The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, June 6, 2014

See No Evil, Hear No Evil

Ah, the gimmick. When it works, it can be great. When it doesn't, that blasted thing can ruin an entire movie single-handed. I was skeptical of the gimmick/premise from 1989's See No Evil, Hear No Evil, but the talent involved was too much to pass up. And throwing in that I've never heard of the movie and never heard anyone talk about it, I went in with a clean slate.

Running his newstand in a downtown NYC skyscraper, Dave Lyons (Gene Wilder) goes about his day-to-day work like nothing's going on. Well, there is. He's deaf, but Dave is pretty smooth as long as he can read the person's lips he's talking to. One day, he hires Wally Karew (Richard Pryor), the two having some struggle communicating almost immediately. Why exactly? Wally is blind. How can they make it work? They do, finding a way and a rhythm, but it is relatively short-lived. One morning, a man walks in demanding to see Karew but before anything can be resolved....the man is shot. Dave never gets a good look at the killer -- only seeing her legs as she walks away -- while Wally only smells her perfume as she walks away scot-free. That's one problem but just the start. The police walk in to find Dave and Wally perched over the body. They're suspects No. 1 and No. 2.

Okay, about that gimmick thing. There's more than one. A couple actually in this Arthur Hiller-directed comedy.  In the third of four pairings between Pryor and Wilder, the laughs are there from beginning to end in a 103-minute movie. Critics ripped it apart pretty good for those gimmicks. One works better than the other. The one that doesn't? A blind guy who's good friends with a deaf guy sounds almost sophomoric, but nope, that works. What doesn't work is the pretty forced, overdone way to get the duo into some kooky situations. The murder isn't even the dumb part, but what comes after it. None of it is a deal-breaker, but you can't help but shake your head at it at times, especially the MacGuffin that ties it all together.

It isn't something that kills the movie because, well, because Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder are a comedy match made in heaven. Having already worked together on Silver Streak and Stir Crazy, they team up again here with similarly successful results. Say what you want about the movie itself, but their on-screen chemistry and banter are above any criticism. Like the best comedy teams from Laurel and Hardy to The Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, chemistry is key above it all. They make it look easy scene-in and scene-out, raising the sometimes forced story above its average roots. No matter how goofy or downright stupid the story is, it's fun to watch this duo do their thing.

Simply put, Pryor and Wilder commit to the gimmick, a blind man and a deaf man forced to work together. It works because it is simple. Pryor's Wally can't see, liking to pretend he can. Wilder's Dave can't hear, but he's an expert at lip-reading (except for some tough sound-alikes). There are too many great little set pieces and running jokes to even mention, but here's a few. Drinking at a bar, they get into a fistfight, the blind man punching while the deaf man calls out where to punch as if it was a clock. My favorite has the duo arrested and taking mug shots. Dave can't see the photographer's face (so he can't hear her), requiring Wally to tell him what to do, but he can't see that Dave isn't in the right position. Watch it HERE. Just more proof you don't need something big and obvious and over the top to be funny. Sometimes it's the littlest things that produce the biggest laughs. I don't want to spoil too many of the best bits, but know this. It's genuinely funny. I laughed out loud throughout, and hopefully you will too.

You don't really need too much else in the cast department, but there's some other parts worth mentioning. The beautiful Joan Severance plays Eve, the real killer who's working with her partner, Kirgo, played by Kevin Spacey sporting a well-manicured pencil mustache and a British accent. Both of them are working for a mysterious man, Sutherland (Anthony Zerbe), who has a twist/surprise of his own in the final act. Alan North and Louis Giambalvo play two NYC detectives forced to deal with our blind/deaf duo and progressively losing it while Kirsten Childs plays Wally's sister, Adele, brought into the craziness.

Downright dumb at times with plenty of laughs. You wouldn't expect anything else from a comedy starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. Turn off your brain for a couple hours and sit back and enjoy the laughs.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989): ***/****

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