I had a lot of fun checking out the oddball sixties comedies Panic Button and Kill or Cure this week, both new releases from Warner Archive. Offbeat flicks like these are a huge reason why I love MOD (Manufacture on Demand) discs so much.
Panic Button (1964)
Just from reading the cast list I knew that Panic Button was going to be unusual. Maurice Chevalier, Eleanor Parker and Jayne Mansfield in the same low-budget production? I had to see how that would pan out.
A somewhat frail, but still jaunty Chevalier stars as a washed up actor who lives in his ex-wife's (Eleanor Parker) hotel for women. He is delighted when a business group hires him to appear in a television pilot of Romeo and Juliet. It's all a scam though, the businessmen are looking for a tax write-off and have purposely hired an unpopular star in anticipation of being rejected by the networks. Mansfield is recruited to be his Juliet.
While the film seems to be going down the same road as The Producers, the only similarity is in the basic idea. Panic Button is nowhere near as good as the Mel Brooks hit, but everyone involved seems to know they're in a lousy production and not care a whit. Most of the cast appears to be having a blast, especially Chevalier and Parker, and that's what makes the movie so much fun.
Parker and Chevalier are the friendliest exes you'll ever see in a movie. The elderly actor is clearly living in his former love's hotel because of her generosity and their conversations, while not all sweet, are based in a sort of affectionate respect. Of course, you never believe for a minute that they could have been married. Their father-daughter vibe is as much about the kind of chemistry they possess as their 34-year age difference.
|Parker, Chevalier and Croccolo|
Though the film often feels padded, with long establishing shots and superfluous Chevalier songs, there are enough comic moments to give it zing. I especially loved a scene where Parker, Chevalier and hotel worker Carlo Croccolo dress up as nuns and sneak away to the Venice Film Festival with the film. It's the sort of set-up that usually makes you cringe, but they seem so amused to be trotting around Italy in habits that you have to smile.
Kill or Cure (1962)
Kill or Cure is more conventionally successful than Panic Button, but it has some of the same off-kilter goofiness. Gap-toothed British comedian Terry-Thomas is a private investigator who is hired by a wealthy woman to go under cover to investigate suspicious activity at a health hotel where she is a guest. Once he arrives, he is horrified to realize he is expected to live on grass salad and putrid juice drinks while enduring rough salt rubs and ice cold showers.
His nemesis is a disciplined doctor at the hotel, played by Dennis Price, who is perhaps best known for playing the sinister lead in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). The good doctor believes fervently in the cuisine and health regime that so horrifies the PI. He also insists on conducting his own investigation when Terry-Thomas' client is murdered and the hotel is thrown into a panic.
Price and Terry-Thomas have great chemistry, and the movie is most amusing when they are playing off each other. As different as their lifestyles are, they have a similar way of approaching a problem, and their mutual realization of that both infuriates and impresses them. It would have been great to see them headline more comedies together.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.