Long, long ago way back in the 1970s Chevy Chase was funny. No, really, he actually was! He was the first anchor on "Saturday Night Live"'s Weekend Update, and he played a talking shark and he imitated Gerald Ford by falling down a lot and
well, certainly there was other stuff, too. Chase was SNL's first big breakout star, and his first movie role was in the 1978 comedy Foul Play. Screenwriter Colin Higgins, who got the chance to direct the film due to the phenomenal success of his script for the Gene Wilder-Richard Pryor comedy Silver Streak (1976), wisely chose to tread the same path as with his previous success that is, to shamelessly rip off Alfred Hitchcock for the essential plot elements while adding a broad swath of irreverent '70s-style humor. Goldie Hawn plays Gloria Mundy, a rather timid librarian who finds herself embroiled in a plot to kill the Pope after a mysterious stranger hides a roll of film in her purse and then dies of a gunshot wound, telling her "Beware of the dwarf." When the police aren't interested in her story, the only person she can turn to is ever-so-slightly bumbling San Francisco detective Tony Carlson (Chase), who initially goes along with her story just to get to know her better. A little dated, Foul Play is nonetheless a charming, entertaining film that competently combines light suspense featuring an albino dwarf, a scar-faced man, and disappearing corpses with good old-fashioned romantic comedy. Chase and Hawn never approach the chemistry of, say, James Stewart and Kim Novak or Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, but they play nicely off of each other, each actor dialing their respective schticks back a few notches to create a pleasant, light mood. Chase has said that he was so nervous in his first film role and carrying the male lead that he was stiff as a board for much of the shoot, but that's an overstatement; the comedian was much, much worse in some of his later films, coming off smug and smarmy due to his need to let the audience know that he considered himself above the material at hand. Here, Chase is understated and charming, and quite handsome, to boot. Foul Play is also notable for some excellent smaller roles, including Burgess Meredith as Gloria's elderly (but very capable) neighbor, a hilarious cameo by Dudley Moore as a creepy seducer Gloria picks up in a bar, and Billy Barty as an unfortunate Bible salesman who is unceremoniously defenestrated (Gloria: "You mean I
?" Tony: "That's right honey you attacked an innocent dwarf.") Higgins does a bang-up job of using San Francisco locations to their fullest, and although the enthusiastic score by TV-theme-song specialist Charles Fox offers absolutely nothing memorable in itself, it channels Bernard Herrmann just well enough to be a perfect counterpoint to Higgins' faux-Hitchcock direction. Paramount's DVD release of Foul Play offers a very clean, crisp transfer with extremely saturated colors overly so, at times, to the point where the viewer may be alarmed by the screaming yellow of Hawn's dress or a cardinal's robes so intensely red as to almost leap into one's lap. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (also available in DD mono, with optional English subtitles) is very good, although the music tracks are sometimes distractingly loud. No extras; keep-case.
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