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Friday Film Review: Foul Play

Foul Play (1978)
Genre: Comedy/Thriller
Grade: Cute

“Far out.”

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.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

31 Comments

  1. Gwen Hayes
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 10:53:42

    I loved this movie. I remember watching it every time it was on HBO. Like…seven times a month.

  2. Jayne
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 04:04:21

    @Gwen Hayes: Wow, 7 times? That’s some hot love for this movie. ;)

  3. ShellBell
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 04:29:39

    This is one of my favourite movies. I’m not a huge Chevy Chase or Goldie Hawn fan but this is one very funny movie. Loved Dudley Moore in this too!

    “Kojak – Bang bang!”

    “What’s that? Binoculars. Are you into that, too?”

  4. Kim in Hawaii
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 04:44:24

    OK, ladies, I remember watching this in the movie theater! I also remember the snake “laughing” when Hennessey inadvertently throws the match cover (with a clue) into the fire. Funny what one can (and cannot) remember.

  5. Jayne
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 06:43:23

    @ShellBell:
    Listen, as you say over here,

    “You’re put on this world

    to do your thing.

    “I’m put on this world

    to do my thing.

    “And if, perchance, our things…

    “…do…

    “…meet…

    “…that’s… That’s groovy.”

  6. Jayne
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 06:44:08

    @Kim in Hawaii: Oh, I love Esme and her “laugh.”

  7. Lobo
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 06:59:34

    I also have a special fondness for this movie. I fist saw this when I was around 12 and went to a summer camp and it was an open-air showing. I mean really open we were somewhere in a clearing with one huge house on it and they brought the machine out there and they used the clear white wall of the building as screen. We were lying around in our sleeping bags and crickets provided additional soundtrack.
    And in Hungarian they translated the title to: Beware of the Dwarf!

  8. MarieC
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 07:12:59

    I love this film. It’s one of those films that I have to finish watching regardless of section of the story it is.

    Even with the great aforementioned scenes and oneliners, one of my favorite scenes is the fight scene between Hennessy and Gerda. I don’t know why, but that never fails to crack me up.

  9. Jayne
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 07:25:38

    @Lobo: I almost like that title better than the real one.

  10. Jayne
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 07:27:07

    @MarieC: I love the looks on Chase and Hawn’s faces as they watch it. The final “piano take” down is a classic.

  11. JB Hunt
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 07:48:06

    I saw this one at the movie theater when it was released, and I have never laughed so hard in a crowd. It is physically impossible to keep a straight face during that car chase (Kojak) scene.

  12. Jayne
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 08:14:51

    @JB Hunt: But did you notice that no matter how many times the various cars/trucks Tony drove went airborne and skidded around street corners and through plate glass windows, that no one wore a seatbelt and no one got injured/killed? Ah, the magic of movies.

  13. Katie D.
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 09:43:27

    I :cough: own this on DVD. I appreciated it for the comedy elements when I was younger, and when I became a librarian, I appreciated it for featuring a librarian as the heroine :D

  14. Zoe Archer
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 09:52:17

    This was a staple of cable TV when I was a kid, and I’ve lost count how many times my brother and I watched it. I’m 99% certain we didn’t get half the sexual references. It’s nigh impossible to listen to The Mikado without thinking of this film.

  15. cleo
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 11:55:50

    This was one of my mom’s favorite movies and I remember watching it multiple times on tv in the 80s (not on cable, just on tv, probably on one of the local channels that showed movies on the weekends). I’ll have to re-watch it – I don’t remember most of things mentioned in the review – but the final big reveal, where the Pope starts applauding, is seared in my memory for some reason. And “Kojak – bang bang!” All of the sexual references must have gone completely went over my head because I don’t remember them at all. Kind of surprised my mom would let me and my brother watch something even semi-racy but she must have assumed (correctly) that we wouldn’t get the racy bits and she loved, loved this movie.

  16. cayenne
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 12:01:23

    How many times I have to tell you? Don’t eat the cigarettes!

  17. Danielle
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 14:40:57

    The first time I saw this film was in my early teens during a traumatic period in my family’s life. I literally fell out of my chair, laughing. What a thrill to see it reviewed here – thank you. (In the Nordic countries the film was titled “The Girl Who Knew Too Much”.) I am hugely enjoying reading about everyone’s favourite moments :-)

  18. Janet W
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 15:05:11

    Only the best movie (ok, one of the best movies!) evah! Serial comes a close second for movies that convinced my dh and me that we had to move to NorCal. And where do we live now? Yep, NorCal. So many lines, like cops have the best dope, Dudley’s passion pit of a bedroom, the Opera House, the dwarves, the tourists. Love it to Death. Will have to watch it again tonight!!

  19. Katie Dancer
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 15:44:25

    Yes, I remember this movie when it was first shown at the theater. I know that dates me but, what the hell.

    And I watch it again every chance I get, if only for the gorgeous opening scene of the drive on the California coast. The view made even Barry Manilow’s song come off better.

  20. Jennie
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 17:46:36

    I saw this in theaters when it came out – I was only about 8 but it was the 70s in San Francisco and there were no adults in my life with the slightest idea about age-appropriate entertainment.

    I remember liking it (laughing quite a bit at the Japanese tourists and seeing “my” city in film) but I was scared of the albino. He was freaky! Now as an adult I feel bad for being so…prejudiced against him merely for his looks, but at the time all I knew was that he was different and creepy.

  21. willaful
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 18:25:26

    I remember the most notable thing about this movie was the fact that the main characters still liked each other after having sex! I think I mostly watched sit-coms back then, where having sex was generally followed with desperate attempts to keep the sexual tension going.

  22. Jayne
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 18:40:21

    @Zoe Archer:

    It’s nigh impossible to listen to The Mikado without thinking of this film.

    Absolutely! Those opening notes take me straight back to the movie.

    @Katie Dancer: I’m not a big Barry fan but I do love this one song and how it’s used in the opening credits.

  23. Jayne
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 18:43:53

    @Jennie: That albino is freaky. How well did the film makers portray the city? I always get disappointed when I watch a film or read a book about a certain RL place and think it’s so cool only to have the natives say that the portrayal is all wrong.

  24. Jayne
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 18:53:07

    @Janet W: LOL, and I think that line from Chase as the cop was supposed to be serious.

  25. L.K. Rigel
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 20:35:07

    @Janet W:

    Oh, gawd, I’d forgotten about Serial! And now I’m thinking of S.O.B.

    But I love this movie. Dudley Moore was perfect.

  26. Jennie
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 23:07:39

    @Jayne: It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I don’t remember anything egregious (like in The Graduate where at the end they are traveling on the Bay Bridge on a bus…in the wrong direction).

  27. Kelly in Hockeytown
    Jan 07, 2012 @ 20:10:36

    You need to (re)watch review Chase and Hawn’s second movie together, Seems Like Old Times. Totally cheesy but highly entertaining. At least I think so. And I can/do/have/will watch(ed) Foul Play if/when I see it is going to be on.

  28. Liz
    Jan 08, 2012 @ 16:47:01

    This is one of my mom’s favorite movies–she has to watch it when it rains, though. I’m not quite sure why. It is a very funny movie, and you’re right about Dudley Moore’s character being the best one in the movie.

  29. JMM
    Jan 08, 2012 @ 19:05:36

    I loved this movie! So does Baby Brother. It’s aged fairly well in a way. I have it on DVD, of course. My brother loves to do the dance that Dudley Moore did.

  30. Jayne
    Jan 09, 2012 @ 08:46:38

    @Kelly in Hockeytown: I’ve actually seen “Seems Like Old Times” – saw it in the theater when it came out – but remember very little about it.

  31. Jayne
    Jan 09, 2012 @ 08:48:15

    @JMM: Oh Gawd, please tell me your brother has a tambourine too! It would make my day.

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