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Birds Do It
Soupy Sale. Name ring a bell? No? Then you probably grew up after the advent of home video, the start of the countdown toward the new millennium, and unaware of the famed comedian and his previous life as a hallowed kid's show host. Before there was Pee Wee Herman, Weird Al, or Jim "Ernest P. Worrell" Varney, Sales celebrated slapstick and the standard pie in the face. While he could never translate his ankle biter fame into a lasting legacy, he did become a fixture on famous game shows, paneling as part of What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth. Still, someone obvious thought he could branch out beyond the bounds of television, and for a while, Sales was kind of a multimedia darling. He had record albums, merchandise, and the occasional movie role. As a starring feature, independent producer Ivan Tors decided to mine his familiar sci-fi humor proclivities to create a way to push Sales into the mainstream. The result, the oddly surreal Birds Do It (fly, that is) was like a dopey Don Knotts vehicle robbed of its wit and invention. Instead, the movie is so nonsensical and shrill that it actually de-evolves into a kind of communal conniption fit - unavoidable, and bizarre while it is going on.
With the space race going on between the United States and Russia, America needs all the advance brainiac help it can muster. Enter covert weapon Melvin Byrd (Sales), an inventor who can solve one of the country's most pressing issues - dust. You see, our hero is a crack creator of advanced cleaning devices necessary to keep nasty dirt particles out of NASA's rockets. Without him, our chances at besting the Commies are - apparently - close to nil. Meanwhile, the rest of the military base, including clueless commander Major General Smithburn (Edward Andrews), his security aide (Tab Hunter), chief scientist Dr. Wald (Arthur O'Connell) and his sassy activist daughter Claudine (Beverly Adams), are battling evil spies bent on discovering the installations biggest secret - a machine that infuses humans with an overabundance of ions, making them capable of flight...and irresistible to the opposite sex. Naturally, Melvin stumbles upon the experiment and becomes the planets first easily identifiable flying oddball (cue uncontrollable laughter???).
WOW! - this is one weird ass movie. The last 25 minutes are literally a stunt double for Soupy Sales endlessly dangling over Miami's intercostals waterway, wires in full view as the doppelganger dips up and down over the sea. In between, actor Arthur O'Connell continues his character actor on crack rabies impersonation, the monkey from Daktari operates a big orange lever, and Sales himself shows up, greenscreened and goofy, hoping that his pained expression and mannerisms match those of his paid twin. Oh, and did we mention Tab Hunter trying to play it cool as a evil double agent? No? Well, that doesn't begin to describe this unhinged Hellsapoppin experiment. This is a film that forgets all the basics of moviemaking, that tosses aside narrative logic, character continuity, mise-en-scene, and even simple human emotion in order to make room for more of Sales' patented pantomime. Then, they go and forget to give the TV icon anything interesting to do - except watch a paid daredevil mimic his signature flail over the waters of South Florida.
As for the rest - it's equally maniacal. Sales is seen as a high level priority among NASA, and when we learn it's for his proclivity toward cleanliness, we giggle, if only a little. The scene where he uses his latest invention to spruce up the lab is straight out of an ape's interpretation of a Jerry Lewis slapstick bit. All the espionage behind his presence is so vague and ambiguous that the punchline - if there even is one - just doesn't cohere. Not that the cast doesn't try to deliver on the delirium. O'Connell has a permanent look of intense insanity on his face, delivering his lines like someone has an electric cattle prod shoved right up his rear end. It's one of the strangest comic (?) performances ever. Similarly, teen dream Tab Hunter is given little to nothing to do, and he responds in kind. He genuinely looks bored and waiting for his paycheck to clear. At least the women walk the fine line between disconnect and dull. Then again, they have to act like Sales is a hot sex stud who demands their immediate feminine attention - talk about an acting challenge!
To go any further would try to place aesthetic appropriateness on material that was never meant to be serious. This is and remains a kids movie, Saturday matinee fodder providing '60s parents the same kind of peaceful repast that efforts like Zookeeper and Rio offer today. While not as technological fancy as the latest contemporary cinematic babysitters, it provides the same levels of accomplishment and artistic ambition. Like the use of bright colors and big shapes to stimulate baby's tiny brain, Birds Do It constantly throws rainbow-tinged crap at the screen, hoping the wee ones will sop it up like sweat meats. There is so much monkey here that Judy the Chimp deserves top billing. In between the more sophisticated humors - like the weird names given to all the rooms on the base - it's all easy to identify physical shtick and silliness. But no pies. That's right, the man who made a Banana Cream in the mug a household concept doesn't even get close to said pastry here. Instead, it's primate pratfalls to the rescue. To say that Birds Do It is dumb is like arguing that chimps enjoy being silage for human funny business. It may seem like a sensible response, but it's actually just as ridiculous as the item your criticizing.
Unlike other titles in the MOD series, which seem to unnecessarily messed with during the post-production conversion from analog to digital, the 1.79:1 anamorphic image here is really very good. There are a few age spots and some defects, but overall, the colors are sharp without being overly pushed, and the details easy to identify. Unlike the movie itself, this is an effective transfer.
There's not much that can be done with thin, tinny Dolby Digital Mono made some fifty years ago, so don't expect much, sound-wise. It's a decent presentation, with dialogue up front and easy to understand.
Soupy Sales was always presented as a celebrity whose best years were clearly behind him. He lived off a legacy that few, except those who grew up during his tenure on TV, could clearly understand. Late in life attempts to revive his kid vid conceits were less than successful and many today wouldn't know him from Pinky Lee or Andy's Gang. Still, something like Birds Do It plays perfectly into the post-modern WTF? concept of cult cinema. Earning a Recommended rating, it is definitely disturbed, but also worth at least some of your leisure time. As long as you don't mind endless shots of monkeys acting idiotic and a stunt double dangling over a Sunshine State backdrop, you'll be fine. Sometimes, it's better to stay within the medium that defined you. In Sales case, he just wasn't made for the movies.
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