Wednesday, 2 April 2008

SIX DEGREES OF MARTY FELDMAN


This was a documentary that formed the main section of an evening of television designed as a tribute to the late comedian Marty Feldman. Before stepping in front of the cameras Feldman had gained an enviable reputation as a comedy writer on radio and television. As a performer in such shows as IT’S MARTY FELDMAN and THE MARTY FELDMAN machine he had the backing of some top American talent like Larry Gelbart of M.A.S.H fame and future Oscar winner Barry Levinson. Hollywood called and Marty appeared as Igor in Mel Brook’s classic YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. This resulted in Marty directing two movies before returning to England. He accepted a role in Graham Chapman’s film YELLOW BEARD and while filming in Mexico he died of a heart attack. The praise heaped on Marty during the programme is quite phenomenal with such luminaries as John Cleese, Gene Wilder, Larry Gelbart, Barry Levison and Dom DeLouise stepping up to heap praise on Marty’s head. Feldman seems to have been a genuinely sweet guy and there can be no doubt that his early scripts werefunny (as was shown in another show that evening, a reconstruction of a ROUND THE HORNE recording session) but despite all the expert witnesses to the contrary I remain unconvined about his true value. Those early sketches were small parts of bigger shows and were often produced in collaboration. As a performer Marty had the big advantage that he looked funny with features that would have done credit to a gargoyle. It can’t be denied that the films he directed, THE LAST REMAKE OF BEAU GESTE and IN GOD WE TRUST were unmitigated disasters. Star Michael York put up a spirited and loyal defence of his director and co-star in BEAU GESTE but the truth of the situation is that a sad Marty bringing in his own editor, Jim Clark, and begging him “can you make it funny?” In an attempt to salvage the disaster the studio recut the film and, tellingly, his editor sided with the studio. Both versions were given the thumbs down by preview audiences. After the documentary an episode of IT’S MARTY FELDMAN was shown and I was prepared to change my mind. Sadly I didn’t. There were two long sketches – one involving a coach trip and the other golf – both were painfully unfunny and at least twice as long as they needed to be. The shorter sketches were of a quality that wouldn’t make it into any of the better sketch shows of today. As far as I am concerned, I will always love Marty in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and he has some good bits in THE ADVENTURE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES SMARTER BROTHER (both written by Gene Wilder) but for the rest I remain unconvinced.

2 comments:

Cerpts said...

Just wait'll you see the upcoming biopic starring Madonna as Marty Feldman!!! THEN you'll be changing your tune!

Terry Frost said...

Harsh, cerpts, harsh.

The one thing I love about Feldman's The Last Remake of Beau Geste is the light operatic song that is sung over the end titles. It always tickles me.