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Spanish Prisoner DVD

Your April 2007 Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: Can you really trust anyone?

Mamet Had A Little Scam
And Fleeced A Guy Named Joe

When THE HONEYMOONERS came out on DVD I just stared at stuff like the wallpaper in the Norton's apartment. That will give you an idea of just how much THE HONEYMOONERS means to me. We've never watched THE HONEYMOONERS at RMC, and it was my birthday, so I decided to run a couple as the Preshow Entertainment.

First up was "Oh My Aching Back." We've seen the story countless times on every sitcom. Ralph has a company physical in the morning but can't resist going bowling with Norton. Of course, his back goes out on him, and he has to hide the pain in front of Alice. Not an easy task, especially when diminutive Uncle Leo pops over unannounced. Then came "The Deciding Vote," which has Ralph and Norton in a fight right when Ralph realizes he needs Norton's vote to become convention manager for the Raccoons.

I never know what to answer when people ask me what my favorite show is. I have dozens. Sometimes I answer THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. Sometimes THE TWILIGHT ZONE. But no matter what I say, make sure you remind me that I'm wrong. It's the classic 39 episodes of THE HONEYMOONERS. Baby, they're the greatest.

Now onto April's Random Movie -

Bruce Willis is dead. Rosebud was his sled. They were on Earth the whole time. He's really a woman. Who is Kaiser Soze? Seeing a movie with a gag (a twist in the movie, not wearing a gag) doesn't always have The Sting when watching it the second time. So, when the Random Movie Generator chose THE SPANISH PRISONER, I thought it would be a bit boring. But something else happened. I ended up looking for things that went against the ending. And I found more than a few cheats.

Lest you think I am ruining any surprise for you, the title itself is a giveaway, as it refers to a scam (not dissimilar to the Nigerian money scam) that will make you a millionaire if you help get a "very important person" out of a jail in Spain by handing over a small amount of money. It's at this point the swindler drains the mark of all his funds. Naturally, if you didn't know what The Spanish Prisoner scam was before you read this, well, I suppose I have tipped the hand. But really, you know you're watching an Agatha-like mystery from the get-go. That's the ride. As Aretha says - Who's Zooming Who?

Campbell Scott & Steve Martin
Throughout the film we are reminded, often in dialogue, that people aren't always what they appear to be, which makes the casting of that oft-zany Steve Martin sort of brilliant. He plays Jimmy Dell, a sharp-dressed bazillionaire who befriends Joe Ross (Campbell Scott). Joe has invented "The Process" (a McGuffin so harsh they should have just called it The McGuffin). He is convinced the company he works for is going to cut him out of any rewards. So Joe enlists Jimmy's help to bring down the company. But flags and herrings both of the color red are everywhere, and soon Joe discovers that some people may, as previously mentioned, not be who they appear to be, whereas others who seem suspicious may be just as innocent as you and I. But maybe you and I are not so innocent...

Mamet, who wrote and directed, cast a wide net (or maybe it's a web) of characters - Joe's chatty secretary Susan (Rebecca Pidgeon, aka Mrs. Mamet), co-worker George (Ricky Jay, without his 52 assistants), FBI agent McCune (Felicity Huffman), FBI Team Leader (Ed O'Neill)...and many more.

It's no SLEUTH, but TSP is a fun movie. The problem is, we're 100 steps ahead of Joe. We can smell it. Joe doesn't. And Campbell Scott plays Joe with such a low-key energy, we never really root for him. In fact, we wish he would be more Cary-y and Harrison-y. We want to feel what he's feeling, but we never do. Even Steve Martin is one mild and lazy guy here. So we have a fun mystery with unfun characters.

Despite its occasional Mamet Fortune Cookie dialogue ("Worry is like interest paid in advance on a debt that never comes due"), I recommend this movie. THE SPANISH PRISONER is fun, but I wish it were...more fun. At times it's a fine loop de loop, but at other times it's a kiddie ride. It's this inconsistency that ultimately lets us down.

But perhaps the biggest mystery surrounding THE SPANISH PRISONER is, and I scam you not - it was produced by Woody Allen's sister, Letty Aronson.

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