Plot: The goddess Aphrodite seeks redemption in the love of hapless mortal.
I’ve always felt a little sorry for Chuck Woolery. At one time he was the host of television’s The Wheel of Fortune. He left the show (or was pushed out), only to have it explode in popularity under its new host, Pat Sajak. Now, Sajak was a more avuncular man. Therefore it’s entirely possible that much of the show’s new vitality was because he took over Woolery’s duties. If that’s the case, then Chuck certainly had no real beef as he presumably gazed with envy from his new gig as host of the syndicated Love Connection. However, there were other factors at play, too. These may have led Woolery to believe that if he’d just hung on a while longer, all that success could have been his.
First, the show was moved from an afternoon/morning show to the pre-prime time evening slot, following the news. Second, the format of the show changed. During Woolery’s day, winners didn’t take home cash. Instead, they used their ‘winnings’ to buy items from a variety of ‘rooms’ the show maintained offstage. Basically, if you won the round with $2000, you’d pick a room, and buy whatever items you could afford. Guys tended to choose the Living Room, because that allowed them to buy goods like stereos and TV sets. If the TV cost $500, you’d then have $1500 left. You’d keep buying whatever items were available until you ran out of money.
The rule was you had to spend every dollar you could. Any small amount remaining was, as they famously put it, put “on account, or in a gift certificate.” (If you put it on account, you had to win another round to spend it. If you didn’t, you forfeited the money. Pretty much everyone took the gift certificate.) A common joke of the time involved the fact that a goodly portion of the players had to buy the show’s legendary ceramic Dalmatians. These generally were the cheapest item on many of the displays, and if you ended up without enough money to buy anything else, you had to take one.
That was the old format, and the advantage was that the producers didn’t have to lay out much money. The goods the winners bought were provided to the show by their manufacturers, in exchange for the advertising benefit. However, the almost prime time version upped the ante. Under the new regime, people got to actually take home actual cash. Since the show was now in a better slot, the prizes were bigger was well. As is often the case with quiz shows, bigger prizes translated to bigger audiences.
We’ll never know what exactly made the show so big. However, part of its newfound success was certainly due to the woman who took over the letter-spinning role. This was Vanna White, a woman whose name was veritably Dickensian in capturing her Middle America pleasantness. Ms. White’s innocuous, wholesome charms were perfect for the Reagan-era zeitgeist. Despite the sneers of the hipsters and elitists, the phrase America’s Sweetheart was once more bandied about, and in an entirely unironic manner.
Eventually, Vanna became such a big star that the NBC network decided to try moving her to greener pastures. However, they didn’t want to kill the cash cow, either. So rather than assigning her a sitcom or something else that would force her to leave Wheel of Fortune, they built a TV movie around her. Being TV executives, they did everything they could to protect their fledgling star. First, as was common with made-for-TV movies of that era, the project ripped off a successful recent theatrical picture. In this case, the previous year’s Mannequin, which certainly remains one of the more inexplicable hits of the ‘80s.
Second, they surrounded Ms. White, who was not, after all, an actress, with a veteran supporting staff. Usually in these cases, you attempt to get the TV equivalent of whatever stars appeared in the targeted theatrical film. By which I mean, an actor of a similar type, but more vapid. Thus the career of such stalwarts in TV action movies as Dack Rambo and Jack Scalia, in lieu of your Harrison Fords and Sly Stallones.
Unfortunately, there was a problem with this time-honored formula. This being that the male lead in Mannequin was none other than Andrew McCarthy*. Since finding an actor more vapid than McCarthy was a scientific impossibility, along the lines of locating something more wet than the Atlantic Ocean, they cannily installed the poor(er) man’s Scott Baio, David Naughton, in the role instead.
The times demanded that every straight-laced male lead in a comedy required a sleazy, sex-obsessed best friend. This role was filled by none other than Joe Izuzu himself, actor David Leisure. Meanwhile, David’s inevitably disposable fiancÃˆe was played by Married With Children’s Amanda Bearse. The ‘Embarrassed Real Actor’ was Phillip Baker Hall, who oddly is probably best known as the Joe Friday-esque library cop from an episode of Seinfeld. The inevitable John Rhys-Davis, the Slim Pickens of the ‘80s, had a cameo appearance as Zeus, while perhaps the funniest assignment was the casting of Betsy Palmer as Hera. Ms. Palmer remains revered by slasher movie buffs as the murderous Mrs. Voorhees, Jason’s mom, from the original Friday the 13th.[*Jabootu has some sort of deal with McCarthy that even I’m not privy to. In any case, during the ‘80s the actor starred in both of the most grossly unwarranted comic smashes of the decade: Mannequin and Weekend at Bernie’s.]
Meanwhile, the surprise hit character of Mannequin was one of the decade’s trademark Flaming Black Homosexuals—see also, for example, the similar character in Revenge of the Nerds—in the person of actor Meshach Taylor as ‘Hollywood.’ Mr. Taylor went on to become the only star of the original film to appear in the sequel, Mannequin: On the Move. Here, however, they apparently couldn’t find anyone to play a flaming black homosexual. Therefore they instead hired Little Richard.
These are not the only interesting tidbits to be gleaned from the opening credits. For instance, the film’s predictably awful music—generally of the “hey, this is the funny stuff right here” variety—is credited to three people. Apparently such incompetence was beyond the scope of any one person.
We open on “Mt. Olympus—Ages Ago”. That’s a small taste of the humor to come. The Home of the Gods is realized with some columns apparently left over from a high school stage production of Julius Caesar. These have been set in a posh garden, and mated with a camera lens liberally smeared with Vaseline to lend the scene an ‘otherworldly’ feel. Frankly, I hadn’t seen so soft a focus since Mae West’s scenes in Sextette.
Zeus in berating his daughter Aphrodite—who interjects to explain that she prefers to be called Venus (!!!)—for spurning her arranged marriage with Hephaetus, the blacksmith god (a two-second, non-speaking cameo by Sig Haig [!!]). Instead, we learn, she has sought love with a variety of mortals. Things haven’t go her way, however, and her beaus have all ended up dying. (Like Zeus should talk!! I mean, at least Aphrodite never seduced callow maidens in the guise of swans or beams of sunlight.) Moreover, she is blamed for starting the Trojan War, although I think Hera and Athena shoulder some of the blame, too. Still, at least this all proves that the scriptwriter cracked open his World Book Encyclopedia ‘M’ volume before writing the screenplay. Not that he understood much of what he read, but at least he read it and apparently took a couple of notes.
In the end, Zeus, following the advise of the “council,” (yeah, like the imperious Zeus would allow a council of the gods) exiles Venus. Oddly, ‘exile’ turns out to mean, ‘turned into a plaster statue.’ This involves cartoon energy squiggles, of the sort popular in such similarly awful mythology-inspired ‘80s fare as Xanadu and the two Lou Ferrigno Hercules movies. Humorously, it also involves White, in her white toga, being blasted with a wind machine, over which they dub thunder sounds. This will undoubtedly amuse fans of the old Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV series, since this is almost exactly the way an immortal Greek priestess played by Cathy Lee Crosby met her end, after herself displeasing Zeus.
The statue is then consigned—I guess—to Earth. Hera wonders if Venus will ever be allowed to return to Mt. Olympus, leading to an exchange that all too accurately sums up the film’s level of humor:
Hera: “Will she never return from this exile?” Zeus: “Perhaps. Some day. She will return when she has won the heart of a man…” Hera, heartened: “I know my daughter, she’ll do it!” Zeus, continuing: “…and prove that she can keep his love without killing him.” Hera, ‘comically’ dispirited: “That could be a problem!”
Cut to the present day (“L.A. City Museum…Someday”), where the statue of Venus is the centerpiece in a museum exhibit featuring statues of the gods of the Greek, Roman and Norse (?) pantheons. These examples of antiquity all look in remarkably good shape, considering that they are patently composed of plaster rather than carved from marble. A tour guide provides the Venus statue with an Informed Attribute, namely its “spectacular craftsmanship.” This is pretty laughable, as it doesn’t even really look like White. In any case, we’re told, the statue is priceless.
Wackiness immediately ensues when two members of the touring party hang around when the group leaves. These are clearly two fat guys (fat guys are funny!) in drag, and so obviously so that their putative disguise would draw more attention their way than if they had just worn normal clothes. I don’t know, maybe this is supposed to be one of the funny parts. Anyway, they are, needless to say, thieves. Producing a mover’s dolly from somewhere (??), they wheel the priceless statue off. Good security there, at the L.A. City Museum.
Cut to the Heads Up hair salon, where we meet both our hero and his obligatory sleazeball buddy. In a brilliant stroke of scripting subtlety, we learn their names when the buddy says, “Ted, it’s me, Jimmy. How can you possibly say no?” This line is especially weird in that Ted is currently cutting Jimmy’s hair. Anyhoo, thick cuds of exposition are quickly dispensed. Ted is getting married on Saturday to a woman named Kathy (Bearse). “This is a wedding ring,” Ted retorts. “Saturday it starts living on Kathy’s finger.” (??) Kathy is out of town, however, and sleazy Jimmy wants Ted to go on a double date with some twins, so that they can both get lucky together one last time. See, he’s a real horndog, and doesn’t ‘get’ the whole monogamy thing. Anyway, after further painfully unfunny badinage, Ted reluctantly agrees to join Jimmy, although with no monkey business.
They two end up at the Pleasure Gardens Dancing Club, which is, inevitably, a disco. Needless to say, Jimmy enters with his jacket sleeves pulled up, ala Miami Vice. Leisure manfully does his job and puts forth a slew of painful japes, as when he notes that ‘getting married’ and ‘dying are “listed as synonyms in the dictionary.” “Honesty has no place in a good relationship,” is another knee-slapper.
Arriving at a table, Ted learns that Jimmy has actually arranged a bachelor party. There Ted proves himself no slouch in the pain-inflicting department. Looking about the club, he ‘quips,’ “Couldn’t you have picked a classier place…like maybe female mud wrestling?!” This hilarious wisecrack inspires a huge outburst of laughter from his pals. Jimmy replies that an earlier friend’s bachelor party was held there (apparently ‘female mud wrestling’ is an actual place). “If you dance too close to one of the contestants,” he jibes, “you’ve got to have your whole suit dry cleaned!” Cue more gusts of hilarity from their presumably extremely drunk comrades.
All of these are brainless horndogs, too, we soon learn. Like Jimmy, they don’t understand why Ted isn’t taking advantage of Kathy’s absence. Meanwhile, a hot, slutty actress named Debbie (Shari Shattuck, who played Michael Caine’s underling Liles in On Deadly Ground.) flings some ghastly double entendres Ted’s way. First she lasciviously asks whether Ted will still be available to give her a “body perm” (because he’s a stylist, remember?). When he demurs, she pouts. “You won’t even…frost my tips?” she later drools. Gaak.
Further comic bits ensue. A guard at the museum somehow tours nearly the entire gods exhibit before noticing that the centerpiece statue is missing. How wacky! Then Ted goes to call Kathy, garnering hoots of derision from his pals. Told of the bachelor party, she laughs. “I didn’t even know people did things like that anymore,” she notes. (??) Ted concurs, noting that he expects the stripper to “jump out of a quiche.” (Too young to get this quintessential ‘80s reference? Don’t worry about it.) During this Slutty Debbie climbs into an embarrassed Ted’s lap, inspiring further audience mirth—in theory, anyway—as he tries to keep Kathy from figuring out what’s going on.
Just outside, coincidentally enough, the zany fat guy (fat guys are funny!) crooks have deposited the Venus statue among the similar sculptures (!!) in the dance club’s garden. I’m really, really going to ignore the probability that the screenwriter tried to establish his artistic, literate side by explaining to any listener he could corner that he borrowed this gambit from E.A. Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.” Anyway, the ‘smart’ crook notes, they’ll leave the piece there overnight, “until the heat’s off.” Yes, I’d think eight or twelve hours after a priceless item is stolen from a local museum should see the police losing interest in the case.
Ted walks out after Jimmy tries to set them up with a pair of twins, Rusty and Dusty. (Oh, bru-ther.) Jimmy follows him into the garden, trying to get him to come back in. In the film’s remarkably nonsensical pivotal moment, Ted tries to explains the situation by—that’s right—for no good reason slipping Kathy’s family heirloom wedding ring onto *gasp* the finger of the Venus statue. What are the odds, huh?
Cartoon energy plays over the ring, and Ted finds to his horror that it won’t come free. Panicking, he leaves to seek out the club manager. Meanwhile, Hera observes Ted’s apparent pledge of betrothal and convinces Zeus to free Venus. He does so, although he notes that should she fail in her quest, she’ll return to her plaster form for all eternity. Sure enough, more cartoon energy frees Venus, and she walks off. Ted, as you can imagine, is extremely consternated to find both the statue and the ring gone when he returns.
I think you can probably take it from there. Venus highhandedly expects fealty from her new earthly lover, why Ted just wants the ring back so he can marry Kathy. Meanwhile, she occasionally turns back into a statue, for little good reason, so that both the police and the crooks ‘comically’ suspect Ted of having the priceless artifact.
Admittedly, such a rancid comic stew would ill serve to launch the career of even the most talented of thespians. However, the film’s main failing—which is saying something—remain Ms. White. First, to be quite blunt about it, she’d not an actress. Instead, with this she joins the ranks of other non-actors who have unwisely agreed to try their hands at the craft. These include singers (Tony Bennett, Madonna, Bob Dylan), athletes (Bruce Jenner), writers (Truman Capote, Jimmy Breslin) and even politicians (New York mayor John Lindsey). In the end, the best you can say for her is that she’s not overburdened by a surfeit of facial expressions.
Unfortunately, Ms. White’s absolute inability to act is melded with an extraordinary lack of charisma. If anything, she almost exerts an anti-charisma. This is, as you might suspect, an unfortunate attribute for someone playing a character who should by all rights be the very avatar of personal magnetism. Part of what was (genuinely, albeit inadvertently) funny was the way that Venus, the very Goddess of Love and Passion, should inspire so little initial reaction from Ted. He seems no more nervous or interested around her than he was with Debbie. In the end, Ms. White is what she is, a somewhat pretty and no doubt sweetly natured woman of Middle American extraction. You really couldn’t have chosen a worse person to play the otherworldly Goddess of Love if you tried.
- When Ted slips the ring on Venus’ finger, actors Naughton and Leisure have to execute a pretty unconvincing freeze pose as wind machines are turned on them, so as to indicate a mystical moment. To be fair, this is somewhat less funny than when they ended episodes of Police Squad in the same fashion.
- The film’s sole actually funny moment? Ted goes to the police to report the missing statue and ring. In a panic to recover the ring before Karen returns, he asks if there’s any chance they’ll find it by the following day. The desk sergeant, already rolling his eyes over Ted’s goofy story, sarcastically responds “Sure! All we have to do is wait for the statue to make a mistake. Littering, jaywalking, you name it. Then we arrest it and grab your ring!” Seriously, that’s the funniest part of the movie. OK, now maybe you see what I’ve been talking about.
- If you guessed that Phillip Baker Hall plays a no-nonsense, hardnosed cop, give yourself a cookie.
- Ted returns home to find Venus waiting for him. She proves her powers by rising up upon a platform, cleverly kept offscreen by having the camera focus on her upper half while she rises into the air; employing a supernatural wind machine to generate a breeze inside his house, and shattering a lamp with a cartoon ray from her finger (?), a feat she describes as ‘crushing’ it (??).
- Again showing while this role was seemingly almost designed to make Ms. White look as bad as possible, her dialog is, of course, that mock Shakespearian stuff that all ‘ancient’ characters in movies speak. This does not, let us say, work to her benefit. The whole film is like watching a high school play in which the lead role is played by a beloved but fascinatingly maladroit homecoming queen.
- After she turns back into a statue, for no reason, he spends the night trying frantically to get the ring off her. This hilarious gag begins with him trying to chisel it off. Then we fade to morning, whereupon the camera roams over a large variety of tools lying scattered across the floor. Komedy!!
- Ted helps Venus into his car, hoping that she will lose interest in him if she sees him at work. Stretching for a way to explain what his vehicle is, he says “it’s like a chariot.” I’ll bet you didn’t see that one coming.
- In case you ever bump into Venus, she really digs half-assed Duran Duran knock-off music.
- Before Ted can use his business place key, Venus uses a cartoon finger beam to pop open the door. Gadzooks! Is no feat beyond the eldritch abilities of the Daughter of Zeus?!
- Ted tells the strangely compliant Venus to assume her statue form. Then we get a montage of beauty shop stuff accompanied by bad generic ‘80s synth music. This is when we meet Alfonso, played by Little Richard. Gaak.
- Ted again tries to convince Venus that a lowly hair stylist is no fit consort for a goddess. “Not true, Ted. My friend Medusa could really use your help!” Sadly, that’s only the film’s 37th unfunniest punch line.
- Ted goes to the airport to pick up Kathy. “In no time, that ring will be living on your finger!” Ted tells her. That’s twice he’s said that now. Who has ever said that? Is this a reference to the ring bringing Venus to life? In any case, it’s really lame.
- Venus decides not to ‘crush’ Kathy, since “no mortal woman can compete with Venus.” Yeah, you’d think. I mean, you really would. Wouldn’t you?
- Things I Learned: If someone yanks your rearview mirror while you’re driving, you car will uncontrollably swerve to the side.
- Ted districts an amazed Venus by making up her face. Yes, because the ancient Greeks never knew anything of cosmetics.
- Jimmy finds Venus in Ted’s home, and ‘comically’ assumes the worst. Hi-larious.
- By the way, wouldn’t Ted just assume that he’d gone insane? Because he seems to be taking all this remarkably in stride.
- The fat crooks (fat guys are funny!) kidnap Ted. He agrees to give them the statue that night, and they let him go. Whatever.
- Venus awakens from her statue form, and decides to vamp up in order to get Ted’s attention. (This involves hiking her toga up to show more leg.) I guess the fact that she’s, you know, Venus isn’t getting the job done.
- Venus borrows Ted’s car, proving that even Olympian females aren’t very good drivers. She proves a quick learner, however, and is soon cruising around to a bad pop tune.
- I don’t know, what’s the point of being Venus if you can’t even get some free petrol from a gas station attendant?
- Of course, this ends up in the obligatory, post-Pretty Woman shopping spree scene. (Using Ted’s credit card, in case you’re wondering.) And I realize that this is Los Angeles, but wouldn’t somebody bat an eye at the toga?
- Armed with new togs and all the accessories, Venus heads out. But not before she zaps a woman’s cigarette. Even the gods don’t like second hand smoke, I guess.
- At a pizza shop, she hilarious buys half a dozen pies. Oh, those gods!
- You guys wouldn’t mind if I skipped the last half hour, would you? You would? You unmitigated bastards.
- Ted goes to lunch with Kathy. Is he beginning to lose interest in her? Do I care?
- Kathy is, I must admit, surprisingly non-bitchy. Perhaps the climax involves Venus abandoning her claim on Ted when she sees that he really loves his fiancÃˆe, only to be told that Zeus that this means that she has finally learned the meaning of Love. Or something like that.
- Venus gets mad at the mudpack Alfonso puts on her and destroys the salon. Given the obviously shoestring budget, this all occurs offscreen, of course.
- In a comic highlight—for this movie, anyway—Venus ends up in a bar, pouring out her trouble to a sympathetic barkeep.
- Jimmy sees Venus turn to her statue form, and also is but mildly amazed.
- The comedy continues when Jimmy dons a frizzy blond wig, in order to…oh, never mind. So, so tired. Then he and Ted leave Ted’s house.
- The fat crooks (fat guys, actually, aren’t always funny) enter the house to grab the statue. Cue Venus’ cartoon energy beam wrath. This leaves them with black faces, like when a bomb explodes in Yosemite Sam’s hands.
- Things I Learned: Greek Goddesses played by Vanna White should not attempt comic Southern accents.
- Venus finally tells Ted of what will happen to her if she fails to win his love. After this, things finally get steamy between them. Damn, I really didn’t need to see that, even if it’s ‘80s network TV movie steamy.
- All the various wacky subplots converge as we approach Ted and Kathy’s wedding. If I ever bought the idea that Venus would leave Ted in peace, it disappeared completely once Ted decided to have sex with her.
- Things I Learned: Finding a jeweler late at night to reproduce by the following morning a ring from a photograph is surprisingly easy.
- Cue Xanadu cartoon effects as Venus crashes the wedding. At this point I was really hoping Venus would just destroy Ted, since he frankly deserves it. Instead, Ted finally confirms his love for Kathy. Venus begins to rain destruction down upon them. However, she can’t, because she’s finally learned what love means. She believes this means her doom, but Zeus instead rewards her for her newfound knowledge by releasing her from the curse. Man, who could have seen that twist coming?
- Ha, ha. Fooled you. Nope, Zeus returns here to ‘stone,’ but admits that perhaps she deserves another chance. That’s right, they were setting up a sequel. Luckily, we mortals were spared this dire fate.
‘Smart’ Thief, recoiling from touching the statue: “It’s cold!” ‘Zany’ Thief: “So what? So’s my ex-wife!!”
‘Smart’ Thief, talking to the statue: “By this time tomorrow night, you’ll be on your way to South America.” ‘Zany’ Thief: “I hope she likes papayas!”
The manager of the dance club returns to the gardens with Ted, who is shocked to find the statue gone. Manager, sarcastically: “So, the statue walked out on you. Maybe you should try a different cologne!”
Ted responds to an offer of eternal life: “Eternity sounds great, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that it takes up so much of your time.”
Ted tries to convince Venus to let him be. Ted: “There must be a thousand gods after a girl like you!” Venus: “Alas, no. The good ones are either wed, or have…other pursuits.” Ted: “Really? I guess some things never change!”
Venus looks around the hair salon. Venus: “What is this? This place looks like a torture chamber!” Ted: “It depends whose chair you’re on!”
Ted prepares to leave after doing the deed with Venus: Ted: “Whatever you do, don’t leave the house. There’s plenty of food in the fridge.” Venus: “I am not here for your cold roast chicken. I am here for your love.”
Goddess of Love was just recently released on a cheap DVD by Universal. I think I paid five bucks for it. This is eminently good news for schlock fans, as it indicates the major studios are beginning to offer up real obscure junk to grab a piece of that bargain bin DVD business at places like Walmart and Walgreen’s. (Also, discs by the major studios promise more reliable quality that those of public domain houses like Alpha.) I and other, including Liz of And You Call Yourself a Scientist!, have long held that the last vast, untapped treasure trove of awful movies are to be found among the thousands of made-for-TV movies churned out by the big three networks from the late ‘60s to the present day, especially stuff from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Many of these were failed TV series pilots, although this one wasn’t. In any case, I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of this stuff.
By the way, those looking for a neat double bill of junk could do worse than teaming this up with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic Hercules in New York, aka, Hercules Goes Bananas. Make sure to get the DVD, which allows you to here the newly arrived bodybuilder’s horrible attempts at English, which were redubbed by another actor for the theatrical release. Then you can hold a spirited debate over whose performance as a Greek god was worse, Arnold’s or Vanna’s. Plus, you can see Arnold wrestle a guy in a really, really bad bear suit.
Summary: Goddess of Bad Acting.