Sonny & Cher are the Squares Beyond Compare in Their Musical Movie Debut.
DIRECTED BY WILLIAM FRIEDKIN/1967
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: SEPTEMBER 25, 2018/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
Here we have Sonny Bono and Cher, playing themselves at the peak of their fame. While it’s overstating things to call the innocuous 1967 musical Good Times “plotless” or “shapeless”, those descriptors get one three-quarters of the way there. Born in the youth-culture wave of the Decade of Love, this is the ubiquitous singing lovebirds’ first shot at their own A Hard Day’s Night.
In this movie, against Cher’s wishes, Sonny arranges for them to star in their very own movie. The only problem is, no one knows what it should be. No one, that is, except for the devilish mogul named Mordicus (George Sanders) who’s signed them, and now is insistent that they make a lousy hillbilly flick called “Rags to Riches”. They hate it, and as such, are given a measly ten days to come up with a worthy alternative. It’s all but impossible to say whether it’s intentional or not, but Sonny and Cher spend the entirety of this happily stupid movie trying happily not to make a stupid movie. Most of Good Times, then, is Sonny’s imagined possible alternative scenarios. “What if I played a private eye…!” (Cut to kooky private eye sequence). “What if I starred as king of the jungle??” (Dissolve to a silly Tarzan spoof).
Hippies and flower children might not have gone all in for this feature length song and dance in counter culture clothing, but it sure is something that they could enjoy with their parents and grandparents.
While Cher spends her scenes sketching swingin’ new fashions for herself, Sonny takes center stage as the mover and shaker of the duo. One comes away from Good Times with a heightened opinion of him, as he freely puts himself out there as a dunce, a goof, and a laughing stock, before finally pulling it together to face down the money-hungry Mordicus. One needn’t look too closely to see the fire in Sonny’s eyes as he strides towards the villain’s office to finally tell him off. Music’s most likable milquetoast finds his spine- and a satisfying ending to this movie.
A very young and fresh faced William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist) makes his theatrical directing debut with Good Times, resulting in a considerably more satisfying final result than one may assume a 1967 Sonny & Cher movie would yield. Though not known for his musical acumen, under Friedkin’s direction, a dopey Western parody in which a comically ineffectual sheriff Sonny gives way to a surprisingly accomplished full-blown saloon musical number- complete with wild choreography, ruffling of skirts, and plenty of tap dancing on the bar. Songs featured in the film are “It’s the Little Things”, “Don’t Talk to Strangers”, “Trust Me”, “Good Times”, “Just a Name”, and of course “I Got You Babe”, though in a less familiar, stripped down version.
It’s all a piece of this meta-lite showbiz vehicle, a project that is rather transparently about the real life question mark of what Good Times ought to be about. In that way, this small-time studio (Columbia Pictures) vehicle finds itself in the unlikely company of something as vital as Fellini’s 8 1/2. While not at all the transgressive confessional landmark of that four-years-earlier work, Good Times nonetheless wears its all-audiences squareness and aw-shucks showmanship unapologetically out front. Hippies and flower children might not have gone all in for this feature length song and dance in counter culture clothing, but it sure is something that they could enjoy with their parents and grandparents.
No fan of Cher, Sonny, Friedkin, or odd cultural curios will be quite happy with this new Blu-ray edition from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. A burst of pop-art color and happenin’ tunes, it’s highly likely that Good Times hasn’t looked and sounded this swell in over fifty years, if ever. Beyond that, though, William Friedkin himself is on hand as he fondly recalls being given the opportunity to direct what was at that point a to-be-determined Sonny & Cher movie. In the newly recorded video interview, the director recalls his friendship with Cher and particularly with Sonny, whom he claims to have remained close with until the star-turned-congressman’s untimely death in 1998.
Additionally, film historian Lee Gambin gives a lightning-zapped fifteen-Red Bull commentary track; an enthusiastic whirling dervish of contextualization and happy detours. Gambin is running circles around the film itself, which, it’s safe to say, is never this busy or multi-focused. But for those looking for a verbal celebration of all things Good Times, as well as any tangential associations that occurred to our commentator at the time, Gambin’s track should be a true selling point.
For someone less than familiar with the unlikely phenomenon of entertainers Sonny & Cher, Good Times is an easy entry point to greater understanding of their fading corner of the 1960s. It’s a corner that prioritizes fashion and wholesome showmanship over the hippie values it only outwardly wears, it’s true. But that doesn’t render Good Times hypocritical so much as a simple sheep in sheep’s clothing; a tale with a quaint little moral stemming from a man who learns to put himself aside.
But mostly, it’s Sonny & Cher looking right into camera at us, smiling, and singing their blessed corny hearts out.
The images used in this review are used only as a reference to the film and do not reflect the image quality of the Blu-ray.