Fatso is open for discussion

Our September 2007 film selection, Fatso, is now open for discussion. Members who would like to Post an Official Commentary about Fatso are welcome to do so (Contact Ron or Roger if you would like to have posting priveleges to this blogsite). Anyone, member or not, can place brief comments here by simply clicking on the comments button.

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About Ron Boothe

I am a retired professor of psychology living in Tacoma Washington USA.
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One Response to Fatso is open for discussion

  1. marlowe44 says:

    FATSO (1980)

    TO EAT, OR NOT TO EAT

    This is a little treasure trove of a film. Superb actress, Anne Bancroft (aka Anna Maria Louise Italiano), only wrote one screenplay and only directed one movie –and this was it. She worked through her husband’s production company (Brookfilms), and put together a precious commodity for the ages. It is a shame she never directed again. She had a terrific comic ear for dialogue, cast well, and must have done the project as a labor of love; perhaps too much so.. Her work was reminiscent of the writing and directing of Elaine May. But possibly the stress of being the matriarch and Madre for a giggling gaggle of comedic actors, and the go-to gal for everyone else did not turn out to be much “fun”.

    Bancroft certainly had to have a heightened sense of humor; marrying Mel Brooks would have made that an imperative. She once said, “When Mel told his Jewish mother he was marrying an Italian girl –she said: “Bring her over. I’ll be in the kitchen –with my head in the oven.”

    She seemed to have a very slim budget to work with. She cast herself in the film, and did a wonderful acting job as the hysterically domineering sister, Anoinette. She ended up with a crew of mostly television veterans, and the result was the finished film looked like it was created “on the cheap”.

    The rather pedestrian cinematography was done by TV veteran Brianne Murphy. Most of his film credits were from episodes on series television, like LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN, FATHER MURPHY, and TRAPPER JOHN, M.D. He did go on the shoot the feature film, NICE DREAMS (1981), with Cheech and Chong –but that seemed to be his career nadir.

    The unremarkable musical score was composed by Joe Penzetti, a “B” film, and TV veteran. Interestingly, his career started out by scoring THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (1978), for which he won an Oscar. He, too, did a lot of work for episodic TV. He did go on to create the scores for POLTERGEIST II (1988), and FRANKENHOOKER (1990).

    The strength of this film was in the writing and the acting—and of course the directing.
    Dom DeLuise played Dominick DiNapoli, a 40ish overweight bachelor, still living at home, a gourmet cook, and a champion calorie consumer. This was one of Dom’s best roles, although admittedly it was not much of a stretch for him. His sensitive nature and his ability to weep on cue gave the character depth. His combination of a flashing smile and sad eyes made him the classic clown, in the best sense of the word. The DiNapoli family name used in the film was his mother’s maiden name.

    When Dom’s cousin Sal dies at 39 years old from complications secondary to his morbid obesity, the DiNapoli family begins to hound Dom to lose weight, “before it kills you too!” Lamenting the cousin’s death, sister Antoinette said, “Why is it the good people, the sweet people –are also always the fat people!” As a person who has likewise fought a lifelong battle of the bulge –I certainly could relate. His brother, Frankie, shamed him into seeking medical help, and his sister set up the medical appointment. The scene at the doctor’s office was a pure Mel Brooksian delight. The very short and very thin doctor was chain-smoking throughout the exam, and hacking up copious amounts of phlegm; reminding me of a Marty Feldman bit. When the horse-faced nurse went over Dom’s approved food list –his taboo foods went on for pages, and his crestfallen looks were worth the price of admission.

    Frankie chained the refrigerator shut with two padlocks. Dom endeavored to stay on the leafy vegetable unappetizing diet for several days. Frankie slept with the padlock keys on a cord around his neck. One night he was awakened by the touch of a gun barrel against his temple. He looked up to find Dom looming over him, eyes crazy, having gone off the edge with his cravings and his food longings. Frankie soon realized it was only a toy gun. But the desperate Dom snatched up a long butcher knife, the one he lovingly had sliced bread with and chopped cheese and sliced pizza with. Dom screamed, “Give me those keys or I’ll cut you down to your balls!” This hysterical scene with Dom alternating between weeping with apology and out of control rage threatening Frankie with his life, was done like a Commedia sketch or a vaudeville skit, choreographed and acted perfectly. It was a keeper.

    Dom had joined a weight watcher’s group, the Chubby Checkers, set up like AA, with sponsors. After the incident with the butcher knife, Frankie called two of Dom’s sponsors, and they came immediately to the apartment. Both sponsors were still heavyweights themselves. They sat down and began to discuss their mutual fascination with rich foods of all kinds. This very funny scene brought new meaning to the line, “Get the honey, junior!” In the finest farcical tradition the three of them gleefully fall off the wagon, and begin cooking up everything in the kitchen. In the morning, of course, Dom loathes himself and his “weakness”.

    In the midst of all this Dom met a local shopkeeper, Lydia . She becomes a breath of fresh air in his life. He was in love at first sight, and she was smitten with him as well. Their courtship was very tender and brought smiles to our lips. They began to date and his new ardent focus on her redirected much of the emphasis he usually gave to food. Joyfully he began to lose weight without even trying. Like in a wonderful fairy tale, the toad wins the hand of the princess, and her devotion and love gives him the confidence to “love myself”. He finally says to his family. “I am fat. I am a fat middle-aged man. I will probably always be fat. But you have to realize that when I am eating, that’s when I am really me.”

    Ron Carey played his brother, Frankie, and he gave it just the right blend of bathos, chaos, and burlesque. Carey was best known for his stint on BARNEY MILLER. Most of his work as an actor has been on television. He did get a featured role in THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD, PART I (1981), after he met Mel Brooks through Ms. Bancroft. Candice Azzara played the lovely Lydia , Dom’s love interest. Her Lydia was shy, lonely, struggling to be independent, very religious, creative, fussy, oddly realistic, idealistic, naïve –and when asked if she still was a virgin, she replied, “Nearly.” She reminded me some of Carol Kane with her nuanced and well thought out performance. She had appeared in 58 film roles, and like her compeers for this production, most of them were for episodic television. Interestingly, her first major role was as Gloria in the series pilot episode for ALL IN THE FAMILY (1969).

    FATSO was loaded with tiny gem-like scenes –Dom fussing in the kitchen, adept and comfortable in a world he loved, Dom marching to work, only stopping to buy two steaming frankfurters from a street vendor, Dom’s first glimpse of Lydia, Dom and Lydia at the carnival, dancing for the crowd, Dom and Antoinette dancing in the shop with great abandon to prove he had, “all the energy I need.” –and at the end those incredibly touching tableau photos of Dom and Lydia , their wedding, and a new photo commemorating each new child over the years.

    There are those folks who might feel that this movie is lightweight, not on a par with Carl Reiner’s manic WHERE’S PAPA? (1970), or Mel Brooks side-splitting THE PRODUCERS (1968), nor did it have the sweet sarcasm of A THOUSAND CLOWNS (1965). So as a New York based comedy it was overshadowed by the bigger box office and critical hits. Yet this gentle and touching film represents the genuine warmth and sentiment that was missing from the darker and more profane comedies. For Dom DeLuise fans, it is a must-see. For the rest of us it is a great time at the Bijou.

    Glenn Buttkus 2007

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