Foul Play (1978)
Yes, I remember this movie when it was first shown on HBO. I know that dates me but, what the hell. It’s kind of a comedy crossed with a thriller crossed with a view of life back in 1978 when people said “shake your booty” and actually meant it.
Shy divorced librarian Gloria Mundy (Goldie Hawn) unwittingly becomes involved in an assassination conspiracy when she picks up an undercover cop on the run who passes her information but is killed before he can tell her he’s done it or what it means. Before she knows it a whole assortment of killers are after her even though she initially can’t get her landlord Mr. Hennessey (Burgess Meredith) or the cute but bumbling police lieutenant Tony Carlson (Chevy Chase) and his partner Fergie (Brian Dennehy) to believe her. But things keep happening to her and slowly the pieces begin to fall into place revealing a plot to kill the Pope while he’s visiting San Francisco. Can Tony and Gloria make it across town in time to bring the curtain down and stop the nefarious scheme?
Foul Play is supremely silly but such fun. It shows the end of the swinging 70s when disco was king, most everyone smoked, the threat of AIDS was unknown so going home with someone from a singles bar was fine and picking up hitchhickers then going to movies with them was okay. Some of the more serious parts of Tony trying to solve the case seem stilted and fall flat but when Chase and Hawn are onscreen, they’re adorable together. They’re also backed by a good cast and halfway decent script with plenty of nods to Hitchcock.
Goldie Hawn is her usual bubbly blonde, seeming airhead self but somehow she manages to evade, escape or disable most of the villains even though they are little more than cartoons for the most part. There is a hilarious scene where she’s fleeing down a fire escape and trying to catch the attention of two older ladies playing dirty scrabble – watch to see what word is spelled and then misspelled as it’s added onto. This is a time when Chevy Chase was actually funny and still sorta cute though he still resorts to his usual clumsy shtick throughout the film. He and Dennehy have a great scene with a “who’s on first” style attempt to unravel the wild story Gloria is telling them about the second disappearing dead body she’s run across in two nights. Marilyn Sokol plays Gloria’s fellow librarian friend who is packing and ready to deck anyone who messes with Stella “unless Stella wants to be messed.” I have to agree, after reading a comment at IMDB, that “messed” was not the original word planned in that sentence. Refer back to the scrabble reference.
But the best secondary character of the entire film, hell almost the best character period, is Stanley Tibbets played by Dudley Moore. Stanley’s got a “Beaver Trap” apartment complete with a quadraphonic sound system, swing out Murphy bed, mirrored ceiling, blow up dolls, projector, a full bar and binoculars. After looking at his closet full of gadgets, a stunned Gloria comments “I never knew the diversity!” God love him, poor Stanley keeps getting caught up in Gloria’s perils when all he’s trying to do is get laid. The city of San Francisco should also get acknowledged as it looks gorgeous and provides the streets for the final wild cross town ride that almost ends the movie.
It’s definitely dated, totally un-PC, can be quite violent at times but it still makes me laugh even after more than 30 years. Remember it’s basically a light hearted romp so don’t take it too seriously. Just have fun with it.