mike@projection-booth.com mike@projection-booth.com

April 19, 2016

Episode 267: Smile (1975)

Special Guests: Bruce Dern, Nicholas Pryor, Barbara Feldon, Denise Nickerson, Annette O'Toole
Guest Co-Hosts: Carol Borden, Kevin Heffernan

Get on your sash and listen to the discussion of Michael Ritchie's Smile, a send-up of beauty pageants and small-town America from 1975.

We talked to a few of the stars of the film: Bruce Dern, Nicholas Pryor, Barbara Feldon, Denise Nickerson, and Annette O'Toole. Joining Mike in the discussion is The Cultural Gutter's Carol Borden and The Crawling Eye's Kevin Heffernan.

Listen/Download Now:

More Cast Interviews:

Buy Smile on Blu-Ray
Buy Howard sings Ashman
Buy Unsung Musicals on CD
Watch a visual history of Michael Ritchie's work
Read You're a goddamn Young American Miss by Casey Scott
Read Smile by Forgotten Films
Read Smile by Ken Anderson
Read The Unsung Heroine of "Smile" (1975) by Hill Place
Read Lonely In A Crowd by Barbara Feldon
Visit Kevin Heffernan's Knot and Gender blog
Visit Kevin Heffernan's The Crawling Eye: A Bloodshot Look at International Genre Film, Television, and Cult Media
Visit the Cultural Gutter website

"Delta Dawn" - Helen Reddy
"Smile" - Nat King Cole



  1. The Foreign ViewerMay 8, 2016, 8:36:00 AM

    Hey there, Mike. When you're doing a show on a movie I haven't seen before, I usually either skip it (unfortunately, there's not enough time in the world to see everything you want or should) or more often listen to it anyway. However, occasionally I will watch the movie first if there's something about it that especially interests me. In this case, I've heard about the movie before but never got around to seeing it and I love Bruce (who doesn't), so I decided to finally give it a go.

    Before I say what I think about the movie, here's a quick review of this episode. I think you did your part to prepare for the show commendably, Mike, and you ended up carrying most of the weight here as you often do (especially now that you don't have a buddy co-host). Carol and Kevin did what they were suppose to, but I don't think they added that much to the discussion overall. I feel there was more room here for analyses, especially when it comes to the characters.

    Not to be too harsh on Carol and Kevin, I completely agree with Carol's reasoning on why the movie is forgotten unlike Nashville (too lighthearted and unfocused) and kudos to Kevin for his sweet Trump reference. Dead chicken butt kissers indeed.

    I also wish you talked just a bit more about the musical and how it compares to the movie. Here's the story about its special reunion performance, if anyone's interested.

    As for the interviews, I love how you edited them together. It really felt like you had the whole cast on together to tell their story about the film chronologically and orderly. Sometimes you let the interviewees talk a little too long and meander, but this was perfect! Kudos on that, Mike. Also, nice job on getting all these people to talk for the show. I love Annette O'Toole (and I so wish you had ask her if she'd talk a bit about her and Martin Short's charming ballsy sex comedy for adults "Cross My Heart" from 1987) and Dern is a true old school Hollywood storyteller (he really ought to wright a memoir - both for posterity and because it'd sell like freaking cupcakes!), but the others were pretty interesting to listen to as well. In fact, I've even took the liberty of adding some of their anecdotes to the trivia section on the movie's imdb page.

    I only wish you could have reached Maria O'Brien (the Latino contester) and Joan Prather (as the main girl Robin). I would love to know what Maria though about her character and I would especially like to hear Prather's thoughts on the movie, since to me she was the other main character next to Dern. Did you try to get them on, Mike, but they didn't respond or were there other obstacles?

    As for the film, I wish I liked it as much as I did your show on it. The movie wants to have its cake and eat it. It resembles other projects like Altman's Nashville (a film that had much more of a bite and cynicism), but also Christopher Guest's more current mockumentary improv film work like Best in Show (2000) and even The Last Picture Show. However, to me, that's one of the two problems with the movie. There's little original or biting material in this satire (and I'm not surprised that they tried to sell it as a sex comedy instead, considering how nostalgically lighthearted it often is). The other issue is that Dern's and pageant's parts of the movie don't gel/jell at all in my opinion. I felt like watching two different movies tied together by the tiniest of strings.

    And I've just hit the 4.096 characters limit again. Sorry, I'll have to split the comment in two (again).

  2. The Foreign ViewerMay 8, 2016, 8:40:00 AM

    Yeah, I know, I talk too much but what can you do when the movie passions take you.

    Now, I'm not saying the movie is bad, because it definitely isn't (love the cast, direction and dialogue), but more could have been done with it to make it more wholesome. For instance, we could have learned more about the other heads of the contest. Is the preacher a fundamentalist or a hypocrite in private? What's the backstory of the female judge who doesn't mind the questions that make fun of feminism? Can we have more Geoffrey Lewis (one of the things I love about his character is how the idea of lawsuits over the lack of safety measures is already present in the public consciousness in 1975)? Etc. Also, I think Bob's wife is very underused. The movie should have given her more depth by showing that her life depends on her work on the show. She has no children, she is clearly not in love with her husband and she is not employed. She is like a Barbie, whose Ken failed to meet her expectations. The only two things she really has in life are the show and keeping up the appearances. Andy clearly doesn't get that. He expects her to be a caring housewife and comfort him during his midlife crisis, when she's clearly the pants wearing type and expects him to keep himself in check. Makes me wonder why they even got married in the first place. I'm pretty sure that the only reason she tried to stop him from killing himself was to avoid scandal. It also makes me wonder if they don't have kids by their own choice or because of someone's unrecognized infertility. By the way, I hate Andy. While I completely sympathize with his mid-30s midlife crisis (amen brother), he still comes off as a wet blanket. You want a change? Then get a freaking divorce and leave, you monkey-fighting Monday-to-Friday clutz!

    Now, there are many details I love about the movie. The white robes that the men at the gathering wear clearly resemble the Klan robes. Makes me wonder if the town had a strong Klan membership decades before and as the townsfolk transitioned into the superficial seemingly politically correct modern day middle class society, the Klan meetings lost their original intent and transitioned into traditional fratboyish gatherings. Or Michael Ritchie and Jerry Belson were just making a satirical visual metaphor (the men there are so oblivious that they don't see anything wrong with their attire and Bob even talks about how sad he is that the Latino girl didn't make it in the finals).

    In fact, the movie has a strange sense of irony. Maria, the Latino girl, is portrayed as the symbol of American values such as equality, but both her and the movie treat this as means to an end. She (ab)uses these values to promote herself in the show (or play the race card, as the Republican kids would say these days) and the movie clearly both criticizes her for it as well as the judges for loving her all the way to the finals (as a seemingly politically correct group would) and then not picking her for anything (showing their true colors). On the other hand, the movie also tells us nothing about her except that she's a minority, who uses this to her own advantage during the show. What gives movie? Why not give depth to her and other contestants, instead of giving away half of your runtime to the three people in town, who other than dealing with the theme of keeping up the appearances in the more existential sense have nothing to do with the actual plot. Again, like splicing two movies with one single similar theme together.

    Also, the girls decide to only sabotage the only minority in the competition. Are they also oblivious to their own prejudices or is this just an unfortunate coincidence that the scriptwriter failed to notice? That's why I'd love to know what Maria, the actress, thought about Maria, the character.

    Whoops, there's that gosh darn character limit again! Oh, well, I guess it's a three-parter (again). Sorry, Mike.

  3. The Foreign ViewerMay 8, 2016, 8:50:00 AM

    Okay, let's finish this thing.

    The two unsung heroes of the movie are the janitor and his young assistant. They are like the Greek chorus (or Richard Dreyfuss from Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead), who observe and mock the futility of the protagonists' actions and even when they try to act (their warning about the towels clogging the pipes) nobody listens (although again there's no payoff here, since the movie loses interest in these two). They are like some kings of their own castle there. The building is their home away from home that they run all by themselves and everyone else are just guests. Their fabulous hiding places for booze are like secret treasure troves the knowledge of which shell be passed down only to those who deem worthy (or become the next assistant janitor). In a way, they are the towns guilty conscious.

    I think Robin is the only girl there who doesn't really care about the competition. I think she's there only to please her mother and it's too bad that there's next to no focus on the girls' parents, who for the most part pick this life of pageantry for them. This is a huge missed opportunity by the movie to spread its palette. Also, I'm surprised that you haven't asked your interviewees about Joan Prather, Mike?

    Speaking of Robin, I was left with an impression that the movie tried to add a very subtle platonic romantic subtext to Robin and O'Toole's character's relationship. Or is that just my dirty wishful thinking? It'd fit with Robin's portrayal as someone who doesn't take conventions for granted.

    Anyway, let's finish this tl;dr with an anecdote. The copy of the movie I saw was the uncut TCM version. After the movie, one of the channel's hosts asked their guest, actor Robert Wuhl, who (out of all people!) suggested to them to air the film in the first place, to say a few words about his pick. His whole answer pretty much boiled down to - just look at how many future Hollywood stars (including Dern) are in it! So, yeah - even the guy who suggested TCM to show this movie that evening didn't have much else to say about it, which is highly unfortunate, but it shows precipice how the movie is viewed today - a 70s nostalgia piece and time capsule with a whole lot of promising young talent.

    In conclusion, thanks for another cool show Mike. You've made the closest thing this film will probably ever have to an audio commentary.

    Again, if you ever decide to take up suggestions for your future shows, I'd stay with the 70s theme and suggest a(nother) show about double doze of 70s paranoia with (the kind of optimistic) Capricorn One and (completely pessimistic) The Parallax View.

    1. The Foreign ViewerMay 8, 2016, 9:37:00 PM

      Actually, the phrase is in the last part of my comment. ;). Because who cares. :D