Movers and Shakers

Director: William Asher       
Cast: Walter Matthau, Charles Grodin, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin

A movie that may well have been the origin of terms like "amateur night" and "million-dollar home movie", Movers and Shakers generally fails in its attempts to be both a satiric look at Hollywood and yuk-yuk comedy.

Though not completely worthless,  the most interesting thing about it is the behind-the-scenes story of its production. This was Grodin's pet project (he wrote and produced the movie), and he spent years trying to get it made. When it was completed, United Artists took one look at it and gave it almost no release, and, judging from having only ever seen it in one video store, didn't give the video much of a push.

Matthau plays Joe, a major executive at a Hollywood studio. Seeing a dying director friend, he makes the promise that he'll get the rights for the popular book Love In Sex  and make it into a movie. Joe calls acclaimed 38 year-old screenwriter Herb (played by the 50 year-old Grodin, whose first scene is during a rectal examination - some kind of comment?) to give him the task of writing a "salute to love and romance" using just the title of the book and "maybe one or two of the positions" illustrated. Before you think how contrived this sounds, remember the 1984 movie Joy of Sex, where a major studio bought the rights to the best-selling book and subsequently made a terrible in-name-only movie

The subsequent in-house discussions about the project are the funniest scenes in the movie, and the most insightful. There's a scene where the chosen director chooses to screen old romantic movies to try to find out what worked ("[The male lead] would never let you down!" is what he says about every movie.) More laughs come when they draft up proposed posters and a soundtrack for the movie, which hasn't even had a treatment written. All of this provides easy but great material, and one has to wonder why the movie didn't follow this path.

But instead of following the path of showing the making of this movie, instead we are treated to the out-of-studio lives of the characters, which leads the movie nowhere. Joe's wife has fallen out of love with him, and the irony and potential laughs of this are lost on the filmmakers. Steve Martin makes a brief appearance as a veteran sex-symbol movie star with the prophetic name of Fabio, and his character and scene are never referred to again. (He also had a similar experience to Grodin's with his own pet project, A Simple Twist of Fate.) And the movie ends with nothing resolved, nothing promised - as if Grodin was writing this as they were filming and he ran out of material.

Technically, the movie is also a mess. Microphones and camera shadows bob into the frame. Dialogue recorded on soundstages is poorly recorded. The speed of the film is visibly slowed-down at the beginning of some cuts so that Grodin's narration will fit. And that narration - it is obviously, with the slowing-down of the film speed, and the fact that none of the narration provides anything we don't know already or don't learn later, that it was added in post-production a la Blade Runner.

I'd really like to know more about how was this made. Did Grodin call in a lot of favors for the guest-star appearances? Why did he give his role another rectal exam at the end of the movie?  Most importantly, did he really think his script was funny? All of this goes to show that what happens behind-the-scenes is frequently more interesting than the final product. I'll bet a documentary on this movie would have been a laugh riot

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check Amazon for Charles Grodin's autobiography

See also: Flicks, Outtakes, The Gong Show Movie