Monday, August 8, 2011

40 POUNDS OF TROUBLE (1962) - when a Vegas swinger spends the day at Disneyland, he becomes an Anaheim softee

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”
-Elvis Presley responding to a pompous windbag pontificating about Dave Brubeck at a party in Jailhouse Rock

The King don’t want that shit. The King don’t need that shit. The King says “take that shit to the bowl”.
There was a time in the late fifties/early sixties when the stodgy white intelligentsia were perfectly represented by Dave Brubeck’s cutting edge yet white-friendly melodic jazz. Let me be clear; I’m not trying to come down to where Dave works and knock the dick out of his mouth. He’s simply an innocent bystander within this whole dynamic. Pompous windbags need to glom onto something, and Brubeck came with the right sounds at the right time. After all, atypical rhythms and complex chords are “mathy”, and math equals smart.

Jean-Luc Godard’s A Married Woman also subtly incorporates the sounds of Dave Brubeck. While a French housewife does the dishes, she listens to a flutey French cover of Brubeck’s “Three to Get Ready”, not as intellectual stimulation, but as elevator muzak for the bourgeoisie. Clearly, Godard sees through the faux-intellectualism that Brubeck came to represent, just like Elvis did, but Jean-Luc is much more of a wily smartass about it. After all, Elvis don’t do no satire. He just tells people to shut the fuck up.

Anyways, Tony Curtis is one of those swinging early sixties bachelors. He has a perfectly swinging job (a manager of a casino), a perfectly swinging love interest (Suzanne Plechette), and a perfectly swinging outlook on marriage (fuck that noise). Unfortunately, his life becomes complicated when becomes the de facto parent 5-year-old girl named Penny (the titular poundage of trouble). Not willingly mind you; rather, a gambler is unable to pay his debts and leaves his 5-year-old daughter as collateral. In my mind, leaving your daughter in the hands of a stranger to cover a gambling debt is just a notch above selling her for meat and beer. Either way, I’ll come out and say it…bad parenting there, buddy.

Of course, Penny is a bit of a pain in the ass, especially the way she forces responsibility upon his hepcat shoulders. She also spouts off her smartass one-liners that people seem to enjoy hearing come out of a kid’s mouth. Entire television shows are built on this premise for some ungodly reason. However, the shit almost hits the fan when she rudely destroys a tape of a live jam session with Dave Brubeck. Tony was throwing a swinging party with a host of friends and an impromptu Brubeck concert broke out (very “Playboy After Dark”-esque if I may say so), and Tony was lucky enough to catch it on tape. No doubt this proof that this amazing party took place would’ve helped him get laid, but little Penny decided that unspooling tape was a fun way to spend an afternoon. Pre-Elvis, this was a horrific crime against cool.

However, before Tony can build up enough rage to chuck the kid out of a Casino hotel window, sending her wisecracking noggin crashing onto a strip club marquee below, he finds out that Penny’s father has committed suicide. Given the circumstances, Tony actually musters up some sympathy for the child. You know, a five-year-old girl alone in the world, with no home and no one to love her and take care of her. It should come as little surprise that around the same time, Suzanna mentions to Tony that she’s looking to get married. Maybe getting blown by a model while sipping a martini is not the most important thing in the world. Certainly top five, but not number one.

Well, I think you know where this is headed, assuming you’ve ever watched a rote romantic comedy before. But, before it gets there, the trio ends up taking a trip. Penny keeps mentioning that she wants to go to Disneyland, and since Tony doesn’t have the heart to tell the kid that her father is dead, he grants her this wish. I guess Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is supposed to make up for the fact that she no longer has any parents (the ride is fucking awesome, but not THAT awesome). I guess it’s sort of a “Make-a-Wish” deal, where a child’s life is in the shitter (dying from lieukemia, or maybe suffering from terminal gout) and they get whatever they want as a result. Just be glad that Tony made a child’s dreams come true.

This leads to a VERY extended Disneyland chase sequence (the child authorities want to take Penny away to a home) that showcases the entire park. Not even Disney movies had the balls to throw in such obvious product placement. In the process, it manages to provide the best travelogue of Disneyland ever filmed, especially with the POV shots of the rides. I find the whole Disneyland sequence pretty nostalgic, as it looks awfully similar to how I remember it (I last went there in the early nineties). I’m sure it’s since been ruined by corporatism and modern flash. Nowadays, they probably have some ride called the “Hannah Montana XXXtreme Rocket Ship Rollercoaster Presented by Red Bull”. In fact, I once ran around Disneyland from ride to ride, much like Tony Curtis does here, in my successful quest to go on every single ride/attraction within a one day, 14 hour span. Not to brag, but it was probably my Mount Everest.

So yeah, you hear rumors about Walt Disney being a fascist and a Nazi sympathiser, and you can view Disney (and Disneyland by proxy) as the ultimate distraction, the soma of choice for a brave new world. But, then again, maybe you’re fucked no matter what, so you might as well have some distractions to enjoy while you’re getting bent over by life. However, as Tony finds out, the best thing to salve the wounds that result from an unfair world is unconditional love (that was the thing I was referring to earlier when I said there are things more important than blowjobs). I think it was a great prophet that said “life is a nonsensical game filled with assholes, and it helps to have a teammate to pass the ball to” (maybe that was Al Michaels that said that). Also, a seventy-year-old man who still fancies himself a swinging Vegas bachelor frankly comes across as a big time asshole. Only Frank Sinatra and Hugh Hefner were ever able to pull that sort of thing off. Well...sort of.

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