Mike’s Top Ten of 1977
1977 changed moviemaking forever. This is when the blockbuster began. Technically Jaws is the grandfather, but this is the year the floodgates broke open, and the one that changed cinema forever. Ironically, this is the year that ended whatever future the auteur era of the 70s had. After this, the studios all got bought by conglomerates, and we moved toward where we are today, a cinema built on franchises and tentpoles. There are still some twists and turns along the way, but that’s what this year ultimately led to.
The big movies take a bit of the air out of the room this year, and you also start to see a bit of the changing of the guard anyway. The auteur works that defined 1971 to 1976 are all starting to look a little stale. They aren’t working as well as they used to, and you start to see a couple of big failures start to happen, which is what will ultimately (after 1980) push Hollywood away from that system and a more studio-driven format.
Still, there’s some cool stuff here.
Mike’s Top Ten of 1977
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Goodbye Girl
New York, New York
Saturday Night Fever
Smokey and the Bandit
The Spy Who Loved Me
11-20: The Ascent, A Bridge Too Far, High Anxiety, The Late Show, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, A Piece of the Action, Race for Your Life Charlie Brown, The Rescuers, Slap Shot
Tier two: Airport ’77, Allegro non Troppo, Black Sunday, The Choirboys, Cross of Iron, Damnation Alley, The Duellists, Eraserhead, Fun with Dick and Jane, The Gauntlet, The Hobbit, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Oh God!, Opening Night, Pete’s Dragon, Pumping Iron, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, The Turning Point, Twilight’s Last Gleaming, The World’s Greatest Lover
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“Susie, do you know anything about… witches?”
The more time goes by, the more I love this movie. When I started putting together these lists, I don’t think I expected this to go higher than like, third. And then, in Mach 1, it was #2. But when I put even a second of thought into it, I realized this was easily my favorite film of this year.
This is, to me, one of the greatest horror films ever made. It’s Dario Argento’s masterpiece, and it is so good it transcends genre. You think about it… this is a giallo movie based around violent death scenes. And yet, it’s so much more than that. From how Argento directs it, to the brilliant set design, to the score by Goblin… all of it, perfect. The plot is almost secondary. American girl attends a German ballet school, and after some of the students end up being murdered, she starts to realize some sinister shit is going on. That’s all you need.
The opening sequence of this movie is astounding… the airport, which manages to set the tone so well that they scare you with a set of doors opening, to the scene at the apartment… amazing. You show someone the first ten minutes of this movie and they are not gonna forget them.
Whenever someone I know is gonna watch this movie, I tell them two things: make it as loud as possible, and make the room as dark as possible. The movie will do the rest.
2. Star Wars
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”
It’s Star Wars. I don’t really need to explain why this is number two on the list. This movie changed cinema forever. I don’t think that’s what they were intending to do (and I know that’s true, because Lucas and Spielberg bet 2.5% of their films’ respective grosses over which would be the bigger film, this or Close Encounters, which ended up being something like $40 million for Spielberg), but that’s what happened.
It’s still amazing to me that this movie ended up being what it is. It’s over a decade before I was born, so I can’t say what this spoke to within the culture and why people gravitated to the story as much as they did, but it doesn’t matter. There’s something about this movie that just inherently works. Sure, put this in a different year and it’s not my #2 film. But whatever. It’s still great. When you’re marking the history of film, there is a big marker for 1977 because of this film. This ushered in a number of eras, namely in special effects and the size and scope of big budget moviemaking. Not to mention a space and sci fi craze in the immediate years proceeding this.
This movie is so big that parents now show it to their kids when they’re old enough, almost as a rite of passage. It’s the kind of movie that, when you find out that someone hasn’t watched it, you’re almost shocked, because it’s practically unheard of that someone wouldn’t have encountered this movie past the age of like, ten.
Also, if you want to talk about how improbable it was that this movie would be as huge a success — this movie was made for less money than Freddy Got Fingered. Okay, sure, adjusted for inflation, that’s not true. But it was made for less money than Fifty Shades of Grey was made for, and, if you want a direct ratio… it cost less to make than the #8 film on this list. Talk about a million to one shot.
3. Annie Hall
“La-di-da, la-di-da, la la.”
This is Woody Allen’s masterpiece. We might all have a different favorite film of his, but this is the one that endures. This is the one that even the Woody Allen haters (myself kinda being one of them) love. Or, at the very least, are okay with.
It’s a simple romance between him and Diane Keaton. It’s a movie about two people, and a relationship. There’s more going on in it, but still… it just works. The comedy bits are great, the chemistry is there, and you just buy it all. This movie changed the course of Allen’s career. He made nothing but comedies before this. But this made him an auteur. After this, he went on and tried different things, branching out into drama and all sorts of stuff.
The crazy thing about the movie was that it was gonna be a drama and a murder-mystery (which apparently became the basis of Manhattan Murder Mystery), and somehow we ended up with the right one. Good thing for that.
4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Those five tones are all you need, aren’t they?
This is a movie that people think is about aliens. But it’s not. It’s a film about obsession, and the search for knowledge. The aliens are just a motivating factor.
Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss, in his first of two top ten films this year) sees what he believes to be alien spaceship fly overhead. He then becomes obsessed with UFOs and continues to have visions of a mountain-like object, which consume his life, and… wait for it… alienate him from his family (pun ridiculously intended). And the film is about his quest to figure out what it all means. The famous moment that everyone remembers happens at the end of the movie. The movie is so much more than the aliens.
This is also Steven Spielberg’s followup to Jaws, which established him as a true voice in American cinema. Between Star Wars and this, he and Lucas completely dominated the box office for this year… and for about the next seven years.
5. Saturday Night Fever
“So tell me, are you as good in bed as you are on that dance floor?”
Tony Manero. One of the most iconic characters of all time. This, if not for Star Wars, was the culturally important film of 1977. The Bee Gees were everywhere because of this, and John Travolta catapulted into megastardom because of this film.
The funny thing is, no one ever really remembers the plot of the film. Travolta just kinda wants to be king of the dance floor. And that’s it, really. And that’s all you need. Though, there is some way more adult stuff than you’d think in this movie. It gets dark at a certain point. Which is what I love about it. Not many films can balance the Bee Gees with attempted rape.
This movie is awesome. Few scenes can turn a dance floor into a set piece the way this one can.
6. The Goodbye Girl
“I thought you said you were decent.”
“I am decent. I also happen to be naked.”
Neil Simon again. The most well-regarded of the films based on his plays, even if The Sunshine Boys is my personal favorite. This is one of the quintessential romantic comedies of the 70s.
Marsha Mason is a single mother and former dancer who finds out her director boyfriend has taken a film, left New York and rented out his apartment that she’s been living in out from under her. Enter Richard Dreyfuss, a struggling actor, and new tenant of the apartment. Feeling bad for Mason and her daughter, he lets them stay in half the apartment, for half the rent. Thus begins a tenuous living arrangement, that goes from awkward to tense to peaceful to a relationship.
Mason is great, Quinn Cummings as the daughter is very good, and Dreyfuss won Best Actor for his performance in this (which I feel is a bit of a shared award between this and Close Encounters, just like Diane Keaton’s Best Actress win, I feel, is for Annie Hall and Looking for Mr. Goodbar, which we’ll talk about below). It’s quintessential Neil Simon dialogue, and Marsha Mason was the queen of delivering that, both being his wife and also starring in several of his plays and the films based on them.
7. The Spy Who Loved Me
“Moneypenny, where’s 007?”
“He’s on a mission sir. In Austria.”
“Well, tell him to pull out. Immediately.”
Another Bond. This is the best of the Roger Moore Bond movies. Live and Let Die has personality, but this is the all around best one, and the only one of his who could come close to the Connery ones. From the opening ski chase, to Carly Simon’s song, “Nobody Does It Better,” which would become the theme song to the character, to introductions to characters like Jaws, the car that becomes a submarine… all around, this is Moore’s best effort in the franchise.
8. New York, New York
“Start spreadin’ the news, I’m leavin’ today
I want to be a part of it, New York, New York
These vagabond shoes are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it, New York, New York
I want to wake up in a city that doesn’t sleep
And find I’m king of the hill, top of the heap
These little town blues are melting away
I’ll make a brand new start of it, in old New York
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York, New York”
Martin Scorsese followed up the immense success of Taxi Driver with a throwback 30s-style musical, for which he insisted on artificial-looking studio sets, reminiscent of what they looked like in the old days of Hollywood. Naturally the result was a huge flop, and that, combined with his on-set affair with Liza Minnelli and copious drug use during this period led to this being one of his more forgotten films and one he doesn’t talk about much because it represents such a dark period in his life.
However, there are people that still really like this movie. Myself, naturally, being one of them. Now, this isn’t for everyone. It’s a throwback kind of movie that still clearly feels like it was made in the 70s, giving it a very strange vibe, especially since Scorsese’s tendencies aren’t geared toward happy-go-lucky, Fred and Ginger style musicals. His tendencies go dark, and as such, the film goes dark for a while. So it’s a really weird finished product, in the end. It’s not exactly a musical, since De Niro cannot sing, nor can he dance. He plays a saxophone player. Liza does all the singing in the film. And it’s long. Over two-and-a-half hours. Too long. It’s a giant, bloated, overdone failure. And I still really like it.
Also, as the title may suggest, this is where the iconic song came from. Not Sinatra. No matter how you feel about the film, the moment that song happens on screen, it transcends everything. That’s how good that song is.
“If you cannot do it, do not do it.”
I’ve always had a real affinity for this movie. In my head, I boiled it down to half the storyline, but as I go back to it each time, I start to like the other ones more and more.
Here’s the skinny — it’s about a chapter in one of Lilian Hellman’s books where she talks about a relationship with a woman named (insert title here). This has since become the topic of debate, as many people feel this was completely fabricated. Either way, that’s the basis for the movie, which I really enjoy.
The first half of the film is about Hellman’s (played by Jane Fonda) relationship with Dashiell Hammett (played by Jason Robards, earning him his second of back-to-back Best Supporting Actor wins). Hammett encourages her to write, which culminates in her writing the play “The Children’s Hour” and becoming the toast of the town. All throughout this, scenes are sprinkled in of her relationship with her friend Julia (played by Vanessa Redgrave). Julia was always well-to-do, and took Hellman in like a sister. As they got older, they grew apart. Julia went to Europe and got involved in anti-Nazi activities. By the time we’ve seen what we’ve seen, Lilian and Julia haven’t spoken in several years. One day, she gets a visit from Maximilian Schell, who says he is there with a request from Julia. She wants Lilian to come see her in Berlin, and on the train, smuggle in some money for the cause.
Thus begins the second half of the film, which has Hellman go on this journey, smuggling money on a train into Germany. Which… if she (a Jew) is caught with, won’t end well for her. The journey is just great. And then there’s a meeting between her and Julia, which is almost like the Third Man, when Orson Welles shows up at the Ferris Wheel. It’s great. All four primary cast members were nominated for Oscars, with Robards and Redgrave winning (the irony of her win being that she won Best Supporting Actress for playing the title character of the film).
I really like this one. I was always such a huge fan of the train ride and the meeting between the two of them, but the more time goes by, the more I like that it’s framed by a love story with her and Hammett. There’s a lot to like here, and I think that even though this movie has generally fallen by the wayside, historically (directed by Fred Zinnemann, too, I should point out), it’s one of those films that a lot of people will like when they see it.
10. Smokey and the Bandit
“What we’re dealing with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.”
This was the second-highest grossing film of 1977, behind Star Wars. Think about that. That’s pretty crazy.
This represents Burt Reynolds at the height of his powers. Sure, he was a huge star all throughout the 70s, but this is the iconic role for him. It’s also part of the trucker craze of the late 70s, which was apparently a thing, spawning a bunch of movies.
Reynolds is a truck driver who agrees to bootleg a truck full of Coors beer from Texas to Georgia (which is illegal. Coors could not be sold east of the Mississippi). All previous attempts to do this met with failure, but naturally, he’s gonna succeed. And the film is about his attempt to do this all while being chased by Jackie Gleason and picking up runaway bride Sally Field along the way.
It’s amazing. Great direction by Hal Needham, great car stunts, great comedy. An all around winner.
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The Ascent — A beautiful Russian film by Larisa Shepitko. Two Soviet guerrilla fighters in World War II go out in search of food. Unfortunately, where they’re going, the Germans get there first. So they are captured and tortured. It’s… it’s a much better film than you might think based on that vague synopsis. I don’t think this gets listed on that tier of greatest foreign films of all time like some other ones (specifically Tarkovsky films), but this is truly one of those foreign films that I would tell everyone to watch. Some of the others… take ’em or leave ’em. This one, though… this is the shit.
A Bridge Too Far — A badass ensemble war movie. So many people in this. Dick Borgarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Elliott Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Ryan O’Neal, Robert Redford, Denholm Elliott, John Ratzenberger, Hardy Kruger, Maximilian Schell, Laurence Olivier and Liv Ullmann. And directed by Richard Attenborough. At that point, who cares what the plot is, right? But it’s about the Allies’ attempt to capture some important bridges. It’s so good. It’s so, so good. One of the best war films ever made.
High Anxiety — Everyone knows Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. Those are the masterpieces. After that, though, everyone seems to go to Spaceballs, which is fun, but not the best parody. If you wanna go for something that’s almost on part with the big two, this is the one. This is Mel doing Hitchcock. And it’s great. It’s so funny. The big comps for this are Vertigo and Spellbound. But it’s Hitchcock in general that he’s parodying. And it’s so good. Brooks stars with Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman and Barry Levinson! Weird saying there are underrated Mel Brooks films, but next to The Twelve Chairs (criminally underseen), this is the one that more people need to see.
The Late Show — Amazing neo noir that no one remembers. Robert Benton wrote and directed it. It stars Art Carney and Lily Tomlin. He’s an aging detective and she’s his client as he tries to figure out who killed his partner. One of the true gems of the 70s that no one remembers. If you’re looking for hidden gems below the surface, this is for sure one to check out.
Looking for Mr. Goodbar — The forgotten Diane Keaton performance that was good enough to have won her Best Actress this year aside from Annie Hall. Inspired by real events, Keaton plays a mild-mannered kindergarten teacher who has that librarian aesthetic. Never giving off any sexual vibes whatsoever. Only, at night, she goes out to bad neighborhoods, drinks too much, does drugs, and goes home with very dangerous and questionable people. And the film is about this double life, until the eventual moment where the dangerous part catches up to her. It’s quite good. Highly underrated movie. Also features early performances from Richard Gere and Tom Berenger.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh — Part of the forgotten Disney era of the 70s and 80s. This is a feature comprised of three Pooh shorts, “The Honey Tree,” “Blustery Day” and “And Tigger Too.” Pooh gets stuck while looking for some honey, a rainy day causes havoc, and Tigger is… just kind of nuts. It’s fun. The Pooh movies are delightful.
A Piece of the Action — This movie is so much fun. Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby. Poitier directed it, too. He and Cosby are two thieves who have never been caught. James Earl Jones is a retired cop who calls them both to say he has evidence that can put them away for a long time. So he makes them a deal — if they go straight and do time at a youth center to help kids, he’ll keep the evidence to himself. So the rest of the film is them going straight and trying to help troubled kids. And it becomes one of those movies. And naturally, they’re good at it and all that stuff, and they realize they actually kinda like it. Only of course their past starts to catch up to them, and all that… it’s a fun movie. Completely forgotten but definitely worth your time.
Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown — Of all the Peanuts shorts and films, the two I grew up with are the Christmas special and this movie. I don’t know why, but I remember this movie always being on at like 6:30 or 7am as I was getting up for school. Probably deliberately so, for kids my age who tend to get up that early. But I have such an affection for this movie. It’s about the gang going to camp. That’s all you need. That rafting sequence is one of the most memorable scenes of my youth.
The Rescuers — Second of the Disney movies of 1974. This one is more memorable, and spawned the first Disney sequel. It’s about two Mice who go rescue a young girl who was kidnapped and is being held on an old boat in the swamps of New Orleans after she left sent a help message in a bottle. It’s awesome.
Slap Shot — One of the great sports comedies of all time. George Roy Hill directing Paul Newman. They only made classics together. It’s about a minor league hockey team about to go under who resort to a very violent style of play that proves to be a hit with fans. So they start beating the shit out of opponents to keep the team afloat. It’s so good. A lot of people would have this on the list of top ten sports movies of all time, and they’re not wrong. It legitimately could be on that list. It’s great.
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- Airport ’77
- Allegro non Troppo
- Black Sunday
- The Choirboys
- Cross of Iron
- Damnation Alley
- The Duellists
- Fun with Dick and Jane
- The Gauntlet
- The Hobbit
- I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
- Oh, God!
- Opening Night
- Pete’s Dragon
- Pumping Iron
- Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
- The Turning Point
- Twilight’s Last Gleaming
- The World’s Greatest Lover
The Choirboys is my kinda movie. It’s like MASH but with cops. A bunch of LA policemen unwind after their shifts by having a lot of drunken nights out. The movie’s more about their shenanigans than anything else. It was directed by Robert Aldrich, the first of two movies of his, and stars Charles Durning, Lou Gossett Jr, Randy Quaid, James Woods and Burt Young. Great little hidden gem that you should seek out. Twilight’s Last Gleaming is Robert Aldrich’s other movie on this list. Burt Lancaster is a rogue officer who escapes from military prison to take over a missile complex. His plan is to release a bunch of missiles that will start World War III unless the president releases the contents of a top secret document. So it’s kinda like The Rock meets Die Hard. Also in it are Richard Widmark, Charles Durning, Melvyn Douglas, Joseph Cotten, Burt Young, Paul Winfield, Richard Jaeckel and Roscoe Lee Browne. It’s good.
Oh, God! is a classic comedy. John Denver is an average man who is met by God (George Burns), who tells him he’s chosen him to be his messenger on Earth. It’s a lot of fun. Carl Reiner directs. One of those comedies that’s so good in premise everyone knows it. Black Sunday is a John Frankenheimer-directed disaster movie about a terrorist group who plots to blow up the Goodyear Blimp at the Super Bowl and kill the president. Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern… it’s nothing new, but it’s fun. Damnation Alley is a post-apocalyptic movie, in the vein of Mad Max (which came two years after this, but for the sake of comparison). Nuclear war has turned Earth into a wasteland, and the mutations have led to giant creatures roaming the landscape. So the survivors all travel in giant armored tank-like vehicles, and the film is about two officers trying to get to the other side of the wasteland in order to find some hope. It’s fun. Campy and dated, but you know what you’re getting into with something like this. It does the job.
Eraserhead is David Lynch. People hail this as a masterpiece. It’s too weird for me to love it, but it’s a great movie. The visuals are astounding, and the movie is so surreal it almost comes off like one of those experimental Kenneth Anger films. This is Lynch at his weirdest, and one of those movies all film lovers and students should see at least once. Airport ’77 is another one of the Airport movies. Pure ensemble disaster films. At this point, the story isn’t what you come for, it’s the cast. And this one includes Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Lee Grant, Brenda Vaccaro, Joseph Cotten, Olivia de Havilland, George Kennedy (reprising his role from the original) Darren McGavin, Christopher Lee, Kathleen Quinlan and M. Emmet Walsh. This one is basically The Poseidon Adventure in a plane. Plane crashes under water and they gotta get out. It’s fun. Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger is a Ray Harryhausen film. Again, not directed by him, but when he does the effects, it’s essentially his movie. The plot doesn’t matter. It’s swashbuckling, sword and sandal, cool creatures. It’s all about the fun adventure tone and the stop-motion effects. That’s the joy of these movies.
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is a movie that I was not fully aware of until quite recently. It only got made because of the success of Cuckoo’s Nest, and it’s quite the movie. Kathleen Quinlan is a 16-year-old schizophrenic who has trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality. She’s so devoted to the fantasy world she’s created that it completely ruins her life, even as everyone tries to get her to accept reality for what it is. Really strong film, and one of the hidden gems of the era. The Duellists is Ridley Scott’s first movie. Stars Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel as two guys who turn a small disagreement into a lifelong feud, culminating in a series of duels that happen at key points throughout their lives. It’s really well made. Not as amazing as Ridley’s later movies, but a really auspicious beginning and definitely worth seeing. Pumping Iron is that iconic documentary about bodybuilding, starring Arnold Scwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, as they compete against one another to be Mr. Olympia. It’s nuts. One of those movies you discover in college because it’s so bizarre. You gotta see this just for the experience.
The Gauntlet is a Clint Eastwood action movie. He directed it and stars with Sondra Locke. He’s a cop who is tasked with taking a prostitute from Vegas to Arizona so she can testify against the mob. He’s sent to do this because no one thinks he’ll make it there without being killed. Along the way, he falls for her and they’re constantly chased by mobsters trying to kill them both. It’s a fun little adventure. A road trip where people are trying to kill them all along the way. Allegro non troppo is a fucked up Italian version of Fantasia. It’s awesome. Great for trippy animation and people who like doing drugs and watching movies. Fun with Dick and Jane is a solid comedy with Jane Fonda and George Segal. They’re upper middle class and have a comfortable life… until he’s suddenly fired out of nowhere. Now in debt and needing to find a way to make ends meet, the two start committing robberies. The couple that steals together…
Opening Night is John Cassavetes movie starring Gena Rowlands. Those are always worthwhile. She’s great in this. I don’t love this as much as I love A Woman Under the Influence, but it’s quite good and she’s incredible in it. Cross of Iron is a Sam Peckinpah World War II film. Which is unlike him. Stars James Mason, James Coburn and Maximilian Schell. Your classic story about class differences in war, and the upper class commander who wants to win medals and the blue collar sergeant who just wants to see his men get out alive. Very good, and often listed among people’s favorite Peckinpah movies below the obvious ones. Pete’s Dragon is an OG hybrid animation movie. A boy befriends a dragon. Very 70s, and kinda dated. But it’s one of those movies most people grow up with, and you can’t put a price on that. It’s fun.
The Turning Point is a film that was really well regarded in 1977 that’s almost forgotten now. People forget how close this was to winning Best Picture this year. Directed by Herbert Ross (who also directed The Goodbye Girl this year), it stars Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft as ballerinas. MacLaine was the prima ballerina who got pregnant and retired in order to start a family, and Bancroft is the one who took her place. Now, 20 years later, Bancroft is in town and the two reunite. MacLaine is regretful that she never had the career she could have, and Bancroft is regretful she never started a family. So the two are jealous of each other, and the resentment starts to bubble up. On top of this, MacLaine’s daughter (Leslie Browne) wants to be a ballerina and Bancroft takes her under her wing as she joins the company. Meanwhile, Browne also starts sleeping with a male dancer (Mikhail Baryshnikov), who has a reputation for sleeping around within the company. It’s a solid drama. Not the kind of movie that has held up as well as the films around it for the year, but it’s well made, with great performances (and got all four members of the primary cast nominated for Oscars).
The Hobbit is a Rankin & Bass adaptation of the story. One film, unlike Peter Jackson’s version, and it has John Huston playing Gandalf and narrating the story. Otto Preminger is the Elvenking, Orson Bean is Bilbo, Hans Cornreid (he voiced Captain Hook) as Thorin Oakenshield, Richard Boone as Smaug and Glenn Yarbrough singing the theme song. It’s fun. They followed this up with Return of the King, which is also fun. The World’s Greatest Lover is a Gene Wilder movie that he wrote and directed. He plays a neurotic everyman (neurotic is implied with him, isn’t it?) who enters into a contest run by a Hollywood studio to find (insert title here). Basically, a studio is upset that they don’t have their own Rudolph Valentino and start the contest to get a new star that can rival him. And naturally, hilarity ensues. Costars Carol Kane, Dom DeLuise and Danny DeVito. It’s amusing. The Gene Wilder movies without Mel Brooks or Richard Pryor have generally fallen by the wayside, historically, but they’re all worthwhile.
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