Howdy film-o-philes! It's the Ratman with you again, and as you can tell by my intro, today's topic strays away from my usual dark and comfy cave of the horror genre, out into the open in search of madcap antics, crazy characters and a really big score. No, I'm not back on the drugs - I speak of the comedy caper film.
Those of us who are a little bit longer in the tooth will remember growing up and watching comedy films with a real sense of whimsy, adventure and playful conflicts, knowing lots of things will go humorously awry and trying to guess who will come out on top! These films hold on to the Punch and Judy and pantomime tradition of cheering for the good guys, booing the baddies and having lots of fun and laughs along the way. These were films for all ages in the truest sense, the core storyline being enjoyed by young and old alike because of the simple formula they followed, played out by great character actors.
When I think of family films these days, the approach is quite the opposite - animated films are the biggest culprits - some eye candy and severe focus on "merchandising potential" for the children, and sneaky dirty double entendres and in-jokes to stop parents from ripping their own hair out in the cinemas. The common parent's statement of "Oh, you must go see this new family movie, it's great! The kids didn't even get half of the jokes!" - to me indicates the sad state of affairs we are in.
As a new member of a country family including four children who have never been exposed to the rampant consumerism of modern society; it's plain to me (and these kids) that without the pressure to keep up with believing that they need every battery operated toy and endless useless trading card set and cereal and clothing line and fucking Shrek green coloured douche refill pack ("When your bum's a bit shtonky, don't be a donkey!") - the films themselves are in most cases fairly forgettable fare.
In contrast, if you were to quiz me on the details of some of the films in the list to follow (I have not seen most of these in YEARS either) - I'm sure that strings of wonderful memories and moments will come flooding joyfully back into my mind. In fact, since sitting down and starting this article, for which I had 5 films in mind, I am now already mentally shaving down a much bigger list. So I am right already!
To me, the term "caper" may be broader than some filmsnob definitions. A good caper to me is a film with a bunch of characters with outrageous personalities and traits competing against or thrown in with each other in a madcap situation, all vying for the same prize or payoff. It encompasses heists, whodunnits, treasure hunts and challenges. Anyway, enough of this fannying about, time's a wasting! Let's embark on my top 5 most memorable capers that brightened my young eyes, had me laughing, cheering and second guessing all the way. If you have kids, or are a big one at heart, give some of these a go. Hopefully the kids have not been so broken by soulless hype machines to not immediately tout them as "boring", and your good selves have not been so saturated with torture porn and puerile teen barf comedies to enjoy a good old fashioned caper! Here they are, in order of which I scribbled them into my idea pad. As is my usual style, I give no massive amount of detail in these lists - I write this as a movie lover, not a film critic!
It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)
This is the film that inspired so many others ahead of it, but to me stands as the greatest all-star extravaganza comedy of all time. The classic greed caper which sees a phenomenal cast frantically racing for a suitcase full of cash, will always stand up as the perfect working of the caper formula. Here's the infamous gas station scene, many consider the funniest scene in the film, or any film for that matter!
Scavenger Hunt (1979)
I was appalled when I had to find a VHS rip of this film a few years back, not being able to even see a release on DVD anywhere - I don't even want to check, lest that still be the case. A cavalcade of 70's TV stars embark on a caper of a different kind - a classic hunt for unusual objects, but still following the same basic formula of a giant payoff, this time in the form of a last will and testament of an eccentric. Every review I have seen while referencing this film describes it as a "guilty pleasure" or "dated" - I see it as "innocent fun" and "a benchmark of it's period" - amazing cameos abound too! Here's the entire film in parts.
Murder By Death (1976)
I tracked this film down and watched it again recently, the all-time classic whodunnit parody from master playwright Neil Simon is brought to the silver screen with a knockout cast, and more genuine twists and layers than Christopher Nolan could dream of dreaming of dreaming about in some ridiculous imagined world, all in the confines of a manor house on a dark and stormy night. The greatest sleuths are gathered to test their mettle against their elusive and mysterious host, Lionel Twain. If this does not have you guessing again and again in between laugh cramps, I'll gas up the oven for you right now.
The Great Race (1965)
As a very young child, I was charged up when my dad let us watch The Cannonball Run, the cheesy Burt Reynolds race caper. A couple of years later, on a rainy day containing no video store bribe, we tuned into The Great Race on television. I'll never forget the magic of this experience, each member of the family backing a different character to complete the race first, and literally rolling around on the rug with laughter and excitement. Right from the first frame, a tribute to comedy legends Laurel and Hardy (and the first time I remember seeing a novelty credit sequence in the opening of a film); to the crazy conclusion across the finish line, this is the film that Blake Edwards hit right on target with, creating his own caper formula which he would emulate to perhaps lesser impact in his later films. This still stands as a true rainy day classic, fun and frivolity showcasing classic autos driven by mad motorists. A must. Pie fight anyone?
So there you have it folks, something a little different from me - I hope you had as much fun reading as I did reminiscing, and never forget how these films can lift your spirits and make you smile.
Till next time