Wednesday, 2 June 2010

You’ll believe a man can flap

Everyone has films from childhood which are still planted firmly into their subconscious. They're able to hum the cheesy theme tune and quote huge chunks of obscure dialogue in a heartbeat. The thing I love about some of these is they didn’t necessarily have any critical cache and were far from capturing the zeitgeist like Star Wars. Some of those films I remember so fondly didn’t leave much of mark at all.

Taking with my friend the other day, I was surprised that he was unaware of a film I thoroughly enjoyed as a young child – the permanent bank holiday fixture that was Condorman. Made by Disney in 1981, it looks like they tried to cash-in on a number of popular franchises and pop culture of the time. Coming off as a kind of Bond/Batman hybrid, with elements of Indiana Jones (particularly in the main characters globe-trotting escapades) the premise itself is quite intriguing even if it takes an incredible amount of suspension of disbelief (which, fortunately, I had bags of as a child). It’s the story of a cartoonist who is enlisted by his friend from the CIA to work undercover (see what I mean) and begins to bring his comic book creation ‘Condorman’ into the equation as an alter ego.

Where childhood favourites like The Last Starfighter and Explorers were well-made pieces of Hollywood escapism and still hold up now, Condorman is as clunky looking as when I first saw it, and still as endearing because of that.

This could be due, in part, to the bizarre casting of British stage show thesp Michael Crawford in the title role. Looking back at the big US box office draws in the early 80’s, and even the popular character actors, I’m mystified how he actually managed to get cast. The character is supposed to be an everyman type and Crawford certainly fits that bill, as the performance here is pretty similar to his turn as accident prone Frank Spencer in the ‘classic’ 1970’s BBC sitcom Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. Maybe Disney executives at the time were fans of that type of antiquated British slapstick humour, still loved by the kind of people who have a nostalgic yearning for those simpler times (read: anyone over  the age of sixty).   

It’s not the only film where I have my critical blinkers on (hello Runaway, Mannequin, Superman III, plus many more from that era), and I’m happy I can still look at these in a purely entertaining way, free from any kind of analysis. These films came into existence in a time where my quality control was almost zero (although I instinctively knew that Howard the Duck was a steaming pile of dog-doo) and that’s the way it should be. The simple pleasure of watching a man dressed in a ridiculous-looking bird costume with wings, leaping off a tall building with the heroine in tow (all shot against terrible blue-screen), was adequate for me.

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