"The face was his, the body was his, but suddenly...hello, 'Charlie'!"
Oh, you've never heard of the 1971 film The Statue? Here's the gist: David Niven spends 84 minutes trying to look at the junk of 30 men. That's right...let me repeat that: David Niven--the esteemed Oscar-winning actor and star of suck film as Wuthering Heights, The Charge of the Light Brigade and The Guns of Navarone--spends an entire feature film trying to look at the penises of 30 strangers. Does it even matter why? Don't you already want to see it as much as I did? Who cares if the film--based on the play Chip Chip Chip by Alec Coppel--is an exercise in absurdity, a flimsy plot stretched like a sizeable piece of fleshy pizza dough into 84 minutes? Who cares if a huge chunk of the movie's sequences--with exposed breasts and bums galore--look like they were inspired by Benny Hill, whose show debuted in a new version just two years prior?
Let's rewind. Niven plays Alex Bolt, a respected assistant professor of linguistic anthropology being honored with a special Nobel Prize for his creation of Unispeak--a new language designed to bring all countries and cultures together (don't worry about a language barrier: "non yak yak", which he utters to an inquiring horde of reporters, means "no comment"). In honor of his accomplishment, the United States government has commissioned a statue in his honor. It's to be unveiled in his native England at Grosvenor Square and has been crafted by his wife, world-respected "sculptress" (you know, like, a lady sculptor) and fiery Italian Rhonda (goddess Virna Lisi).
There's just one small...sorry, big...problem. The 18-foot marble statue shows Alex in the buff, which makes the professor a little nervous: "You were asked to design something to symbolize Unispeak, a new language...not middle-aged Peter Pan looking for the soap!" But Bolt becomes even more agitated when his sexy assistant Pat (Ann Bell) points out that the marble penis isn't inspired by his own (huh? He didn't realize it himself?!). The sizable slab provokes shock in both men and women in one of the film's recurring gags, as actors stare in jaw-dropped fascination as the camera zooms in on their frozen faces.
Seems Rhonda went elsewhere for that artistic touch, thus convincing Alex that she's having an affair with a hung stallion. It makes sense, though, considering that his busy career has meant they've only spent 18 days together in the last three years. But just to be sure, Alex takes a picture of the marble meat as well as his own (in an instant photo booth during one of the film's dialogue-free bawdy interludes) and compares them just to be sure. Yep...there's a mystery man on the loose!
The only solution, of course, is for Alex to bribe his housekeeper into supplying him a list of his wife's gentleman callers, then track them down and find a way to get a glimpse at their packages. That gives the film plenty of fodder for its signature montages ("You realizes you've got to get close enough to peer!" warns his friend) and makes Alex constantly look like a lecherous homosexual perv to shocked onlookers. Maybe the penis belongs to Alex's Paraguayan chauffer, who is involved in one of the film's many Three's Company-like shenanigans when his boss points to the statue and talks in Unispeak--using words like "dicto" and "maximo"! (Nice to know that gay humor was alive and kicking in 1971...although, to the film's credit, I think those lawyers are a happy homo couple!).
The professor has only 10 days before the unveiling of the stature, but in addition to his fractured marriage he also has another problem to content with--seems the U.S. government also isn't pleased with the potential scandal. That's right...the large marble penis now has world peace and the balance of international order in the tight grip of its urethra. Conservative ambassador Raymond Whiteley (played by Oscar-nominated actor Robert Vaughn, star of such esteemed films as The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt and The Young Philadelphians) wants to be just like his hero, Richard Nixon (released well before the Watergate scandal, The Statute provides some added chuckles given Whiteley's adulation of the since-disgraced President).
The ambassador fears that the scandal will hurt his chance at the White House--and even worse, his reputation among his peers: "If I unveil it, you know what my face will be right alongside?! Imagine what the democrats will be calling me from that moment on!" That's right: For fear of being called a fag, Whiteley has made it his No. 1 mission to fig leaf the flaccid giant before it sees the light of day. In order to assist with his mission, he gets the CIA--led by a sweet old lady (the one and only role for Hazel Hoskins, a name I wish I made up)--to put Agent Hunter (the dashing Tony Gardner) on Bolt's tail in an attempt to discredit him ("You're sick! You're a middle-aged thrill-seeker! You realize what these photos prove him to be? A wife-swapping homosexual exhibitionist voyeur!"). That leads to more international mayhem as Hunter (who apparently comes out of the closet before our very eyes) is soon drawn into the search for "Charlie"--the name Bolt assigns to the mystery member.
And that brings me to the film's trumpet-heavy theme song and music (insert "horny" joke here), which is so late '60s/early '70s that I'm beside myself with nostalgic glee. You may recall that Niven stared as Agent 007 in the unofficial 1966 Bond film Casino Royale. That turned out to be a funny coincidence for me: The Statue's ever-present music reminded me of Royale's main theme, composed by Burt Bacharach and performed by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. But I've never actually seen Casino Royale--my familiarity with the work comes from a Saturday Night Live skit from 2007, in which Will Forte plays an over-exuberant coach trying to inspire his listless basketball team during a halftime locker room pep talk. His speech quickly morphs into a spastic dance set to the theme of--you guessed it--Casino Royale.
It's a fitting comparison, because those nutty, off-the-wall antics mesh perfectly with The Statue, and every time Riz Orlanti's music is played I was reminded of Forte's enthusiasm (the one bonus feature I wished for? A picture-in-picture option with Forte performing to the soundtrack...how amazing would that be?!). Then there's the theme song "Charlie" performed by The Statuettes. Just keep in mind when you hear the lyrics that they're singing about--that's right--a penis:
"Charlie! I'd like to know Charlie!
A fellow like Charlie, is so hard to find!
Charlie, he looks like a statue!
When he's looking at you, you're outta your mind!"
It's a catchy little ditty--part elevator music, part Love, American Style--that resurfaces throughout the film (and also accompanies the disc's menu...be careful, it might drive you insane). Reading the lyrics doesn't do it justice--you have to hear it. But here's my favorite part:
"Charlie! If you can produce him...
Then please introduce him...
And give him my key!"
Seriously? Where was Gloria Steinem through all this? Women get the short end of the shaft in The Statue, which came at a time when women's lib was still apparently a cute fad (at one point, Bolt notes that his moody housekeeper "must be having 'the change'", while he references "clobbering" his wife a few times for her behavior). They're so cute, wanting their own careers and getting so emotional! Just give them flowers and presents, and all will be fine!
Then again, Mr. and Mrs. Bolt engage in a zany battle of the sexes that, quite frankly, doesn't make either gender look good ("You are a pissy Englishman!" accuses Rhonda. Counters Alex: "The word is 'prissy'!"). Poor Alex's ego has been smashed to bits, and the object of his consternation has also given him a complex that has hindered his performance ("Don't worry, darling! It can happen to anybody!").
In another fascinating sign of the times, a few brief scenes at the end show--to my utter amazement--how looser the times were using younger actors in (harmless) dirty jokes. I'd share one line, but it would ruin the film's final--but obvious "surprise" (I totally called it!)--while the classroom sidetrack had my inner prude gasping. That makes it all the more surprising that The Statue fumbles a few grand chances to use what I thought would be obvious sight gags--the difference in size between Alex's two photographs should be exaggerated to the extreme, as should the fig leaf and bouquet that temporarily censor the statue's manhood. Easy jokes, but ones that still would have been hysterical; given the film's taste level, I'm not sure why those golden opportunities were missed.
Silly and stupid, The Statue is still entertaining for those of us with an inner 12-year-old just itching to get out. And really, don't we all? I say embrace it and enjoy. Sure, the film is one long SNL skit, but it's so confident and unashamed of itself, I half expected Austin Powers to jump out of the crowd and yell "Oh, behave!" (at least Niven gets to utter the word "groovy"!) That would most likely have happened during the "Skin" sequence--one of the film's best--where Alex sets out to expose an actor on his list as he performs in "The Come Together Rick Musical" that "begins where Hair left off". Armed with a camera, it begins with a masturbation misunderstanding and ends with our protagonist on stage--and on his knees.
Then there's the boat sequence! Watch in amazement as Alex convinces three men to strip for him:
Pat: "If this works, you'll be able to cross three men off with one go!"
Alex: "If only they didn't have all their wives with them. It's so difficult to make men strip when they have their wives around! I bet it's the tall one..."
Pat: "No, that's a phallacy..."
Oh, behave, Pat! (Yeah, I know it's spelled "fallacy", but how could I resist?!) There's also the Turkish bath sequence, the international manhunt montage (my personal favorite, it's spearheaded by a surprisingly happy Hunter) and the monastery conclusion, which I can describe with six words: naked hookers hanging from a helicopter!
Did I mention that director Rod Amateau's credits include My Mother the Car and The Garbage Pail Kids Movie? How perfect is that?! Or that the film also features John Cleese (just two years after the debut of Monty Python's Flying Circus) in a supporting role as Alex's right-hand man Harry, a disgruntled psychiatrist-turned-advertising executive? Playing the droll, easily agitated asshole that he became famous for ("Remember, if there's anything further I can do to help, please hesitate to ask..."), Cleese is one of the more quiet contributors here. And even if his lines are obvious (what in this film isn't?), it's still nice to see him in a role primarily used to make fun of the advertising industry: "Pull out the masculinity in that chair! Give me 'virile'! Light it for thrust!" (Then again, the joke's on us...the film's opening credit title card was apparently sponsored by Pan Am...)
Hmm...speaking of advertising, I wonder if Revlon's fragrance Charlie--introduced in 1973--was inspired by this film? "There's a fragrance that's here to stay and they call it...Charlie! Kinda fresh, kinda now, Charlie! Kinda new, kinda wow! Charlie!" Kinda puts a new spin on it, huh?
Right off the bat, Code Red gives is a warning before the film starts: "Due to unsuitable elements available from the rights owner, we were forced to use a theatrical print for our transfer. We apologize for the poor quality of the presentation, but hope it will not deter from your enjoyment of this lost classic." And while the first few frames may look pretty harsh, things aren't as bad as they initially appear with this 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. By today's standards, it's pretty rough--there's tons of dirt and speckling, grain aplenty, no sharpness, some flicker and an overall dim look to it. But to be honest, for a little-known 1971 film it's certainly more than passable and is easily watchable (I've seen far, far worse)--my film experience wasn't really hampered at all. If this were a film I was hoping to see on DVD, I'd be happy with this disc.
The mono track is also less than average, but again I question how good this thing could sound anyway. A few patches sound like a scratchy record, the soundtrack and songs aren't as clear as you'd hope and you can pick up some obvious post-production dubs (not the transfers fault, by any means). But it's always understandable and easily acceptable.
Nothing but the film's trailer, which is kind of amusing ("The Statue is dedicated to the concept that all men are not created equal!" and "One monumental quality about the statue has to be seen to be believed!" are just a few winks) and trailers for other Code Red releases, which are also kind of amusing (hello, Stigma! And I totally want to see The Visitor...check out that cast!).
I won't even begin to try and convince you that The Statue is cinema at its finest. Basically a stupid one-note SNL skit stretched into a feature-length film, it's a bawdy exercise that plays like The Best of Benny Hill (cue the music!). But who cares? This 1971 oddity features David Niven trying to catch a glimpse at the packages of 30 male strangers. Yeah, you heard me right: former James Bond great David Niven is on a mission to look at penis. How awesome is that?! Throw in John Cleese and that groovy soundtrack, and this effort easily overcomes its shortcomings (tee hee!) to float atop the sea of childish comedies it swims with. So even with its immature, obvious humor and mediocre transfer, I'm happily giving this a Recommended rating. All of you haters out there can just, ahem, suck it...