice-girl type.

And speaking of self-aware, meta shit, the Scream films have a generous supply of strategically chosen actual movies in them. According to IMDB Scream‘s got Frankenstein, Halloween, Prom Night, and The Thing from Another World; Sceam 2, Nosferatu; and Scream 4, Shaun of the Dead. (Returning the favor, Halloween H20 has a scene from Scream 2.)

I’ve got another movie within a movie within a movie in mind, but I’m curious to see if anyone has some suggestions of their own.

What’s the Worst Fake Bad Movie?

Careful readers of this blog know that there’s a category on it called “Not Real,” covering cases where the movie or TV show the characters are watching isn’t, you got it, real. You can see all such entries by navigating over to the right, scrolling down, pulling down the “Categories” menu, and clicking on “Not Real.”

A disproportionate number of those fake movies are pretty bad, obvious even in the brief glimpse we get of them. Examples would be Flames of Passion in Brief Encounter, Angels with Filthy Souls in Home Alone, Habeus Corpus in The Player, Garden Tool Massacre in the 1988 remake of The Blob, and Coed Frenzy in Blow Out. That badness isn’t really surprising. The director of the real movie is concentrating his or her creative energies on that one; the ersatz film serves to provide some sort of counterpoint, or merely to mock a tired genre. They’re sort of film-school exercises, and I imagine they’re a lot of fun to make.

This post contains a few more examples. At the end, there’s a poll where you can vote for the best worst fake movie of all time. And if you have any other nominees, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

When Christopher Guest’s For Your Consideration came out in 2006, I remember thinking that his “mockumentary” series (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, etc.) had pretty much played itself out, and that the only really funny thing was the (bad) movie within the movie, a holiday tearjerker called Home for Purim (Purim being perhaps the most minor of minor Jewish holidays).

I think my take holds up, at least regarding the brilliant excruciatingness of Made for Purim, which is set in the South, probably so as to put on display a dizzying array of bad Southern accents, and set in the ’40s, probably because why would you set a sentimental Purim movie in the ’40s? The clip below is a pretty generous look at it. At the head of  the holiday table is matriarch Esther Pischer (Catherine O’Hara); moving counter-clockwise there’s her son with the guitar (Christopher Moynihan), the Pischer patriarch (Harry Shearer), daughter Callie Pischer, and Callie’s special friend, played by Rachael Harris. (“I did meet a nice fella,” Callie had told Esther in a scenery-munching scene, “… and her name is Mary Pat!“) All are brandishing their traditional Purim noisemakers.

Here are the rest, in chronological order of the real film’s release. Singin’ in the Rain (1952), directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, is about the difficulties of the transition from silent films to talkies in the 1920s. All of these are on-display in a test screening of The Dueling Cavalier, with Kelly as Don Lockwood and Jean Hagen as absolutely-not-ready-for-sound silent star Lina Lamont. (The rustling of the pearls is an especially nice touch.)

Pretty much every review of Joe Dante’s Matinee (1993) includes the word “loving,” and that’s an apt designation for Dante’s take on the B-movies of the ’50s and early ’60s. Matinee, set in 1962, is about Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman),  not-so-loosely based on schlock producer William Castle. For showings of his latest production, Mant, Woolsey has rigged up buzzers under the seats in theaters — a nod to what Castle actually had done in 1959 for The Tingler.

This Mant clip is great fun, not only for such lines as, “The ant’s saliva must have gottin into Bill’s bloodstream and gone sraight to his brain,” but also for seeing such Hollywood pros as William Schallert (as the doctor) and Jesse White (as the theater owner). Cathy Moriarty isn’t such a veteran but she’s just right as Mrs. Mant.

Matinee’s counterpoint to Mant is The Shook-Up Shopping Cart, a not-so-loving version of wacky Disney comedies like The Love Bug. (The kids’ bored reaction suggest Dante’s view of the genre.) The clip stars Naomi Watts, just before she got big. And by the way, not to be a stickler, but has any movie theater been as brightly lit as the one in Matinee?

In Frank Oz’s Bowfinger, Steve Martin plays the title character, a wannabe producer who’s as schlocky as Lawrence Woolsey, but way less adept. His accountant has written a script called Chubby Rain, and Bowfinger wants to bring it to the screen, but can do so only if he gets action star Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) for the lead role. Hilarity ensues, which I will spoil only enough to say that Chubby Rain finally gets made, and that it is truly horrible. (Unlike the Dueling Cavalier audience, this one unaccountably goes for it.) In the clip, Martin’s flanked by Jamie Kennedy and Christine Baranski (who’s also in Chubby), and next to Murphy is Heather Graham.

Finally, our shortest clip comes from Judd Apatow’s Funny People. Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, a Sandler-like comedian who has been involved in even dumber properties than Sandler himself. At first we glimpse a poster for one of them, MerMan, with Elizabeth Banks, tagline “A love story that’s a little fishy.”

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Next comes a clip from Re-Do (Justin Long’s the straight man), which takes the premise of Look Who’s Talking and does what you wouldn’t think possible, makes it dumber.

‘Point Break’ and ‘Bad Boys II’ in ‘Hot Fuzz’

If you’ve never seen Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (2007), you could think of it as a British Naked Gun (1988), twenty years on. They’re both spoofs of cop movies, but in the interim, the genre pivoted from hard-boiled procedurals to testosterone-fueled, explosion-filled bromances, the ur-texts being Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys.

There are plentiful allusions to both those series in Hot Fuzz, as well as to Mad Max; Man on Fire; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; True Lies; Taxi Driver; and Chinatown. A somewhat subtle reference to the last comes in some dialogue between obsessive London cop Nick Angel (cowriter Simon Pegg), who has been transferred to the picturesque town of Sandford because he’s just too damned good at his job, and his bumbling, portly, adoring partner Danny (Nick Frost). They’re talking about the bad guys’ towering henchman, Lurch (an Addams Family reference):

Danny: Lives in the country with his mum and his sister.

Nick: And are they as big as he is?

Danny: Who?

Nick: The mum and the sister.

Danny: Same person.

A more obvious shout-out is another Danny line: “Forget it Nicholas, it’s Sandford.”

The movie is a lot of fun, something in strong demand as I write this, in the midst of a pandemic. I’m not sure how much you can trust IMDB’s Trivia section (probably not very) but the one for Hot Fuzz says the original script had a love interest for Nicholas, who was jettisoned, and her lines given verbatim to Danny.

I would believe it on the basis of a scene where, after a hard day on the mean streets of Sandford, the two cops unwind at Danny’s flat.

Nick: I just want to be… good at what I do.

Danny: You are good at what you do, you just need to switch off that big ol’ melon of yours.

Nick: That’s just it Danny, I don’t think I know how.

Danny: I can show you.

The meaning of the line turns out not to be what we imagine. Rather, Danny opens the doors to a closet, revealing a huge DVD collection.

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Nick: By the power of Greyskull! [That’s a catchphrase from the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe TV series.]

Danny: Point Break or Bad Boys II?

Nick: Which do you think I’d prefer?

Danny: No I mean which do you want to watch first?

They watch ’em both (and in BBII we hear Martin Lawrence utter the immortal line “Shit just got real”–which I will credit to screenwriter Ron [Bull Durham] Shelton). But first up is Point Break (1991), the surfing-set thriller with Keanu Reeves as FBI agent Johnny Utah, and Patrick Swayze as the Reagan-mask-wearing bad guy who, in this scene, he finally gets in his sights.

As you can see, Danny is very into the scene, specifically, as he had said to Nick earlier in the film, the way Reeves “goes to shoot Swayze,but he can’t cause he loves him so much and he fires up in the air and he’s going ‘aaaargh’ … Have you ever fired your gun up in the air and gone ’aaaargh’?”

Nick answers in the negative, but by the end of Hot Fuzz one of the boys will have fired his gun up in the air and gone “aargh.” If you’re reading this close to the time of writing, I suspect you have some time on your hands. So watch the movie (it’s available on YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, and most of the usual suspects), and you can find out which one.