Friday, 2 October 2009

299: The Choirboys 1977

The Choir Boys
Screenplay by Christopher Knopf, adapted from the novel by Joseph Wambaugh
Directed by Robert Aldrich

I thought a productive police-comedy-with-gay-content contrast to “Barney Miller” would be the 1977 film “The Choirboys”. But it proved to be even more appropriate than I could have imagined.
Foremost “The Choirboys” is a slack-sphinctered gusset-dribble of a film. Before we even take into account the gay content, this supposed comedy is as amusing as discovering that your wallet has been stolen and the thief has slipped a turd into your pocket. It really is absolute, unmitigated diarrhoea on celluloid. Anyway, enough of the shit analogies – I’m sure you get the idea.
The film covers all the hilarious hi-jinks a Los Angeles police squad use to let off pressure. Squalid frat pranks, by people in authority, indulging their worst nature is a better description. There are some hints of the “Police Academy” series of films in this, but really, it’s probably the unacknowledged progenitor of all those early ‘80s frat-boy flicks, such as “Meatballs”, “Porkies”, et sodding cetera. But pranks which are supposed to be funny when undertaken by horny teens who know no better, are deeply unpleasant when perpetrated by flabby, washed-up immature, sniggering louts in their forties and fifties. There is probably some deeper truth, that men in their forties and fifties would dearly love to behave like stupid teens, but this film barely manages to rise to the level of crass. Sexual humiliation of various types plays a large part and so gibes based on stupid homosexual stereotypes and anxiety about gay men are as natural as breathing
It is a casually macho world in which homosexuals are “fruits” and “faggots” and “cocksuckers”.

A scene about police entrapment for cottaging is probably a new one at this time. It’s a prank going more and more wrong as each cop thinks that the other in this public restroom is a homosexual on the prowl. So you get a wind-up, and that it results in a scene of actual assault only demonstrates the confused tone which makes this film so unpleasant.
It’s hard what to make of the old guy pretending to be gay. Spinning around on tip-toe singing “I’ve got a crush on you...sweetie-pie” in falsetto then blowing a kiss, and then simpering ostentatiously and lasciviously. If you want to be generous, then it’s funny because it’s so wide of the mark of what a homosexual actually is, let alone the mechanisms of a toilet pick-up. But that is to credit the film with a greater sense of irony than it possesses. I suspect, and you’ll probably agree, that it’s supposed to be funny because it’s a burly guy playing a fairy. Objectionable too, is the suggestion that being gay is like being a cripple.

It’s the notorious homosexual with pink poodle scene.
A trouserless cop has been handcuffed to a tree in the middle of a park at night by other cops, and is discovered by a nocturnal homosexual walking his poodle. The poodle is there, and pink to boot, so that before the gay character even opens his mouth the audience will know from the pet, and the leash held on a very high but limp wrist, precisely what he is. And look who’s playing the homosexual Luthor Quigley. It’s Jack De Leon, fresh from playing Marty Morrison in “Barner Miller”. See, it’s all synchronicity. Or lazy casting. Maybe both.
Unfortunately Jack De Leon acquits himself terribly here. He’s not helped by some atrociously written lines, so unnatural as to defy performance. “My God! A naked perssson!” “I can’t believe it! A naked man...tied to a’s a crazy, mad, salacious fantasy” in a coyly disbelieving manner. The joke of the scene is the embarrassment of the cop being found in a compromising position in public by a gay man. But De Leon’s performance is weak and simpering, like some inept breathless southern belle (a fact played up by the romantic soundtrack) constantly clasping his hand to his head. From one shot to the next Quigley doesn’t make sense. It’s just funny to see cops discomforted and angered by the presence of homosexuals. Let alone being hit on when vulnerable.
When subjected to a litany of threats by the restrained cop, De Leon’s camp response of “You’ll do that for me” makes no sense. It’s neither fearful, sarcastic, nor even masochistically appreciative. Also this sort of homosexual wandering around a park late at night doesn’t make much sense either. I suppose the suggestion is that he may be cruising, but an actual cruising sexual homosexual would probably be too much and so the film gives us this fey, leering alien from another world. It’s the same sort of problem reconciling stereotypes to be found in Harvey Kurtzman’s “Annie Fanny” cartoon. .
Of course, the barrage of homophobic abuse in this scene hasn’t helped to endear this film to gay audiences either.

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