Thursday, June 1, 2023

From the Prison Theater of Clyde’s Movie Palace: Fun With Dick and Jane (1977)

Dick and Jane MarqueeDick and Jane Cast


Fun With Dick and Jane (1977)
is a film I first saw when it was released in the 70's, 46 years ago. I thought it was funny then, and watching it again in my home theater last night, it hasn't lost a bit of its charm (if that's what you want to call it).

The movie was remade in 2005 as a vehicle for Jim Carrey that I quickly discarded after having seen it once. The Carrey remake was trying to be too relevant. At the same time, the 1977 version starring Jane Fonda and George Segal was just intent on being ridiculous and implausible, but funny as hell. 

Dick is a hot shot engineer at Taft Aero Space who helped put (as his boss Charlie Blanchard played by Ed McMahon, puts it) "Neil and what's his name on the moon."  Fun With Dick and Jane

Dick and Jane Harper live in a lovely two-story house with a new heated swimming pool in the process of being installed in the backyard, a professionally landscaped and manicured lawn, a dog named Spot (of course), and their young son Billy (Sean Frye). They are the epitome of living the good life, and although Dick excels at his job, made possible by his college education, you know that these people have never known the struggles of the blue-collar working class and poverty is nothing more to them than a word that might come up in a game of Scrabble or what Billy might see on The Walton's. The Harpers are the very definition of living the good life.

Poor, like the Waltons
We suspect there's trouble afoot long before Dick is aware of it. Names on the parking bumpers at Taft's Headquarters are being painted over, employees greet him as if they know something he doesn't, and when Dick meets with his boss, Charlie is three sheets to the wind.

While Dick tries to explain how he's going to reorganize his department, Charlie lowers the boom:

Charley: What do you say we talk turkey? Gobble, Gobble, Gobble!  (Laughing) I was just talking turkey. Dick, I always thought you were the kind of guy I didn't have to bullshit.

Dick: I'm glad to hear that.

Charley: Can I level with you?

Dick: Sure.

Charley: I mean, really level? 

Dick: Charlie, you can tell me anything.

Charlie: You're fired!  (Laughing hysterically) I must have fired 50 people today, and that's the first time I did it like that. The first time I ever said like, "You're Fired." 

Dick: (Still not catching on) Practice makes perfect."

Charley: No, I shouldn't have done that. It's just that I'm sick of all the bullshit.

Dick: (finally catching on) Wait a minute. You're serious?

Charley: Would I kid a pal?

Dick: No jokes, Charley. You're really firing me?

Now you're catching on, Dick. Some people think they're invincible, and when they do, drunken conniving louts like Charlie Blanchard, who tries to force himself on your wife, bring the hammer down. (You'll see.)

You're Firedvlcsnap-2023-06-01-13h39m10s450    

Butt Pinching
But how bad can it be? With his experience and college education, it should be no problem for Dick to find employment. Maybe the Harper Family will have to scrimp on a few things, such as not heating the pool, Billy and Jane will have to give up their ski lessons, no more French wines at home for Dick, no new drum set for Billy, and Jane will drop the book of the month club! Such hardships!

But you, I, and everybody else in this movie know that in the 70's, the aerospace industry was in the shitter. If that's the job you were educated and trained to do, then you were up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

The manicured lawn and landscape are repossessed, and the pool remains unfinished. Not saving for a rainy day, having made rather bad investments (unsecured municipal debentures), and with Dick spending $1000 on lunches (Jane: If I were Diner's Club, I'd have your stomach bronzed.) Jane finally does the math and concludes that giving up French Wine and Billy's drums isn't much help.

Jane takes over the finances, ordering Dick to go on unemployment and apply for the food stamp program while she gets a job. Dick, as we find out, is quite the chauvinist.
Stomach Bronzed and in the Hall of Fame

Dick: May I ask, no offense, mind you...What do you think you're qualified to do? Secretary of the Treasury seems to be filled.

Jane: There must be lots of things I can do.

Dick: You never worked a day in your life. You can't type, and you can't take shorthand.

Jane: I'm a college graduate, reasonably intelligent. Not altogether unattractive.

Dick: Yes, but will you be happy being a hooker?

Jane: Interesting that the only jobs you considered me qualified for are secretary and hooker.

Dick: You're not qualified to be a secretary.

When his back is against the wall, Dick can be a real asshole. His deprecatory comments towards Jane while doing nothing on his own to improve their situation and making one excuse after another regarding his part in the fiasco prove that. There's also an uncomfortable scene in the unemployment office where he is caught making very bigoted remarks regarding gay and trans people that thankfully come back to bite him in the ass. 

Jane's first day at work is a disaster. Dick gets his unemployment, gets picked up for being an illegal alien, and then promptly loses his unemployment checks for trying to beat the system. Dick does get a job interview at home; unfortunately, at the same time, the landscaping company comes to repossess their indoor plants. Jane tries to borrow money from her parents, but they are such jerks that you'd have thought they were Dick's parents instead. They turn her down, of course, and if you think things couldn't get worse, you were wrong, then right.

Having no other choice, Dick and Jane go to a high-interest loan company where they manage to secure a loan for $1000. As they leave with their cash, the loan company is held up by armed robbers, who slam Dick in the gut with a rifle butt and take Jane hostage. But it's not as bad as you think, as the ever-resourceful Jane manages to escape and confiscate while Dick decides that sometimes crime does pay and pay well.

Hold UpOf course, it doesn't always pay well in real life unless your name is Donald Trump, so don't get any ideas, kiddies.

The movie kicks into high gear with this change in attitude, and because initially, Dick is inept at his new chosen profession, they eventually get it right, enabling them to get their electricity back on, their lawn back, and their swimming. What is this life of crime? Sort of like Bonnie and Clyde without the violence or the killing. But stealing from the phone company is one thing; stealing from Jeebus is something else entirely. You'll see. 

Bonnie and Clyde


George Segal does a masterful job of switching back and forth between being inept, amusing, and sometimes mean without having you get irritated. It's comedic genius.

Fonda says she only did the film to finance her husband's political campaign, Tom Hayden, but it worked out. I have no clue whether she appreciates the movie for what it is years later. But she's excellent in it. Fonda manages to be both funny and sarcastic at the same time while being amused by the antics of Dick. She not only keeps everything grounded, but towards the end, she comes up with an utterly devilish plan for one last caper that is as good as a movie-wrap-up gets.

And Ed McMahon should have been out there playing more roles, such as the creep he plays here. Ed was always good in films like this when he was allowed to play something other than a sidekick selling Alpo.

I always have liked this film, and watching it again on the big screen in my home theater was no exception. It is available as a Sony Bluray MOD or as a digital file from Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, or Google Play.

Even if you only rent the film, I think it's well worth the investment, so I give it a solid B+.

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