Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. They performed in Las Vegas together, doing comedy and music, doing variety shows, releasing albums, and of course, they did movies. Flicks like Ocean's 11 or Robin and the 7 Hoods are fairly well known though. Starring just Davis and Lawford, 1968's Salt and Pepper doesn't have that same notoriety.
Running their swanky, groovy, hip (what other 1960s adjectives can I use?) club in Soho, Chris Salt (Davis Jr.) and Charlie Pepper (Lawford) are living the high life without a care or trouble in the world...until now. One night, a woman is murdered in their club, and when they meet investigator Balsom (Ernest Clark), Salt and Pepper find out there's more to the death. The woman was an intelligence agent carrying information about a key investigation, but what was it? The club owners can't recall, only remembering some gibberish she mumbled before dying. Well, knowledge or not, someone thinks Salt and Pepper know more than they're letting on as these bumbling friends are thrust into a world of espionage and murder.
With the exception of 1960's Ocean's Eleven, none of the Rat Packs movies are especially good. HERE is a list of all the flicks. And before someone yells back, yes, I'm aware these weren't supposed to be great, groundbreaking classic movies. They were intended as fun, popcorn flicks that were meant to entertain, watch the coolness of the Rat Pack on a big screen. Fun doesn't have to mean stupid though, and Salt and Pepper -- like the rest of those films -- is dumb. It's just too bad because with the talent in the Rat Pack, you'd figure they could get a decent script to work with. Reading that plot description above, does that sound like a screwball comedy that's even goofier than the spoof spy flicks of the 1960s? Not especially, but it is a screwball comedy, full of comedic double takes, ridiculously forced set pieces, and overacting around every corner.
The beauty of these bad Rat Pack movies -- whoever does make it from the group -- is that the stars are genuinely very good with each other. Part of that comes from the complete lack of acting. Davis is Salt and Lawford is Pepper in name only. Really, we're just watching Davis and Lawford run around London like their pants are on fire, not any actual characters. Still, there is a chemistry that can't be topped. This is two friends just hanging out having a good time. Davis Jr. is the showman, the one getting more of the laughs while Lawford plays the straight role and smooth ladies man, his Abbott to Davis' Costello. Their chemistry is really the only thing holding this movie together. At 102 minutes, it is a painfully slow movie at times (never something you'd want out of a comedy), but the two stars have a way of keeping things entertaining. Davis also gets a chance to sing, watch it HERE.
Through the general badness and stupidity of the movie, there are some good laughs provided. Have you ever actually seen someone do a double take or a spit take in real life? Yeah, me neither. But Davis makes it funny somehow, committing to the dumbness and just going with it. His general physicality -- all 5-foot-3 of him -- is fun to watch. His ability to underplay a scene works just as well, including a surprisingly funny car chase as Salt and Pepper get into a clown car lookalike that's rigged with all sorts of spy gadgets. The payoff is the best part, a sight gag of the ridiculous looking car floating down the Thames River. There are moments like that -- inexplicable though they are -- that stopped me from hating this movie, and it was close.
Spy spoofs are one thing, Derek Flint and Matt Helm proved that. But this one especially is ridiculous. The tone is all over the place, one scene deathly serious, the next refreshingly light. Davis and Lawford make somewhat tame sex jokes, have a misunderstanding about the use of the word 'fag,' and run around like chickens with their heads cut off. Oh, and they're trying to stop a plot that will have a rogue government take over England by unleashing nuclear missiles on English territories. Didn't see that one coming, did you? I certainly didn't. And for the cherry on top, there's a Keystone Cops-like British police officer, Crabbe (Michael Bates), chasing them around for all those lewd things they do at their club. If there's a weirder, more off the wall story than that, I'm drawing a blank. Who am I kidding though? It's a Rat Pack movie, not Lawrence of Arabia 2: The Return.
Salt and Pepper <---trailer (1968): **/****