' ' Cinema Romantico: Who's Harry Crumb?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Who's Harry Crumb?

Maybe it was because of the closing ceremonies at the Winter Olympics where they trotted out some famous Canadian comedians. Maybe it was because around this time each year my dad would depart for state speech contest in Council Bluffs, Iowa which meant a Saturday evening of my mom and my sister and I eating junk food and watching John Candy comedies. Either way, when I saw "Who's Harry Crumb?" one recent evening on AMC I knew I had no choice but to watch it.

Released in 1989 "Who's Harry Crumb?" strived to be Candy's answer to Peter Sellers' Inspector Jacques Closeau, the story of a bumbling private detective who outwits the bad guys in a kidnapping case despite the fact much of the outwitting is by pure chance and/or coincidence. Harry Crumb was the grandson of the great Augustus Crumb and the son of the even greater Lionel Crumb but Harry is not quite a chip off the old block, thus he's been demoted to a regional office in Tulsa where his desk is positioned directly beneath a diseased tree from which oranges "hilariously" fall in the midst of conversations. Oh, John....

But things are looking up for it seems the model daughter of millionaire P.J. Downing (Barry Corbin) has been kidnapped and when the family turns to friend Eliot Draisen (Jeffery Jones) for help it is Draisen who suggests Crumb. He suggests this because, in fact, he has masterminded the whole kidnapping! Yes, Draisen plans to abscond with the ransom and then abscond with Downing's trophy wife Helen (Annie Potts, the most sexless sexpot in cinematic history) except, of course, Helen is busy scheming with her lover and part-time tennis instructor Vince Barnes (Tim Thomerson) on how they can both abscond with the ransom money and kill her unsuspecting husband.

Into this mess wades Harry Crumb. "I'm so thoroughly trained I don't even have to think before I speak." The film's aim, unfortunately, is lowbrow. Mighty lowbrow, one might say. Any room, absolutely any room, however innocent it may appear, presents any number of potential pratfalls for the redoubtable Crumb. He gets his tie caught in a paper shredder (boo!) and he rides a stationary exercise bike through a wall (yah!) and when Draisen shows off his prized pterodactyl egg it is only a matter of time before the antics of Crumb cause it to be smashed to smithereens.

The one thing you can say definitively, though, is that Candy throws himself at all these typical hijinks with determined gusto. The gags are nowhere near the level of "The Pink Panther" or "A Shot In The Dark" but Candy, like Sellers, projects the same sort of I-have-no-idea-what-I'm-talking-about-or-even-doing-but-I'm-going-to-furrow-my-brow-and-intone-dramatically-and-pray-to-high-heaven-you-don't-call-me-on-it vibe. "Bamboo is my business." He even develops a nice rapport with Downing's other daughter, the neglected Nikki (a young Shawnee Smith), who becomes Crumb's de-facto partner and, like Graham Stark in "A Shot In The Dark", seems to project much more brain power than the man in charge even as she is content to sit back and let him go at his own blundering pace.

And in fact it is Crumb and Nikki who allow for the two sequences that make "Who's Harry Crumb?", even for all its gags involving sprinklers making it appear our title character has wet his pants (LOL), entirely watchable.

I can remember watching the Tom Cruise remake of "Mission Impossible" with my dad and during that sequence where they are pulling off the impossible heist by, of course, crawling around the air ducts my dad commented, "People are always crawling around air ducts but there's never any air blowing through them." "On the contrary!" I declared. "In 'Who's Harry Crumb?' John Candy crawls around an air duct and air is blowing through them!" "All these movies," my dad bemused, "where crawling around air ducts is a major plot point and the only one that gets it right is the John Candy comedy." In truth, "The Brothers Bloom" actually has an even better crawling-around-the-air-ducts sequence with Rachel Weisz but still....

More than that, though, I'm a kid who grew up in the 80's and "Who's Harry Crumb?" is defiantly an 80's movie. No doubt about it. From the insipid and repetitive lite jazz score to the opening credits combining yellow and hot pink to Shawnee Smith's all-stonewashed outfit I guess it's a little bit nicely nostalgic to see a movie from the era when kids tight rolled their jeans and Samantha Fox was a sex symbol and Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out For A Hero" ruled the charts.

I mention it because the big setpiece to close the film would still be worth the price of admission. Long before "Arrested Development" found plenty of brilliant fodder for comedy with an airport stair car ("You're going to have hop ons") "Who's Harry Crumb?" mined that same territory with a steady hand. As the villains set to make their escape aboard a jet bound for Buenos Aires it is Harry and Nikki who navigate the airport tarmac aboard the stair car in a heroic effort to foil their getaway with "Holding Out For A Hero" joining them for the ride.

No, John Candy, isn't exactly a white knight and the stair car might not be a fiery steed but, damn it, if this part didn't make me laugh with delight and wish it was 1989 all over again. I think it's a real shame John Candy didn't get the chance to join his compatriots in chuckling at his own country in Vancouver.


My Other Brother Daryl said...

Your husband is quite the... philodendron.

Nick Prigge said...

....and the boots to match.

Jacob said...

Did you really just use LOL?

Nick Prigge said...

I did use LOL. I was being ironical.