Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Barefoot Executive (1971)

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

Remember how Kurt Russell made several family-friendly live action Disney movies when he was a young thing? And how I watched The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and was pulled in by its utter ridiculousness and catchy theme song? Well obviously I had to continue this exploration of Kurt's early career, pressing on with The Barefoot Executive. After another super rad theme song (scroll down, for some dumb reason it's not on youtube), we meet Steven Post (Russell), a young mailroom worker for the fictional television station (but likely NBC stand-in) UBC. He wants to be a TV executive, and finds an unconventional way up the corporate ladder when his girlfriend (Heather North) adopts Raffles, a tv-loving chimp who has an uncanny knack for choosing each night's highest-rated programs (meaning he has incredibly average, mainstream taste, so not actually impressive). Steven conspires to secretly use Raffles' skills to pick new pilots for the network, securing a vice president position and shit tons of money in the process. Of course, some UBC executives are envious and suspicious of him, with an inept former boss Francis Wilbanks (Joe Flynn) and his snobby nephew Roger (John Ritter!) spying on him obsessively.

While baby Kurt Russell hanging out with a primate is easily enough to entertain me for the full running time, what really impressed me about this film is that it's a pretty solid satire of television networks, while remaining an accessible, family-friendly comedy. Sure, at many points it's utterly ludicrous- there's wacky chimpanzee action, death-defying sneaking around on windowsills, and a lot of over the top acting, but it's also weirdly smart. Most of the time I was laughing with the film, not at it, because its commentary on the idiocy that rules the tv industry is spot-on, and totally still applicable today.

Of course Kurt Russell is great as the doofy, slightly assholey lead, but several of his costars manage to steal the show away from him. I absolutely loved John Ritter's all-too-small appearance as the opportunistic Roger. He's got these adorable thick-framed glasses and a weasely smile, it's fantastic. Joe Flynn and his sidekick chauffeur Wally Cox make a hilariously inept team, and their sneaky sojourn to Steven's apartment is a highlight of the movie. And then there's Harry Morgan as the head of the company, with his side-lip snarl and loud exasperation he's probably the standout. But also everything is pretty good! The story drags a bit since there's really not much to it, but overall it's a fun and genuinely funny movie. Great job, everyone! Damn the man! Fuck television networks!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: The whole family-friendly workplace satire aspect reminded me of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying- especially John Ritter's character. But the premise of an animal secretly and improbably helping a hapless dude to further his career obviously put me in the mind of Ratatouille.

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