Directed By: Bruce Bilson
Starring: Edward Herrmann, Barbara Harris, Susan Clark
Tag line: "What these ladies do to the mob is highly irregular!"
Trivia: This movie was released as Hill's Angels in the UK
In the late ‘70s, Disney live-action movies were all the rage, and my friends and I spent a lot of time talking about our favorites. One friend was blown away by Return to Witch Mountain, the sequel to 1975’s Escape from Witch Mountain, while another sang the praises of The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (an entertaining flick) and Unidentified Flying Oddball. As for me, I loved both The Black Hole (a sci-fi / adventure that was also Disney’s attempt to cash in on the Star Wars craze) and this film, 1979’s The North Avenue Irregulars, a comedy about a group of church ladies who decide to take on the mob.
Rev. Michael Hill (Edward Herrmann), the newly-appointed minister of the North Avenue Presbyterian church, declares war on illegal gambling when Delaney (Douglas Fowley), one of his parishioners, bets (and loses) $1,200 of the church’s money on a horse race. Before long, Rev. Hill is approached by two U.S. Treasury Agents: Marv (Michael Constantine) and Tom (Steve Franken), who ask for his help in recruiting a few local men willing to gather evidence against the gamblers. Fearing reprisals, not a single guy signs up, so Rev. Hill instead turns to five parish women: Jane (Karen Valentine); Vickie (Barbara Harris); Claire (Cloris Leachman); Rose (Patsy Kelly); and Cleo (Virginia Capers), all of whom are only too happy to assist. Even the church’s longtime secretary Anne (Susan Clark), who initially advised Rev. Hill not to get involved, joins up when the mob starts fighting back.
What makes The North Avenue Irregulars such a fun movie is its cast of characters. When he’s not fighting crime, Edward Herrmann’s Rev. Hill is both a loving father to his two kids (played by Linda Lee Lyons and Damon Bradley Raskin) and a forward-thinking minister who recruits a rock group (the stereotypically 70’s band, Strawberry Shortcake) to accompany the choir during services. As for the “Irregulars”, the standouts are Cloris Leachman as the prim and proper Claire, a woman with very long fingernails who has a bit of a crush on Rev. Hill; and Barbara Harris’s Vickie, a ditzy housewife who brings her kids, as well as the family dog, along on stakeouts. Also quite funny is Michael Constantine’s Marv, the Treasury Agent whose frustration soon gets the better of him (Her first time out, Jane identifies one of the mob’s bag men and begins to follow him. Using a CB radio, Marv, who set up headquarters in a motel room, asks Jane what direction the bag man is traveling in, to which she replies “He’s heading towards that new boutique”).
Back in ‘79, my father took my brother and me to see The North Avenue Irregulars, and as I recall, the entire theater (which, by the way, was jam-packed) had a great time watching it. Goofy enough for kids and with plenty of action to satisfy adults, The North Avenue Irregulars offers a little something for everyone.