So, now I’ve watched the film again, and did I laugh at the same spot as before? Actually, I did. Not as heavily as before, because I knew the gag, and knew it was coming, but at the moment it dropped I was as unprepared as before, and still had a good explosive laugh at it coming, and the sheer straightfacedness with which it was presented. It was one of only two points in the film that made me seriously laugh out loud.
And the name of this film? I told you you wouldn’t get it. It was A Very Brady Sequel.
To set out the background, The Brady Bunch was a very successful American sitcom, running from 1969 to 1974, which was not, to the best of my knowledge, shown in Britain. The set-up was that widower architect Mike Brady, bringing up three sons alone, married Carol (marital status left undefined because the Networks wouldn’t accept a female divorcee) who had three daughters. It was an old-fashioned domestic comedy series which was never a big hit at the time but has turned into a cultural institution in syndication.
In 1995, The Brady Bunch Movie appeared, one of a number of Sixties Sitcom revivals as films, and about the only one with any critical standing. Gary Cole (just before appearing as Sheriff Lucas Buck in American Gothic) starred as Mike Brady, with Shelley Long, ex-of Cheers, as Carol Brady. The film set itself up cleverly by portraying the entire Brady clan as still living in the Seventies whilst the world outside was taking place in the Nineties, and made its comedy out of the clash between the two cultures.
The film was big enough to spawn a nearly-as-successful sequel, which is what Mark and I watched that August Bank Holiday evening.
The peg behind this one is that it had never been made clear whether the former Carol Martin had been widowed or divorced. Now, with her Anniversary with Mike coming up, Carol gets a shock when a man turns up claiming to be her first husband, Roy Martin. The audience are in on the fact that he’s an imposter from the outset: he was actually Roy Martin’s assistant, who left Roy to die at sea after Roy sent Carol an important archeological find, a statue of a horse. ‘Roy’ plans to get his hands on it and sell it to Dr Whitehead, an antiques collector in Hawaii, for $20 million dollars.
So the main part of the film is the clash between ‘Roy’s underhandedness and crookedness and the Bradys’ naive decency. There’s a sub-plot about eldest boy and girl, Greg and Marcia, falling in love, and another about middle girl Jan’s jealousy of her elder sister, which leads her to make up a boyfriend called George Glass.
It’s all quite clever in a superficial way. I don’t have the original to compare with, but the gag is built upon the Bradys all being of their forgotten time. Everybody plays their roles with straight faces without once so much as hinting they’re in on the gag, which is the only way this can work, but that does make large parts of the film very one-note, and given that the note is that of a very bland sitcom, the joke wears thin quickly. Some scenes are just embarrassing, where your suspension of disbelief is put to impossible tests, and the odd dirty line, that is dirty only to the minds of contemporary audiences, tends to fall flat.
Mark and I would have been taking the piss out of this right royally.
But I did laugh out loud twice tonight. Once, and the biggest laugh for me, was when Mike Brady goes to the Police, and the Detective he speaks to is a cameo by Richard Belzer, playing our dear old John Munch from Homicide: Life on the Street.
But that wasn’t the big laugh. Let me set it up. We’re in the closing stages now. ‘Roy’ has stolen the horse statue, dragging Carol along as a hostage, and has got all the way to Dr Whitehead’s estate (John Hillerman, essentially playing Higgins from Magnum PI). But Whitehead won’t buy the statue now he’s heard from Carol what Trevor did to get it, cutting the little ship’s fuel-line, causing it to presumably sink. Whitehead’s son was on that boat, as it’s mate: Whitehead will never see his boy again, his boy Gilligan.
It was like a ton of bricks. The two of us howled, barely hearing Carol bemoan that she’ll never see her husband, the Professor, either. Yes, thanks to Trevor, the Minnow was lost.
I don’t know who came up with that idea but they were a freaking genius to do so. The gag is that Carol’s husband never came back because he was the Professor in Gilligan’s Island, a 1964-67 American sitcom that did get shown over here and that I used to love as a kid, but the idea of linking the two was just so left-field that the two of us were laughing at it for several minutes, and probably completely missed the bit where Carol, in her typically sunny way, speculated that maybe the Minnow crashed into some desert island and everybody survived, an idea that Whitehead dismissed as ridiculous, which is what a lot of people said about Gilligan’s Island, my parents probably included.
Of course, the whole idea was only made possible because Sherwood Schwartz, creator of The Brady Bunch, had also created Gilligan’s Island before it.
And yes, the way it’s dropped in, out of the blue, by Whitehead mentioning Gilligan, had me laughing again tonight. Not so hard, not so long, but just as unexpectedly.
The film did try to duplicate the effect at the very end, incidentally. Mike and Carol renew their vows, and she tosses her bouquet in the traditional manner. However, it goes over the heads of housekeeper Alice and her three daughters and is picked up by a blonde is harem pants, red top and blonde hair piled up above her head, that everyone old enough to recognise Gilligan will instantly recognise as Jeannie, a cameo by Barbara Eden, from I Dream of Jeannie (1965 -70). She’s looking for her husband… Mike Brady.
Whatever the flaws or failings of A Very Brady Sequel, may be, most of them deriving from the original I have to say, that one moment is genius of the highest water and I salute the film for it, from both 2000 and 2018.