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DVD SAVANT

Good Times


Good Times
MGM Home Entertainment
1967 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 92 min. / Street Date August 24, 2004 / 14.95
Starring Sonny, Chér, George Sanders
Cinematography Robert Wyckoff
Art Direction Arthur Lonergan, Hal Pereira
Film Editor Melvin Shapiro
Original Music Sonny Bono
Written by Tony Barrett and Nicholas Hyams
Produced by Steve Broidy, Lindsley Parsons
Directed by William Friedkin

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Good Times is regarded as a trap for neophyte director William Friedkin, but given the fact that it's a blatant vanity film for a pair of trendy pop stars, it's better than respectible. The later bad-boy director of The Exorcist here does his best to make the marginally talented duo of Sonny & Cher (so what is it really, Cher or Chér?) into peppy movie stars.

Originally a Columbia production, this apparently reverted to ABC films and has come out in the current flood of MGM-ABC product. Happily, it has a splendid new transfer.

Synopsis:

Sonny & Cher (playing themselves) are approached by the diabolical Mr. Mordicus (George Sanders), an executive who wants to dabble in movies. When Sonny rejects Mordicus' rags-to-riches hillbilly concept, he's given the option to come up with his own script in ten days. Sonny daydreams himself as a gunslinger, Tarzan and a private eye but doesn't get anywhere. Meanwhile, Cher's not happy and Mordicus is threatening to end their careers forever.

The meaninglessly titled Good Times wastes no time getting to its core content, a conceptual musical number filmed in a straightforward but creatively decorative way. Cher is the star, even though presumed business brain Sonny gives himself twice as much screen time; just like the character she plays, the real Cher may have been wary of being onscreen too much. In the first number she sings along in front of cartoon images of Dick Tracy and Tarzan and finally a solarized hi-con image of Sonny; the film is so technically astute that when the hi-con Sonny pops to life and sings as well, it's a surprise. Is this the birth of MTV, by the master of Green Pea soup?

Friedkin applies his filming smarts to the flimsy story without overwhelming it. Mordicus' faceless office empire is nicely evoked, and the camera moves smartly and unobtrusively to find good camera positions. George Sanders probably appreciated working with an enthused wit like Friedkin and holds his end of the nothing story without looking bored or disgusted, as he often does.

AIP was less than a year into its 'wild youth' series of hippie sagas, which tend to look forced, feeble and especially artless next to the clean lines of Friedkin's personality vehicle. Sonny and Cher weren't as thoroughly manufactured as The Monkees but they were a marketing calculation that Sonny must have put together as a win-win for record producers: the pair had Beatle haircuts, sappy love songs and a conformist non-conformist style that was irresistable.

Cher actually could sing and clearly had a quiet brain working behind Sonny's salesmanship; we get the feeling that she was the kind of teen who sewed her own clothes and cut her own hair until she hit the big time. Hiding behind Sonny's personality was a good choice for her, for both in this movie and the dreadful Chastity Cher's biggest problem seems to be insecurity over how to best express herself. 1

Friedkin lets Cher sing two or three times and say some punch lines for the fantasy gag parts of the movie. These aren't as bad as they sound; each has George Sanders as the villain. Sonny is first a pitifully inept sheriff facing off against some High Noon baddies, with some punchy sight gags and reasonably witty spoof material, like Sanders' immobile mean look or Sonny's being unable to hit a can no matter how many times he fires his six-gun.

The Tarzan takeoff is a full-on lampoon of the MGM Series complete with elephant-powered elevator. The blacks are all dressed like tropical hipsters and written to counter the basic offensiveness of the originals. Sanders naturally plays a hunter hoping to loot the Elephant's Graveyard.

The detective spoof has some nice riffs on film noir material with people conspiring loudly within earshot of their enemies, etc. A shootout in a bar results in a ridiculous piling-up of dead bodies, and Sonny even uses a woman as a shield in a pre- Police Squad! joke.

Cher shows up as a damsel in distress or a dancehall girl, singing some weak songs; when Sonny takes off on his motorcycle to grieve over his problem, we get an equally weak tradeoff of musical soliloquies. Their normal life seems to consist of Sonny watching Cher buy flower-power fashions (which she always looks good in) and Cher watching as Sonny gets his hair cut. Sonny is clearly camera-hungry while Cher comes off as rather shy. The story is resolved without too much fuss, but the movie really ends with a triumphant version of, what else, I've Got You Babe. All around, it's not near as difficult to watch as one might think.

Monkee Mickey Dolenz does an unbilled bit as a TV Tarzan that catches Sonny's eye. Mordicus' sexy secretaries include Edy Williams, and China Lee of What's Up Tiger Lily? Ford perennial Hank Worden peeks in as Sonny's Tarzan helper.


MGM's DVD of Good Times is a beauty, in a sparkling enhanced transfer and crystal clear sound. Colors are particularly bright and snappy. You just know this one sat in the cool, dry and dark end of a vault, probably thanks to some Cher fan. It used to be part of the Columbia library and thus looks odd next to Casino Royale in the MGM stable.

There are no extras. The film is unrated but would undoubtedly be a "G."


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Good Times rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 28, 2004


Footnotes:

1. By the way, Good Times answers the question of why Cher name-drops Andre Tayir in Chastity; the West Side Story dancer does the choreography for Good Times and a couple of his dancers look like they were original movie Shark girls.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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