Of course it stinks―it's from Brut®. Warner Bros.' vault of hard-to-find cult and library titles, the Archive Collection, has released Whiffs, the 1975 military "farce" from cosmetics firm Fabergé's film unit, Brut Productions (distributed by 20th Century-Fox), starring Elliott Gould, Eddie Albert, Harry Guardino, Godfrey Cambridge, and Jennifer O'Neill. One of the sorriest excuses for an alleged "comedy" that I've ever come across in my 48 years of life on this planet, Whiffs perpetrated the only sin a comedy absolutely can not commit: it didn't generate one single laugh. Not one. And I'll laugh at anything from Noel Coward, to someone's crutches getting kicked out from under them, so it wasn't me. No extras for this excellent-looking widescreen transfer.
The U.S. Army Chemical Corps, Duggam Proving Ground, Utah. Commanding Officer Colonel Lockyer (Eddie Albert), welcoming in a new group of human guinea pigs for the army's "totally misunderstood" chemical warfare division, brings out Private Dudley Frapper (Elliott Gould), as inspiration for the new recruits. Frapper has been Lockyer's numero uno guinea pig for the last 15 years, and tomorrow, he'll be testing out the Army's latest bio-weapon: GZS2, or as the Army calls it, "Happy Dreams" (journalists call it "The Red Death"). Dr. Gopian (Howard Hesseman), however, wants Frapper discharged because all his years of testing have given him immunities that are throwing off the doctor's baselines. When Frapper fails to respond to GZS2 and the "Grand Torino" nerve gas trial, he's out of the Army, with a negotiated 40% disability pay of a measly $106 a month for his numerous ailments...including impotence. That last one doesn't please his girlfriend, Army nurse Lt. Scottie Hallam (Jennifer O'Neill), too much, who even tries to give him laughing gas to stimulate an erection (a Disney film!). When Frapper discovers he isn't qualified to hold on to even the most menial job, he's open to ex-convict (and fellow guinea pig) Chops Mulligan's (Harry Guardino) idea of stealing GZS2 from the Army and using it to zap the local town...while Frapper and he rob the banks.
Jesus H. Christ is this a pathetic excuse for a comedy. I mean, anyone who reads me knows that 95% of the time, even in the lamest, most inept, most wrong-headed grade Z knock-off, I can find something of merit to mention―but not Whiffs. Nothing in it is good. Nothing. If you weren't aware of their production history, you might be tempted to dismiss Whiffs outright the minute you see that "Brut Productions" title card come up; after all, what the hell did CEO and star f*cker George Barrie know about making movies? However, their admittedly small output during the 70s wasn't too bad at all, including titles like James Toback's Fingers, the amusing farce Nasty Habits, and the Oscar-winning international hit, A Touch of Class. And certainly the talent behind and in front of Whiffs' camera should have ensured a movie that was at least competent, let alone mildly amusing. Director Ted Post (alive and kicking at 95 as of March 31st!), a veteran of the New York stage and television (where he helmed episodes for seemingly every top show), could deliver an entertaining, well-paced movie like Hang 'Em High, Magnum Force, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Good Guys Wear Black, and Go Tell the Spartans with routine efficiency. If beautiful Jennifer O'Neill's and stolid groan Harry Guardino's comedic talents were limited, than Eddie Albert, a superlative comedic actor, would have seemed letter-perfect for his role as the deluded, conniving bio-weapons C.O. As for Elliott Gould, considering that, to my mind, he's contributed to "Top 10" genre-bests in the military comedy (M*A*S*H), cop (Busting), gambling (California Split), and noir (The Long Goodbye) genres, his resume for Whiffs would seem impeccable.
What, then, went so wrong here? "Everything," would seem to be the proper answer. You can't blame Whiffs' utter failure only on its script...but you can lay most of it there (when I saw that Malcolm Marmorstein wrote this―the genius behind such crap as Gould's previous all-out disaster, S*P*Y*S, and rare Disney dreck like Return From Witch Mountain and Pete's Dragon, a cold chill went down my back). Who in the world thought this was funny? I don't mean the concept; sure, it's fairly obvious and even stupid, but a dumb set-up never stopped a movie from being funny. What I mean is: who sat down and actually read the script and said, "This scene is amusing," "This line is funny,"? Unless they threw it out during filming, and made up the movie as they went along (it sure as hell feels that way), someone had to have read this script and then said to himself, "Hey, this isn't bad." And to that person, the only proper response would be to check to see if they're away from the "home" on a weekend pass.
What, exactly, is Whiffs spoofing? At first we think (with dread) that it's going to be another half-assed 70s military farce playing off the memory of Gould's M*A*S*H, with the moviemakers proud, apparently, of the Army not offering assistance during the filming (the title card joke to that effect, doesn't work), while perhaps trying to put over some vague, hippie-dippy point about the Army and chemical warfare, with Albert a whacko commander who doesn't want to kill the enemy, but only make them "a little sick," (as if "contempt" equals "satire"). However, the military angle just fades away after Gould is discharged (Albert's "I'll give you 6% for your dead dick," has to be the low point of his career), only to be seen again at the witless "action" finale. We never get a handle on who Gould's character is, why he's in the Army, why he loves to take part in chemical experiments (they completely ignore the obvious 70s answer: for the chemically-induced highs), or why he's such a schmuck. His character is a complete cipher, and worse, Gould plays him as if in a trance (this has to be one of the most disturbingly blank turns in the charismatic Gould's career). Nor does the script make anything of the Army-chemical warfare subplot, either; the movie doesn't support or denigrate it. It does nothing with it, except to use it as the basis for a few laughable physical gags--laughable in execution, that is.
Then we shift gears and think Whiffs is going to be a romantic sex farce, with lovely-but-awkward O'Neill hounding the impotent Gould for love and sex, to the point where she brings nitrous oxide over to his place in the hopes of raising the dead, shall we say (their rather terrifyingly bad "sex scene," consisting of rolling around clothed on a bed, laughing, is neither sexy nor funny―just grotesque). However, that angle is soon dropped in favor of a "buddy caper" focus, with first-word-in-fun Guardino (who the hell thought always stiff, always grousing, always unpleasant Guardino would make a humorous sidekick for Gould???), looking oddly like Moe Howard, goading Gould into become a bank robber. Soon we're treated to the sight of Godfrey Cambridge of all people showing up as an anti-environmentalist crop duster pilot, who's inexplicably, bizarrely dubbed by Hong Kong Phooey's Scatman Crothers whenever the plane is in the air (this movie has its head completely up its ass...). Finally, "Gould and Guardino" ("Back together again for the first time!") are listlessly robbing the town's banks and eluding the inept, pursuing Army soldiers, in what has to be one of the most skimpy, flat-footed, sorry-assed "action/comedy" bust-of-a-finale as I've ever seen in a major motion picture. And to top off this idiocy, Gould comes running back to O'Neill, boner at the ready, to lay her in a med-evac van (I'm not making this up), which director Post helpfully shows a'rockin' (the framing and cutting are so atrocious that we don't even get a cheap-shot glimpse of the stellar O'Neill in her civvies).
Most disconcertingly, none of this appears to be to any discernable purpose. Whiffs just shambles from one pointless set-up to another, grinding on interminably from one ineffectual scene to the next, as we try and figure out what the hell everyone was up to here. The script may stink on ice, but the talented director and that cast should have been able to wring one laugh out of somewhere here. However, Post's framing and timing are woefully off, while Albert sputters to no effect, and Gould pulls a silly golf hat down real low over his head for most of the picture (he knew, man...). If no context is presented by the script or director, there are simply no laughs--let alone implicit satire--in flat scenes like Gould marching alone out in the desert, to the accompaniment of self-consciously rinky-dinky music, as he's gassed by a plane, or "Gould and Guardino" spasmodically convulsing during chemical skin tests. Almost immediately, in that sixth sense hard-core movie lovers get when a truly terrible movie seems "off" from the very first scene, one realizes that none of Whiffs "means" anything. And that would have been fine, if it had been at least just...funny.
But it's not. Decidedly not.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.