Nov 21, 2016

Cry Uncle (1971)

When I heard that some obscure sleazy sexploitation flick named "Cry Uncle" is supposedly Oliver Stone's favorite comedy.. and it was directed by John G. Avildsen, the same guy who did Rocky and The Karate Kid... and it was written by David Odell, the guy who wrote The Dark Crystal... so, I had to have a look.  Let's see if we agree with Mr. Stone's assessment...

Cry Uncle begins with a song that sounds like a Barbara Streisand B-side - you think you're in for something your grandpa would've watched after an evening of Lawrence Welk and Columbo.

But then, the very first scene crashes that expectation to pieces...

The film's lead character, private investigator Jake Masters (Allen Garfield) is humping the hell out of his fiance Renee (Pamela Gruen) on a cruise ship.  Full frontal nudity within the first few seconds of film... not only is this unexpected, but a portent of good things to come.

Anyway, Jake gets a phone call about a potential lead for a big case.  He's supposed to go to LaGuardia to meet some chick named Cora Merrill.

He accidentally spills hot coffee on a lady and gets picked up by a couple airport police officers (this is well before the days of TSA).  One of the officers is played by a young Paul Sorvino!

It turns out it was all a misunderstanding, and they let him go.  Jake is now free to meet with Cora and get to the bottom of this case...

Cora (Madeleine Le Roux) leads Jake and his nephew Keith (Devin Goldenberg) to a giant ship owned by Jason Dominic (David Kirk).

Jason Dominic is being investigated by NYPD for the murder of a young woman named Lucille.  Dominic claims he's innocent, so he's hiring Jake to find the real killer.

Cora is staying with Jake so they can work together on finding the real killer.  Her motivation: she stands to inherit a lot of Dominic's money; but if he's convicted, she might lose it all.

Madeleine Le Roux does an amazing job playing the snobbish, upper-crust diva - a perfect counter to the sloppy, dumpling-shaped schlep, Jake.  She looks like a cross between Amy Sidaris and Reese Witherspoon.

Cora and Jake interrogate a country bumpkin with a connection to Lucille.  They slowly inch closer to finding the identity of the killer.

I'll point out that, although this film is based on a book (a Michael Brett novel Lie a Little, Die a Little) the story is nothing special.  What sets this apart is the writing by David Odell (The Muppet Show, The Dark Crystal, Masters of the Universe).  Yes, he's also the same dude who wrote the dreadful script for Supergirl, but he really shines when he's doing comedy.  The quick humor in Cry Uncle is a like a dirty version of The Muppet Show - slightly corny, but rapid-fire and nonstop.

I'll underline the point again that the match-up of Jake and Cora is dynamite. Madeleine Le Roux should have gone far in comedies.  (I believe she ended up primarily a stage actress.)

So, the going theory is that the killer is connected to a porno Dominic made.  Keith takes a still frame from the movie to track down the various actresses in the illicit film.

Jake pays a visit to a motel that serves as a hippie hangout/bordello - home to some of the "actors" in Dominic's porno: prostitutes Connie Landfield (Nancy Salmon) and Lena Right (Maureen Byrnes - pictured above).  But they're onto him, and hold him captive.

The thing is - they think Dominic killed Lucille.  So, if they didn't do it, and Dominic didn't do it... who did?

One of the burned-out acid-heads at the hippie motel is none other than Lloyd Kaufman.  For those that don't recognize the name: he's the eccentric head of Troma films (Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke'm High) ... which, in a strange twist of fate, would by the rights to this film in the 1990s!

In what is the film's sleaziest moment (which is really saying something), Jake returns to the prostitutes' residence and finds an unconscious Connie Landfield.  So, Jake does the worst possible thing imaginable and starts having sex with her!  But it gets worse....

Connie is actually dead!  Yes, we just watched Jake have sex with a dead girl.  This, from the director of The Karate Kid, and the writer of The Muppet Show.  Amazing.

In the end, Jake figures out that it was Cora all along.  She's been hired by Dominic to kill off all the participants in the porno so that it couldn't be used as blackmail against him.  This actually adds up, and doesn't come as much of a surprise.

When Jake confronts her with it, she turns the tables and holds him at gunpoint.  But Jake anticipated this, and has the police waiting outside his apartment, ready to storm in when they get the signal.

Incredibly, the police shoot straight through the door, instead of actually busting in.  Cora is shot dead.  Game over.

So, to wrap it up: Cry Uncle delivers in terms of nudity, of which there is copious amounts. It also delivers on comedy - while there's not much to laugh out loud, it is genuinely funny (as Oliver Stone would agree).

On the downside, the story is somewhat convoluted.. but ultimately it doesn't matter that you can't follow what the hell is going on - because you and really don't care.  Jake is wholly unlikable and Cora is amusing to watch... and that's about it.

In the end, the only real reason to watch this is for its incomprehensible lewdness; were it not for that, it would have basically nothing going for it.  You can't count to ten without a woman getting fully naked in Cry Uncle, and for that, I am appreciative.  Otherwise, it could have really benefited from an interesting story, and some likable, engaging characters.