‘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.

 

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.

‘Vertigo’ in ‘Stuart Little 2’

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Stuart offers Margalo some popcorn.

We’ve encountered the 1958 Hitchcock classic Vertigo as a movie-in-movie before, in Twelve MonkeysThe Films in Films website reports that it’s been used at least four other times: in L.A. Without a MapA Kiss Before DyingMan in the Chair, and Rob Minkoff’s 2002 animated/live-action Stuart Little 2. 

As anyone who has read E.B. White’s novel (or has had it read to them) knows, Stuart (voiced by Michael J. Fox) is a mouse who has inexplicably been born to human parents in New York City. As Stuart Little 2 (a sequel to the original adaptation, from 1999) opens, as Stuart is driving in his roadster, an injured canary named Margalo (Melanie Griffith) falls into the car. And Stuart falls for her, as he nurses her back to health.

The clever movie-in-movie scene takes place on their first date. Stuart has rigged up a sort of personal drive-in on the roof of the Littles’ apartment building. At one point, he tells Margalo that he’s repaired her most prized possession, a stickpin belonging to her mother, which was damaged in the fall. As he explains how he fixed it, Hitchcock’s Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) has a meaningful moment on the California coast with the enigmatic Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak).

The scene actually directly follows the one seen in Twelve Monkeys, probably not intentional on Minkoff’s part.

Vertigo is a funny choice for Stuart Little 2 — both funny unexpected and funny amusing. While Stuart seems to view the Hitchock movie as dreamily romantic, in fact it’s a dark vision of obsession, delusion, and the male gaze. But it was also an appropriate choice for Minkoff and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin. Both Vertigo and Stuart Little 2 warn us that people — especially ladies — aren’t always who they appear to be.

 

 

‘Flight to Tangier’ in ‘No Country for Old Men’

MV5BNTQ0MjZjMGUtMmY5Zi00ZmEzLTlhYzctYjY1MDViZDQ3NGE1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDMxMjQwMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,470,1000_AL_I finally got around to watching the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men (2007) and I found it to be pretty much B.S. — and by that I mean both beautifully shot and a load of nonsense. (I’ll throw in E.A. — excellent acting.) I understand that I am in the minority, given the film’s Best Picture Academy Award and many other honors, and it’s certainly possible that its merits are simply escaping me. But, to me, the Coens’ use of a pulp movie/pulp fiction/comic book trope — the purely evil murderous villain — in a work that clearly wants to be considered as an artistic meditation on the problem of evil is sleight-of-hand and fraudulent. And beyond that, they are perversely committed to depriving their audience of most of the pleasures of pulp. In these I count not only a happy or even an cathartic body-strewn ending, as in Hamlet or King Lear, but other melodramatic elements, like chase scenes and shootouts and scenic denouements that occur onscreen instead of off.

I would include in the b.s. the movie-in-movie scene. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who is described by an IMDB synopsis as a “hunter and welder,” comes home to the trailer he shares with his wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Mcdonald), carrying a pistol and an attache case, neither of which she has seen before. (And can I just say that if I wanted to know what it would be like to be named Llewelyn or Carla Jean and live in a Texas trailer park, the Coen brothers would definitely not be the sources I’d turn to. Their depictions of these sorts of lives, while they play well — the bros are very accomplished filmmakers — come off to me as voyeuristic and fake.)

Carla is watching on TV the 1953 melodrama Flight from Tangier. The Coens always have a reason for their choices, and in this case I can think of two. The older movie starred Jack Palance (seen onscreen), who died in 2006, and to whom the brothers may have been paying tribute. And Flight from Tangier is about a hunt for a missing $3 million. In No Country, that attache case, soon to become the MacGuffin of intense interest, has $2 million in it.

 

But it’s still b.s., 1, that a Texas TV station in 1980 would be airing this obscure movie, and 2, even if that did happen, that Carla Jean would choose to watch it.

(By the way, the Movies in Movies blog notes that it’s a Technicolor movie being watched on a black and white TV. I judge that detail to be accurate: 1980 was the year when I acquired my own first color television, and Texas trailer parks may not have yet made the transition.)

 

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in ‘Home Alone,’ ‘Bruce Almighty,’ and, well, practically everything.

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A mashup of this movie and TV series would be called “My So-Called Wonderful Life.”

A couple of posts ago, I suggested that Brief Encounter may hold the record for being used in the most other movies. Ben Zimmer, whom I sometimes think of as my own personal fact-checker, begged to differ. He nominated Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) as the record-holder, and while I’m not positive, I’m pretty sure Ben is right. The Films in Films blog lists fourteen separate movies containing IAWL clips, starting with Music of the Heart; Bruce Almighty; Gremlins; Android; The Big Picture; National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation; Money Train; Look Who’s Talking; The Ref; Meet Dave; Menace II Society; Trauma; and Nuovo Cinema Paradiso. In Home Alone, the movie is dubbed into French.

The sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, in a callback, has a Spanish version of IAWL.

The IMDB “Connections” feature, unbelievably, lists fifteen more films in which It’s a Wonderful Life is shown, including Doc Hollywood, Deadly Obsession, and Same Kind of Different For Me. IMDB also says the Capra film is watched by characters in at least twenty television series, including My So-Called Life, Roseanne, Muppet Babies, Cheers, and, of course, The Sopranos.

Every single one of those movies and episodes was made after 1974, and ten of the fourteen movies on the Films in Films list came out between 1974 and 1993. Those dates are significant because during that twenty-year period, through a quirk in copyright law, It’s a Wonderful Life was in the public domain. As a result it aired repeatedly on TV during the Christmas season and came to be seen as the quintessential Christmas movie.

Thus a well-chosen and well-placed clip from the movie can make a potent counterpoint to the doings in any holiday-set film. And best of all, in the twenty-year public domain period, you didn’t have to pay for the rights! As Louisa Mellor wrote on Den of Geek!:

If [a TV] episode needs to quickly establish that it’s Christmas Eve, it’s as easy as inserting a few seconds of Clarence and George into a scene. If a film wants to evoke cynicism around the festive period, then its characters need simply complain, Al Bundy-style, that there’s never anything else on TV. When creatives want to piggyback on some ready-made sentiment or create unlikely juxtapositions then, copyright permitting, Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are their guys.

Tom Shadyac directed Bruce Almighty in 2003, at which point It’s a Wonderful Life was no longer in the public domain, but Spyglass Entertainment and Universal Pictures evidently thought they could afford the licensing fee. The film is used not for cynicism, sentiment, or juxtaposition, but for some clever mirroring, similar to the way The Quiet Man is used in E.T. the Extraterrestrial. Despite temporarily becoming God, Bruce (Jim Carrey) is having romantic troubles with his girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston), not so subtly named Grace. He’s at a party, and wants her to come, but she won’t pick up the phone when she calls. So he does a bit of divine intervention and makes a certain movie come on her TV. Jimmy Stewart’s line “I’ll give you the moon, Mary” is a reference to an earlier romantic moment in Bruce, and is guaranteed to do the trick.

 

‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ (and a lot more) in ‘The Sopranos’

In an online discussion of movies-in-movies, the critic Tim Page brought up HBO’s The Sopranos (1999-2007). I didn’t watch the series when it was on, but the more I looked into it, the more I realized Mr. Page had opened up a can of worms. In his book The Sopranos: Born Under a Bad Sign, Franco Ricci talks about the show’s rich use of background images, objects, and actions to provide almost a counterpoint narrative to the main one: “Contemporary pop posters or recognizable artworks surge to the fore and proffer unexpected commentary behind the characters, a television dialogue playing on a distant TV set may fill in the blank spaces of silence in character dialogue.”

The stuff on the TV set is obviously to the point here. Ricci notes that series creator David Chase and the other writers depict the characters, especially Tony Soprano, as forever watching  TV, and choose carefully what they’re watching. He writes that what’s on the screen “often faithfully mirror the actions that transpire in that particular episode. Or, they may contradict information previously revealed in the episode and may portend an uncomfortable, unresolved end.”

Looming over the entire series are The Godfather and its sequels. Tony and his boys are obsessed with them, always aspiring to the Corleone family’s style and stature, always aware of how their exploits fall short. In this scene, the guys settle in to watch a bootleg copy of Godfather II, even as Tony says, “I can’t watch this again.”

I can’t decide whether the technical difficulties Chase concocted were because he thought literally seeing the movie would somehow undercut its metaphorical significance, or because he didn’t want to pay Paramount for the rights.

Ricci has an appendix in his book where he itemizes all examples of TVs playing recognizable programs in The Sopranos. There are an astonishing forty-two of them (and that’s not even including cases where commercials or news programs are on), from Tony watching his beloved History Channel in season 1 through Tony and his wife Carmella watching a rerun of Dick Cavett interviewing Katharine Hepburn in one of the last episodes of the final season.

One of the most TV-besotted episodes, if not the most, is “Where’s Johnny?”, from the fifth season in 2004. In the course of the fifty-four minutes running time, characters watch This Old House, a nature documentary about prairie dogs (nature docs are to Uncle Junior what the History Channel is to Tony), a Tony Robbins infomercial (which includes a spurious Henry James quote, “It’s time to start living the life you’ve imagined”), an unintelligible talk show, and a scene from the movie His Girl Friday which we don’t see but from which we hear a snatch of dialogue between Abner Biberman, who plays a small-time thug, and Rosalind Russell, as reporter Hildy Johnson: “Hi, Hildy. / Oh, hello, Louie. How’s the big slot-machine king? / Oh, I ain’t doin’ that no more; I’m retired.”

The implicit video commentary is so incessant that at one point, when we glimpse an unturned-on TV set, it’s shocking.

In the most notable use of video, Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese), who in a subsequent scene proudly declares, “I have cable,” sits down to watch television. Tommy di Palma, who’s looking after him as his dementia worsens, clicks the channels, briefly alighting on a reality show featuring “glass-house couples” and an unidentifiable (by me) black and white film noir. He lands on “The Doll,” an episode of the HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm. (Uncle Junior doesn’t only have cable, he has premium cable.) Junior gets some strange notions about what he’s watching.

 

A couple of ironies, or at least interesting connections, here. First is that the Curb scene is also about uncertain identity. And second, Junior really does look like Larry David, and Bobby really does look like Jeff.

Writing posts on each of the other forty-one TV-in-TV Sopranos scenes for this blog obviously isn’t a smart idea, but I definitely will pick my spots and return to the show from time to time.