Leader of the Band
Cast: Steve Landesberg, Mercedes Ruehl, Gailard Sartain
Before Steve Landesberg started to whore it by appearing
in ads for
United Furniture Warehouse, he appeared in well-known productions like
TV's Barney Miller and....and....um....well, I guess
about all that he's appeared in that's well-known. Anyway, between Barney
Miller and those rent-paying commercials, he appeared in the
of the Band, a movie by the now-defunct, major studio wannabe
I never recall this appearing in theaters, and Vista's track record
shall we say, below average in quality. And Landesberg has never struck
me as a funny actor. Plus, the premise of the movie - a unemployed
whipping into shape a band of bad junior high school students seemed
and lacking in material for laughs. So I sat down to watch this
movie with a heavy heart, thinking I was in for 90 minutes of sheer
But guess what? I was right. Leader of the Band is so
that it can't even build itself up to use clichés! The only possible
value this movie has is to explain why Vista went under.
From the start, the movie shows off its moroness (if
that word has not
been used before, I claim here the authorship of this new word):
playing Eddie Layton (described as "one cool cat" on the back of the
box), is a struggling musician playing the piano at a redneck club. He
sings, "I hate the North / I hate the dog s**t and the crime / They'll
cut you up for just a dime / So for the time / I have the mind / To
down South." A minute later, he's fired by the club's manager, so he
revenge by singing one last song, entitled "I Hate The South". After
finished, the clientele pick up their pitchforks and shotguns and chase
him out the door. Nothing like reliable redneck humor to get those
Unemployed, Eddie later watches the news on TV, seeing
coverage of the
Olmstead High School marching band, a band so inept that it drives the
bandleader into a kind of instant insanity that you only see in the
goofy comedies. Smelling a job opening, Eddie goes to the high school
gets the band leader position. The band's in very bad shape, with some
students playing the wrong song, and of course they all collide and
down at one point, har har. (Actually, the students fall down just
they collide with their bandmates.) Of course, there are colorful
such as two overweight identical twins who play the tuba, a make-out
and a bully with the colorful name "Mad Dog". But as I said before, the
movie doesn't even have the energy to use these clichés - these
characters appear once or twice in the movie, and never have any kind
focus again. And of course, there's a love interest for Eddie in the
from the school's French teacher, though their scenes are so hopeless,
we never see the attraction between these characters or even the
of the relationship after the trials ahead. And I'm sure you've guessed
what probably happens next in the movie. Does Eddie get the kids to
him? Do the kids do something to a rival school that is insanely blamed
on Eddie? Does Eddie get fired? Do the kids run to his place to support
him, and ask him back? Does Eddie plan to get the kids in the national
competition anyway, despite what the school says?
Landesberg is working with some thin (to put it kindly)
so he can't really be blamed for this fiasco. On the other hand, he
an incredibly bizarre performance, not just hearing him sing on several
occasions but also given some monologues that are so weird, we wonder
his mental health. His conversations with other people aren't much
Here's a typical conversation:
Eddie: When I was a kid I used to make the big
kids laugh so
I wouldn't be knocked unconscious.
French Teacher: Can't imagine anyone wanting to hit
Eddie: Well, that's what I kept saying, but I spent
my childhood unconscious.
French Teacher: Oh dear
French Teacher: Must be great to be conscious now.
Eddie: Much better, yes.
You may have noticed in the list of questions, I didn't
question, "Does the band win at the big competition?" Well, the band
has magically tripled in size) does perform at the competition, but we
never know the official decision of the judges. However, Eddie is
on the shoulders of the band members as fireworks pop in the
so that might be a clue. But this lack of detail is typical of the
of Leader of the Band; the movie isn't even good enough
clean up behind the many many previous marchers of this formula.
UPDATE: Frank Steele sent this along:
"I saw your review of the Steve Landesberg
masterpiece Leader Of The Band, and thought you might like a
little more background about the movie.
"Both the bands in the movie were played by my high school band, from
Lassiter High School in Marietta, Ga. (that explains why the band is
twice as big at the end). I graduated in 1985, but my sister was in the
band, and in the movie, and my mother chaperoned during the shoot,
which was in late 1986. Lassiter had about 300 students in the band at
the time, so it could easily split into two units for the rival bands.
"Mad Dog" was a pivotal part in the movie, of course, so instead of
taking a chance with a "proven actor", the makers decided to cast an
unknown from the band in the role. IMDB mistakenly credits "Jess Sisk";
his name is "Jeff Sisk". Another student, Robert Morsch, is credited as
"Mascot"; I don't remember that part in the movie, but I remember Bobby
and his father, who was himself a college band director.
"One of the least low points of the movie is the big mooning scene,
required in late-80s teen comedies, but the Cobb County Board of
Education refused to allow the band members to flash their derrieres,
no matter how briefly, and the producers came up with the "underwear
with smiley faces" you see in the film.
"The marching scenes were filmed overnight at Grady High School in
Atlanta, right across from Piedmont Park.
"David Picker, who became a studio head (at Columbia Pictures) soon
after, produced or executive produced the film, and was on site for
much of the filming. He also produced most of the early Steve Martin
movies, including The Jerk, The Man with Two Brains,
and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid.
"Lassiter marched in the Tournament of Roses parade in January 1988,
and I went out for the parade, and we saw a newspaper ad for the movie
in L.A., so it may have had a (very) limitedtheatrical release,
possibly just to make it Oscar-eligible :-).
"Speaking of which, Mercedes Ruehl won her Oscar the year after Leader
Of The Band for Married to the Mob."
Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
See also: Secret Agent Club,
The Rivals, Slaughter