Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Forgotten 70's films: Americathon

Look at this cast: John Ritter, Harvey Korman, Fred Willard, Peter Riegert, Meat Loaf, Elvis Costello, Howard Hesseman, Jay Leno, and George Carlin. It's like a who's who of 1970's comedy and musical talent.

Now, add in a plot about a bankrupt America forced to stage a gigantic telethon in order to pay its debts, and the only reason I can think of that this film hasn't reached cult status today is that it's never been released on DVD. (It's also long out of print even on VHS.)

The basic story is this. In "the future" - which in this movie's parlance is 1998 - the United States is flat broke and out of oil. When a cartel of native Americans now running Nike, Inc. calls in a $400 billion loan (with the chief explaining "I have to eat too"), the bumbling president, played by John Ritter, has no choice but to beg for money from the nation's citizens. Harvey Korman is tapped to host a national telethon to raise money and keep the nation from being taken over by Nike.

There's only one scene currently on YouTube, but it's a good one - Meat Loaf fights a car:

I love when Meat Loaf launches himself about 30 feet into the air near the beginning of the clip.

I haven't seen this film for close to 30 years, but it was one of my favorites when I was a kid. I don't remember that much of it, but I do recall that John Ritter gets shot (but not killed) when he makes his telethon appearance at the end. It was pretty dark for what amounted to a screwball comedy, definitely reflecting the deep malaise that had set in by the end of the 1970's (very similar to the mood of the country right now, for the same reasons).

In fact, between the lines of ridiculous scenes like the one above, it actually raised a bunch of serious issues that are still relevant. Class warfare. Political ineptness. Cronyism. Economic and financial crises. The rise of corporate influence and modern media over government. The cult of personality.

This movie's ripe for a remake.

Anyone else remember this film?

I'm actually in the process of trying to grab myself a VHS copy - if I do, I'll try to update later this month with some more info, screenshots and potentially video clips. I'll develop that cult following myself if I have to.


  1. Wow. I've never even heard of this movie, and I'm a pretty big movie buff.

  2. I actually do remember this movie. I remember the premise, the poster, and some of the scenes from when it ran on cable the first time (summer 1980, I think). I also remember my grandmother flipped the channel because of ONE suggestive scene which I'm sure (in retropspect) was no more suggestive than what you see on Saturday morning cartoons these days.

  3. Anonymous11:28 PM

    I have it on VHS, bought in 1987, when it was already dated. I'm currently re-watching it for its 30th anniversary. It is definitely in the so-bad-it's-good category. John Ritter isn't the one who gets shot-- that's Harvey Korman. It is a very fun film. In one scene alone, there are these LOL lines--
    PRES. ROOSEVELT: There's no need to be hostile. We're not your father.
    ERIC MCMERKEN: What do people really want?
    PRES. R: Well, cigarettes.
    VARIOUS CABINET MEMBERS: A blender! Refrigerators! Stoves! Petroleum jelly!
    VANDERHOOF: Well, I find that people enjoy a good ventriloquist act.

  4. Anonymous11:30 PM

    I loved this movie! I was so young seeing it, I can't remember if it was at a drive-in, or on HBO. I want so much for it some how to be revived, (picturing a Fri - Sat midnight movie) Even remade.. But the cast is so fabulous together. I looked for it just after news of John Ritter's death and wondered if some cable channel would get ahold of it for a tribute weekend, or if it would show up on Hulu.


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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