Which Way to the Front?
Reviewed by Chris Edwards
Rating: 10 Beans
od bless the Encore movie networks. For those of you who don't subscribe to this multi-channel direct-tv movie service, the Encore group offers a whole buncha themed channels, like "Western," "Action," and "Romance." And with very few exceptions, every movie that shows up on these channels outright blows. Wanna see early-70's TV-movies with OJ Simpson in 'em? Gotta have Encore. Wanna see ancient, seemingly identical horse operas over and over? Gotta have Encore. Movies so damn horrifying that USA Network would NEVER have run them? Encore all the way. For a bad movie hound, these channels are a godsend.
Especially since they're now running into the ground "Which Way to the Front?," the movie that proves without a doubt the French are wrong about Jerry Lewis. Made in 1970, this is Jerry's take on the anti-war movie, I think. Set in 1943 (but looking like it's all happening in 1969), it tells the tale of an ultra-wealthy guy (Jerry), who forms a private commando squad of fellow rejects from the draft board. Their plan? To kidnap a Nazi mastermind (also Jerry) from a remote fortress.
Sounds funny? Brother, it ain't. Everything seems to have been improvised on the set, as Jerry mugs and jibbers like a maniac, endlessly. The other players look visibly uncomfortable, waiting for the star to stop. And stop he often does-the movie is chock-full of freeze-frames that wind up scenes that otherwise would not end. One involves Jerry's character trying to learn German from a record. Just when you think he might be building up to a punch-line...freeze-frame. Another involves efforts to imitate the Nazi mastermind's walk, and again, there seems to be a joke coming, but one never does.
"Which Way to the Front?" is also anti-Nazi to the teeth, and nothing wrong there. But see if you can get through the scene in which Jerry, now disguised as a Nazi, must decorate German soldiers for heroism, without cringing. He commits acts of painful mayhem on each in turn, mugging and goofing all the while, 'til he breaks the last one's nose. I can't help feeling this was unplanned, it certainly looks real. At any rate, when was the last time you got a laugh out of somebody, even a Nazi, bleeding? It's an uncomfortable moment that belies any lighthearted spoof elements. Imagine Moe socking Curly, and Curly bleeding. Not so funny now, is it? Want to see nasty, vindictive comedy? Right here.
"Which Way to the Front?" really belongs at the top of the bad-movie pantheon, the Plan 9 of comedy. Watch for apalling costumes (orange jumpsuits? howabout blue ones?), weird anachronisms (were Peace symbols around in the '40's? how about the Danish Madsen submachineguns the boys tote?), and most of all, one dead joke after another. The scene that seals the deal: One of Jerry's sidekicks makes a dumb statement. Jerry does a take. Looks away. Another take. Looks away. Another take. Looks away. And on, and on, and on, until you think maybe the film's hung in a loop,and still on until it literally makes one want to scream.
"Which Way to the Front," showing on Encore seemingly every half-hour. Not to be missed. Jerry's last film until "Hardly Working," ten years later.
No two ways about it, ten Beans. This came out around the same time as M*A*S*H, think of that while you watch it.
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