Up in Smoke

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Comedy;
$12.99 DVD, $16.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Stacy Keach, Tom Skerritt.

I’m running late on this vibrant-colored commemorative 40th anniversary paean to cannabis capers — and given the specifics of one gag that opens it, plus the disoriented and judgmentally addled states of its two protagonists, detractors could just as well call it a pee-on. But given that, for all its raggedness, Cheech & Chong’s screen debut has aged so much better than Jeff Sessions, attention must be paid — which is the same advice one might give to protagonists Pedro and “The Man” when they’re behind the wheels of motorized vehicles.

Up in Smoke was directed by record producer Lou Adler, and no one will mistake his mis-en-scene for the seamless elegance of, say, Josef von Sternberg’s in Criterion’s imminent Sternberg-Dietrich box set. Cheech & Chong, however, came from improv and knew how to play to an audience, and their album cuts were essentially sustained routines (at times, more sustained than the humor itself) with unexpectedly impressive sound effects. I became a fan listening them send up “Sister Mary Elephant” (on the Big Bambu LP) — where an understandably frazzled nun’s attempts to impose order with her ear-shattering “Shut Up!!!! screams on her suddenly silenced classroom were interrupted by a pupil aside. Even though these were the days of two stereo speakers and nothing else. the response seemed to come from about 20 feet in back to me and off to the side: “I gotta go to the can, man.”

Vinyl and concert popularity notwithstanding, the picture’s box office success came after everyone’s conventional wisdom (mine included) speculated that Paramount probably had another The Last of the Secret Agents? (which, in 1966, deservedly became the last of the Allen & Rossi comedies) on its hands. Matter of fact, I seem to recall that Steven Bach opens his great account of how Heaven’s Gate sank United Artists — Final Cut — with a lot of lot of old white-guy studio executives sitting in a studio screening room trying to figure out what Paramount’s genies were smoking inside their bongs.

Cheech is Mexican-American Cheech Marin, who — and I don’t say this lightly — is one of the greatest mimics ever. Tommy Chong (sometimes billed as Thomas, though it hardly fits) is a mix of Scots-Irish-Chinese raised in Canada. In later years, he was so persecuted by the U.S. government on a minor drug charge that a documentary was made about it (I have a copy) — but in terms of the act, he’s mostly a passive straight man to Marin despite displaying a pleasing personality on this set’s bonus interviews. Albeit one that probably couldn’t be mined because it would have thrown off the act’s dynamics.

Basically, the movie is about the twosome’s sole motivating force in life: getting stoned, with occasional breaks for band rehearsals and sex with buxom hitchhikers. Though it peters out some at the end — an affliction it shares with some of the team’s other and progressively inferior screen comedies — this hook sustains itself better than expected for much of its length. Much of this is due to casting more inspired than one might assume for a low-budget production that took six or seven years to get green-lit.

Right off the bat, there’s Strother Martin and Edie Adams (fading trophy wife) as Chong’s parents. We also get Tom Skerritt as a cousin and pot source who thinks he’s still back in Vietnam; and most of all, Stacy Keach as a narc who’s only a little less inept than his subordinates and whose K-9 police dog ends up on his back with all fours sticking up after picking or ingesting fumes from an entire van made of grass. Two of the bonus deleted scenes feature Harry Dean Stanton as a prison guard who sells pills at rip-off prices on the side, though he was edited out of the final release print. (Best of the excised clips is one where C&C try to smoke a joint that is half-made with Hamburger Helper in an attempt to cure the munchies problem in one fell toke).

At its best, this is funnier than most of the Abbott & Costello movies I’ve seen, in part because I’ve never been crazy about comics who lack a sexual dimension (and before you ask, W.C. Fields definitely had one). Everyone was talking at the time (well, I guess Alistair Cooke wasn’t) about the aforementioned van of pot and how it would interact with the exhaust fumes. And also the scene where the kind of woman who would smoke Hamburger Helper accidentally snorts Ajax and gets a still-funny rush that must have had the boys in the Colgate-Palmolive boardroom being if it was too late to change the ad campaign.

This was a rich brief period for distributor Paramount, the kind they haven’t seen in a while. There was the box office grosses of the godawful Grease to presumably off-set the commercial underperformance of Days of Heaven; Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait, which scored with both critics and public; and then the surprise success of this poster child for stoner cinema to prove that not everyone was into Star Wars and the lesser galaxy rides it spawned.

As a footnote, I did my part to sustain the C&C spirit (coincidentally, as it turned out) by programming Maryjane with Fabian in the AFI Theater around the same time — a film series about high school and college, as opposed to a Fabian retrospective. I simply felt that the Kennedy Center could use some loosening up, and I didn’t have a key to the supply cabinet where they kept the Ajax.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Up in Smoke’ and ‘The Woman in the Window’

Mike’s Picks: ‘Up in Smoke’ and ‘The Woman in the Window’

Up in Smoke

Paramount, Comedy, $12.99 DVD, $16.99 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Stacy Keach, Tom Skerritt.
1978. For all its raggedness, Cheech & Chong’s screen debut has well enough that attention must be paid — which is the same advice one might give to protagonists Pedro and “The Man” when they’re behind the wheels of motorized vehicles.
Extras: Includes interviews with the stars and some deleted scenes.
Read the Full Review

The Woman in the Window

Street 6/19/18
Kino Lorber, Mystery, $19.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea, Raymond Massey.
1944. As with a lot of fellow nitpickers whose starting position should be that we’re still talking about a very good movie, Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window from 1944 has always been problematic because it has one of the shakier wrap-ups of the big-screen ’40s
Extras: Historian Imogen Sara Smith’s commentary is tight and well thought-out, offering the expected bios of the key actors and personnel but also giving weight to alternative interpretations of key events in ways that soften the negative impact of the weak wrap-up.
Read the Full Review

 

 

Paramount Readies Cheech and Chong’s ‘Up in Smoke’ for 40th Anniversary Edition

Paramount Home Media Distribution on Feb. 14 announced the classic “stoner” comedy Up in Smoke will be released in a special 40th anniversary edition on April 10 as a Blu-ray Disc combo pack and DVD.

A Deluxe Collector’s Edition, pairing the Blu-ray Disc with the original soundtrack on CD and vinyl LP in deluxe packaging, will arrive on April 20 from Rhino, featuring a newly recorded “2018 version” of the title song “Up in Smoke.”

Up in Smoke marks the feature film debut of Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, the Grammy Award-winning comic team that rose to fame in the 1970s with their films and stand-up routines, based on hippies, free love, marijuana and other aspects of the then-thriving counterculture.

“The greatest thrill is making your first movie and this one has been seen and been influential all over the world for over 40 years,” said Richard “Cheech” Marin in a Paramount news release. “Up in Smoke started stoner movies and is still going strong so smoke it up one more time.”

“Where did the time go? 40 years ago we made low budget movies that grossed over 100 million and are still being watched all over the world! And it also helped legalize an important medicine,” said Tommy Chong.  “I am so proud that a movie bearing a title of a simple song I wrote would be so influential for so many years.”

In Up in Smoke, Cheech and Chong play wannabe musicians and stoners who unwittingly smuggle a van made of marijuana from Mexico to Los Angeles.  Their drug-laced humor keeps their spirits high as they unknowingly elude the police and meander their way to an outrageous finale at the Roxy Theatre in Hollywood where Cheech performs in a pink tutu and Chong plays drums in a red body suit with a Quaalude logo.

The Up in Smoke Blu-ray Combo Pack features a brand new short-form documentary titled “How Pedro Met the Man: Up In Smoke at 40,” which chronicles the duo’s comedy history, as well as the origins and impact of the film itself. The documentary incorporates new interviews with Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong and producer/director Lou Adler along with archival footage.  The Combo Pack also comes with previously released bonus material including deleted scenes, commentary, a music video and more.