Forgotten Garbage – The Maltese Bippy
I grew up watching reruns of “Laugh-In.” I didn’t understand all the jokes, but I understood enough of them, and I responded to the rapid-fire pace of the show. Despite having a lifelong appreciation for the program, I had no idea that stars Dan Rowan and Dick Martin capitalized on its popularity by making a movie. Only by flipping through the channels one night did I learn of The Maltese Bippy’s existence. You’ve never seen someone hit the record button on a DVR so quickly. Released by MGM in 1969, The Maltese Bippy was a critical and commercial flop, and it has never been released on home video in any format. How Turner Classic Movies obtained a restored-to-pristine-quality copy is unknown to me. Unfortunately, it only takes one viewing to understand why it flopped and why no one was in a rush to make it available for public purchase.
Rowan plays Sam Smith, a shady producer of low-budget erotic films, and Martin is his reluctant star, Ernest Grey. After their production office is shut down, the two retire to Ernest’s estate – a large home he shares with a no-nonsense housekeeper and several tenants, including a comely female college student named Robin Sherwood (Carol Lynley). It soon becomes clear that something weird is going on. Ernest feels sudden compulsions to howl, and a strange, fanged creature is repeatedly seen in a corner of the basement. A bit of investigation reveals that the weird people next door are, in fact, vampires and werewolves. They know that a valuable diamond was hidden inside Ernest’s home by the previous owner and fully intend to do whatever is necessary to retrieve it.
“Laugh-In” was filled with social and political humor, so it was a rather bizarre decision to stick Rowan and Martin in a horror movie spoof. The material simply doesn’t play to their strengths. Overly-complicated plotting makes The Maltese Bippy difficult to follow. There are lots of scenes in which characters are forced to verbalize mouthfuls of exposition. Further worsening matters is that the two leads are kept apart for large periods of time. Dan Rowan and Dick Martin were both funny men, but their primary appeal came from the comedic rapport they created together, with the former playing exasperated straight man to the latter’s randy, clueless goofball. Without the other guy to play off, they struggle for laughs. The supporting actors – including a pre-”Brady Bunch” Robert Reed as a police detective – offer no support, because they are not given anything colorful or interesting to do.
The Maltese Bippy contains some genuinely head-scratching moments. At one point, Rowan mistakes a long-haired Afghan hound for a voluptuous woman who can turn into a werewolf, and immediately begins flirting with the dog. (Thankfully, this does not lead to heavy “petting.”) During the farcical finale, which finds most of the characters shooting one another, the film, unable to un-paint itself from a corner, has Rowan and Martin break the fourth wall to dictate multiple different endings, none of which are even remotely satisfying. I suppose these things might have seemed edgy or hip in 1969, but viewed today, they come across as stilted.
There is one highlight to The Maltese Bippy, and that’s the opening title sequence, in which Rowan and Martin mock the credits as they play. It’s self-referential in a manner that is highly compatible with the duo’s style of humor. Martin pretends to be oblivious to the whole meaning of credits, while Rowan explains their purpose to him. The sequence generates the only real laughs to be found. It’s all downhill from there.
The Maltese Bippy is interesting as a curio, but as a movie, it’s borderline excruciating. Comedians need to find film projects that are in line with their sense of humor. In this case, someone thought it was a good idea to stick Rowan and Martin into something that was, at best, an ill fit. Audiences clearly picked up on this from the advertising and stayed away. The movie offers none of the topical humor that made its stars famous. Instead, it has a dumb plot with no scares and no particular perspective on the genre it is allegedly spoofing. It is an imbecilic film. Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls.
Both comments and pings are currently closed.