John Russo, Charles Rutledge & Arthur Brodsky
Created by Peter Bogdanovich

Leon: "I don't know what I'm going to do."
Russo: "Who does?"

A sleepy-eyed Ben Gazzara stars as New York eye JOHN RUSSO in Peter Bogdanovich's frothy romance They All Laughed (1981), an ode to romance, New York City, voyeurisim and would-be actress/Playboy centrefold Dorothy Stratten, with whom Bogdanovich was involved at the time

The film stars John Ritter and Blaine Novak as Russo's fellow detectives, as well as Audrey Hepburn, Patti Hansen and of course Stratten herself. It's all set against a late seventies/early eighties-era New York City backdrop full of yellow cabs, discos, restaurants and roller skating rinks.

Russo and his team are charged with following two different women for their respective husbands. Hepburn, always, classy, plays the wife of a wealthy, workaholic international businessman, and Stratten plays a blandly attractive young wife who may -- or may not -- be having an affair with her next door neighbour. Meanwhile, Colleen Camp is an country singer with a braying motormouth who had a brief affair with Russo.

There's a lot of surveillance and tailing of the two women all over Manhattan, but it mostly serves as an excuse for several mildly amusing incidents, lots of chances for various combinations of dicks and janes to "meet cute" and, of course, romantic complications. So make no mistake -- despite the constant presence of at least one member or another of Leon Leondopolous' Odyssey Detective Agency ("We Never Sleep") in almost every shot, it's definitely a stretch to call this a typical private eye film.

And let's face it: these guys are, as one character puts it, simply "lousy detectives. Couldn't follow an elephant up 5th. Girls slip through their fingers like sand."

Fortunately, there's no real crime at all for these klutzes to uncover except perhaps adultery and a script that doesn't really go anywhere. And so, by default, this mess becomes character driven. Which may be its saving grace. The characters have little to do but traipse all over the city, mostly looking bewildered, exasperated or love-struck, but they're likable and interesting enough that patient viewers may linger, waiting for something to happen.

Russo's the old pro, a divorced dad with a smooth line of patter for the ladies and two annoyingly precocious young daughters (all the children in this film are annoyingly precocious). Ritter, as Rutledge, is a bumbling, bookish nerd with his heart on his sleeve doing a slightly toned down version of his usual TV slapstick schtick (he's intentionally supposed to recall a young Bogdanovich), and Brodsky's a cocky hippie dude with an affinity for roller skates, women and pot. Of the women, only Patti Hansen (the sole non-actor in the cast, soon to be Mrs. Keith Richards) as Sam, a tomboyish cabbie straight out of the old pulps who flits in and out of the action, shows any sparkle at all, and she seems mostly bemused at just being in the picture.

Some movie fans contend that this is an unheralded masterpiece from Bogdanovich's "lost years," a heartfelt Valentine to Stratten and New York City; a skillful, magically-entertaining romance screwball comedy with amazing location filming and great performances from the ensemble cast.

But many saw it as a real turkey, with very little plot and even less point; a flawed, self-indulgent, self-consciously quirky, awkward piece of fluff whose only real purpose was to make Stratten a star. It didn't, although the point soon became tragically moot when Stratten was murdered by her jealous husband just prior to the film's release.

That murder turned the film toxic, and no distributor would touch it. Even now, certain plot contrivances make for uncomfortable viewing. After all, Statten herself had been followed by a private detective hired by her husband, and there's a palm reading sequence in which Ritter tells Stratten's character that her marriage will end suddenly. She then asks if she has much time left.Intended as a love letter to film, love, New York City, and especially his then-partner Dorothy Stratten, Bogdanovich's delicate trifle was spoiled by Stratten's murder at the hands of her jealous husband. (Bob Fosse chronicled that fatal relationship with queasy intensity in Star 80

When no distributor would release the film, Bogdanovich took it on the chin and released it himself, the ultimate hopeless romantic gesture.

He lost his shirt.

For a more successful attempt to meld the P.I. film and screwball comedy while addressing the vagaries of love, try out Alan Rudolph's Love at Large (1990).

FILM

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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