Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Forgotten Comedy Flicks - Neighbors (1981)

With his wife, Earl Keese drives home to his large family home in a suburban cul-de-sac. Halfway to the sticks, the only other house in Bird street lies empty, high-voltage power lines fizzing and crackling ominously behind the houses. They sit in silence, Earl watching tv. Both seem remote, estranged even, bored. The sound of car doors brings Earl to the window; a Ranchero and a U-Haul, the lights of the empty house on. Earl wants to invite the new neighbours for drinks, but Mrs.Keese disagrees. A noise brings Earl out back where he sees a German shepherd rummaging around. Taking a fresh bottle of wine to his chair, Earl is disturbed by the unfamiliar sound of the doorbell ringing...
ABOVE: Vic (left) takes Earl for a ride
BELOW: Ramona's sultry act has Earl hot & bothered, but they all end up friends...
Vic and Ramona (Dan Aykroyd and Cathy Moriarty) are the new neighbours. Earl Keese is, of course, the late and much-missed John Belushi in his finale role. His wife Enid is played by Kathryn Walker, their daughter Elaine by Lauren-Marie Taylor. Notably, Tim Kazurinsky (Police Academy) has a small, but memorable role as Pa Greavy, a grouchy local handyman-plumber.
Ramona, a sultry Blonde flirts with Earl, all suggestion and innuendo. A Blonde, blue-eyed Akroyd, 'Captain' Vic is loud, brash, over bearing and over-friendly; right away he's in Earl's chair and taking over his life. Much has been made of the role-reversal, Belushi and Aykroyd swapping roles, but it deserves mention as it works flawlessly. For once, Belushi is restrained, his manic persona struggling at the characters bonds; Keese is a dull, everyday man weighed down by life and cuckolded by his wife, while Aykroyd's Vic is the riotous, life-o'-the-party kind you'd expect from his comedy partner. 
Enid Keese is on a Native American kick, chain smokes and despises Earl.
ABOVE: Vic's daughter Elaine visits after being expelled from school, but Vic's bought breakfast...
The film's main gag is straight out of farce; every time he is alone with Vic or Ramona Earl's on the wrong end of things; the set-ups keep coming so he's always in the wrong, tight-fisted, the grouch. The second Mrs.Keese or other characters appear, the new neighbours are the innocent victims and Earl's the bad guy. Example; Vic sets Earl up into paying for take-out and then goes back to his house to prepare it, trousering the cash. Earl rumbles him and confronts him, only to look like the villain of the piece when a pained Vic is affronted that his home cooking was spurned. The neighbours can do no wrong and Earl's on the end of both their tricks and his own attempts at revenge, which, of course backfire spectacularly.
A troubled production, the actors went to war with Director John G.Avildsen (Rocky, The Karate Kid) over what they saw as his lack of comedy perception. Belushi tried to get John Landis (Kentucky Fried Movie/Animal House/The Blues Brothers/Trading Places/etc) to take over the helm. Personally, I find Avildsen's slightly stiff direction works in the film's favour; though Landis' films are amongst my all-time comedy favourites and he would almost certainly have had a bigger hit with Neighbors (The film wasn't a flop; it made money primarily because the studio released it as widely as possible during the holidays). Belushi's drug use was spiralling and it was showing. Further, composer Tom Scott (Composer: Streets of San Francisco/Starsky & Hutch, Sax player; Taxi Driver, founder member of the Blues Brothers band) was replaced by Bill Conti (Rocky/For Your Eyes Only). Conti's score, composed in seven days, works well and makes good use of musical themes; the empty house is 'Twilight Zone', Enid Keese gets the Indian war-drums and so-on.
ABOVE: Dan Aykroyd on set with Director John G.Avildsen
Two-thirds of the film tells the story of a manic night; Earl goes from an airless existence to an exiting rebirth in 24 hours. In this sense, the film precedes Lester Burnham's renaissance in American Beauty. Neighbors is full of lovely touches, bits and pieces of comedy work that add up to a great film. This was largely panned on it's release and proves movie critics are about as reliable as a thirty year old Skoda. John Belushi having a crafty shave to meet with Ramona, The TV bits (Voiced by Aykroyd), the 'Swamp thing' scene... it just keeps giving. Cum, cum-cum-cum indeed...

ABOVE: Vic's house is on fire (Holding the 'Hooly bar' is Tim Kazurinsky)
BELOW: Aykroyd poses for a publicity still
Four months after Neighbors was released, John Belushi died from an overdose of cocaine and heroin. I prefer to think that he went off with Captain Vic and Ramona. 

1 comment:

  1. sick ,twisted drug charged plot from j the ssat night pervs .... but a basic premise of a couple of weirdo ccharacters saving a dummy from a bad wife is t here .