Directed By: Steve Rash
Starring: Chevy Chase, Carrie Fisher, Eve Arden
Tag line: "Who knew so many little people would throw such a huge party?"
Trivia: This film marked the first time actress Zelda Rubinstein played a credited character in a movie
I’m guessing I was about 12 years old the last time I watched Under the Rainbow, and to be honest, I don’t think I saw the movie in its entirety back then. It’s a shame, too, because my 12-year-old self would have loved it (those scenes I did remember were the ones that made me laugh). As for my mid-40s self, he didn’t find Under the Rainbow all that amusing. In fact, it was a challenge for him to get through it.
The year is 1938, and Hollywood is gearing up for the production of a brand new motion picture titled The Wizard of Oz. Studio employee Annie Clark (Carrie Fisher) is tasked with keeping an eye on the 150 little people who will serve as extras in the film’s Munchkinland sequence, among whom is one Rollo Sweet (Cork Hubbert), who left Kansas behind to pursue his dream of becoming a Hollywood star. While Annie is rounding up the pint-sized actors and actresses at the train depot, her assistant, Homer (Peter Isacksen), is busy booking 150 rooms at the hotel situated across the street from the studio. But as the hotel’s temporary manager, Henry (Adam Arkin), will soon discover, finding room for all of his diminutive new guests is going to be the least of his worries.
Along with the Munchkinland extras, Henry and his staff, including house detective Tiny (Pat McCormick) and Bellhop Otis (Freeman King), will be entertaining a European Duke (Joseph Maher) and Duchess (Eve Arden), who, because of a possible assassination plot, are under the protection of CIA agent Bruce Thorpe (Chevy Chase). In addition, a bus carrying twenty Japanese tourists breaks down just outside the hotel, and all of them will needs rooms as well. The most sinister guest of all, though, is German spy / midget Otto Kriegling (Billy Barty), who has been ordered by Hitler himself to deliver a map (detailing U.S. defensive positions) to a Japanese secret agent (Mako), whose country is preparing for war.
Will the spies complete their mission? Will the assassin (Robert Donner) trailing the Duke and Duchess succeed? Will The Wizard of Oz ever get made? And exactly how much damage can 150 drunken little people do to a Hollywood hotel? These questions, and more besides, will be answered before Under the Rainbow’s final credits roll.
To kick things off with a few positives, I give director Steve Rash, as well as the film’s five writers (one of whom was co-star Pat McCormick), credit for keeping the various plotlines in order (the movie does a good job balancing a plethora of characters and side stories, and never once did I feel lost or confused). As for stars Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher, they emerge virtually unscathed, with each doing a decent enough job in their respective role; and the final scene, though admittedly a bit silly, did bring a smile to my face (this sequence was also a better nod to The Wizard of Oz than anything that went before it).
Where Under the Rainbow falls flat is in the humor department. Relying heavily on slapstick and a barrage of short jokes, the comedy is either too broad (the lone scene featuring Adolph Hitler, who’s played by Theodore Lehmann, ends with the Fuehrer getting an unexpected slap to the balls), too offensive (the bus carrying the Japanese tourists has a sign on it that reads “Japanese Amateur Photographic Society”, or “JAPS” for short), or both (the Duchess, whose nearly blind without her glasses, talks to one of the Munchkinland extras as if he’s a child, only to have him grab her breast before she walks away). As a result, I found myself cringing through most of Under the Rainbow, and not laughing at any of it.
Ultimately, Under the Rainbow is one of those films stuck in a sort of comedy limbo; the slapstick and childish shenanigans gear it towards a younger audience, but its steady stream of crude humor and sexual innuendo may prove too much for the kiddies to handle.
Your best bet, therefore, is to simply pass it by.