Okay, we’ll start with a short intro for the newcomers: As implied by the phrase, “made for tv movies” are films that were created to be shown exclusively on television as opposed to having a run in theaters. Though they started in the mid-60s and continued on well into the 2000s, they were at their height in the 70s and 80s, and that is where this column will mostly focus. Of course, this type of movie lives on today as direct-to-video, direct-to-cable or streaming movies. For more background, be sure to check out this introductory post, but for now let’s move on, shall we?
I knew I was all-in on Evil Roy Slade as soon as the opening narration began. Now, I know that many of you out there are too young to remember the TV show Green Acres which starred Eddie Albert and Zsa Zsa Gabor as two New York city slickers who move to a farm in the small town of Hooterville (and no, we’re not even going to comment on that) only to find that the town is full of zany characters such as the slick-talking double-dealing always on the lookout to make a sale Mr. Haney, portrayed by the wonderful Pat Buttram.
Ah, what the heck… let’s go ahead and take a look at Mr. Haney in action:
Anyway, as I was saying, as soon as Mr Buttram’s voice came on as the narrator, I knew I was in for some fun.
And when it turned out that the story he was telling was that of a small child who was the lone survivor of a stagecoach raid who was subsequently abandoned not only by the Native Americans who initiated the raid, but also by a couple of wolves who chanced upon him but ran off scared, and that subsequently that boy grew up to be Gomez Addams in a diaper, well… yeah, obviously this was going to be a fun time.
It’s obvious why the great John Astin was called upon for the title role in Evil Roy Slade. I said earlier that the boy grew up to be Gomez Addams, and that’s not just because of the actor portraying him. Just like Gomez (and the rest of his family), Slade takes an obvious delight in being the outsider, in being different, and in being true to his inner self, no matter how odd everyone around him may find him to be.
It’s quite telling that at one point in the movie when Slade is thinking about changing his name and starting a new life, the options he comes up with are “Evil Jake Ferguson”, “Evil Fred Noland” and “Evil Lee Rich” before giving up and just continuing to use his real name.
In a lot of ways, Evil Roy Slade could easily be seen as being in the mold of Blazing Saddles or Airplane in that it’s a mile-a-minute, throw everything out there and something will make them laugh comedy, but at the same time, since it was made for television, it’s humor is more restrained, and at times, honestly quite corny. Nonetheless, there are definite laughs to be found even in little bit of schtick, such as when Slade is at a formal dinner party and he spots a cello player and he pulls out his gun and tells the cellist “Take that big fiddle out from between your legs. There are ladies present.” The cellist tries to respond, but Slade becomes even more threatening and says “I don’t want no trouble, you just tuck it up under your chin, like a fiddle’s supposed to be played… now!” And the cellist certainly gives it a try.
Perhaps the funniest scene in the movie involves Slade’s visit to a therapist played by Dom DeLuise who feels like he is making progress with Slade and eventually tries to convince him that he can walk without wearing his guns. Of course, as soonas he has divested himself of his last weapon (a grenade that he pulls from I’m-not exactly sure where), Slade’s legs turn to rubber and he falls to the ground and he can’t even stand up until the doctor insults him enough that Slade charges him. Part of what makes this scene so great is that it gives Astin a chance to show his physical comedy chops, something he was not often given a chance to do.
I mentioned that Dom DeLuise plays the psychiatrist, and the movie is chock-full of supporting turns by major (or at least semi-major) comedy stars of the era. Milton Berle shows up as Slade’s potential Uncle-in-law, Henry Gibson is the dimwitted son of Slade’s main antagonist in the movie, a train baron played, in perhaps the movies only truly miscast role by Mickey Rooney who is fine, but doesn’t quite seem to get the movie that he’s in. Edie Adams is amusing as Slade’s former girlfriend Flossie (who keeps getting her name mispronounced), and the somewhat underrated Pamela Austin is quite good here as Slade’s love-interest.
There are also early cameos by Penny Mashall as a bank teller, Ed Begley Jr, and a very young John Ritter as a priest who freaks out after being called in to hear Slade’s confession.
I do feel obliged to mention that, like a lot of the movies of the time, there are a number of jokes and racial portrayals (and jokes about “funny boys” and “midgets”) that will seem at best insensitive and at worst offensive by today’s standards, but once again, I’m simply going to say that “it was a different time”. No, that’s not to excuse them, but simply to acknowledge that they are there, and your reactions to them may differ.
(Though I will acknowledge that even I’m not quite sure how to react to Pat Morita’s comic turn as an Eastern Indian servant except to say that it was very confusing, especially considering his ever-changing accent.)
(And, at the same time, one of the more offensive “little people” scenes does have the payoff of seeing Astin tricked into riding into town on a Shetland pony, so… as I said, your mileage may vary.)
Of course, one of the reasons that Evil Roy Slade turns out asfunny as it does is that it was co-written by Garry Marshall who was a writer on the Dick Van Dyke Show and went on to create Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, The Odd Couple TV series, and Mork and Mindy. (Of course, he also was behind Joanie Loves Chachi, but hey, pobody’s nerfect. It was also directed by Jerry Paris, who was Dick’s neighbor Jerry on The DickVan Dyke Show.
So, is Evil Roy Slade a timeless classic? No. But is it highly entertaining and at times laugh-out-loud funny? Yes. I definitely say give it a look.
No real trailer for this one, so instead I think I’ll give you that opening narration and the theme song, which will give you a pretty good feel as to whether it’s right for you.