It’s interesting to me how sometimes if a film is too good, you can’t say much about it. For example, this weekend, I watched two films — Fantastic Mr. Fox and Evil Roy Slade. Of these two movies, Fantastic Mr. Fox is the superior one. Wes Anderson is a brilliant director, and the film was exquisitely made. But I can’t really figure out what I’d fill up a review with other than adding about 300 “really”s to “It was really really really good”. Evil Roy Slade, on the other hand, is quite good, but has some pacing issues, and has a couple of casting flaws, but — there’s more for me to say about it.
Not to mention that I figure most people know that Fantastic Mr. Fox is wonderful — it’s just been issued by the Criterion Collection — where not so many people probably know much about Evil Roy Slade, a 1970s made-for-TV movie that’s available on a slew of budget DVDs. So, sure, if you’ve not seen it, you probably know you should check out Fantastic Mr. Fox (and you should!) — but I could easily people seeing Evil Roy Slade on the racks and if it even registers at all, maybe a comment that John Astin is pretty cool and that’s about it.
FACT: John Astin is pretty cool. And he stars, which is wonderful. He attacks the role of Evil Roy Slade, the meanest man in the west — raised by no one, rejected as an infant even by wolves — with manic glee, and he brings the viewer along on his fun, dastardly ride. The film’s a western spoof, in an Get Smart vein, and it’s wall-to-wall jokes, both clever and amusingly stupid. For example, when Evil Roy Slade tries to think of a new name to start his life over with, he tries on Evil John Ferguson, Evil Fred Noland and Evil Lee Rich before deciding to go with his original name. Or one exchange I particularly loved between Evil Roy Slade and Dr. Delp (Dom DeLuise, as the psychologist who’s trying to cure Evil Roy Slade of his misanthropic violent urges) when Delp starts to touch Slade’s head:
ERS: What’re you doin’?!
Delp: It’s part of a science called “phrenology”.
ERS: What’s “science”?
Not all the bits work. Dick Shawn, reprising-more-or-less L.S.D. from The Producers, plays Marshall Bing Bell, and the character doesn’t really gel with the rest of the story and he’s also the source of one of the weakest running gags where whenever he’s mentioned by name, someone asks “Is someone at the door” for Mickey Rooney’s character to yell “THAT’S HIS NAME”. Sadly, Rooney is another flaw of the film, as he doesn’t quite seem to realize that the way to play comedy is to play it straight — instead, Rooney plays Nelson Stool as Mickey Rooney In A Broad Comedy And Therefore Must Shout A Lot. (It’s a little sad when Milton Berle does a better job of blending in with the rest of the film.) Since Shawn and Rooney feature highly in the third act, Evil Roy Slade falls apart a bit at the end, but the ride is fun regardless.
Evil Roy Slade feels like the pilot for a series (which makes sense — though not a pilot itself, it was based on a script for an unproduced series pilot Sheriff Who? where the town’s sheriff would be played by a different guest star each week, only to be killed at the end by Slade) and I’d have loved to visit Evil Roy Slade every week. Though, if I were to make the show, I’d have set the series during the part of the film where Slade tries to turn good. The interplay between Astin, DeLuise and Pamela Austin (who plays Slade’s love interest and impetus for attempting to turn good, Betsy Potter) is exquisite. Astin and DeLuise in particular are underrated comic actors, and bring a lot of the joy and fun to Evil Roy Slade. It might not be a perfect film, but it is fun, and, well, sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Fun.