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Well, I just watched "The Love God?" on DVD, part of a 2 DVD, 4 movie set called "The Reluctant Hero" Set. In addition to "The Love God?", "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken", "The Reluctant Astronaut" and "The Shakiest Gun in the West" are also included in the set.
I had never seen "The Reluctant Astronaut" or "The Love God?" before now, the other two movies having been shown on TV many times as I was growing up. I can see why "The Reluctant Astronaut" has been shown little, if at all. Very clumsy movie, the kind of Jerry Lewis farce the French drool over, without Lewis. "Ghost and Mr Chicken" and "Shakiest Gun" are two decent examples of why Knotts could carry a movie well, even though his whole career has been almost 50 years of playing Barney Fife.
"The Love God?" is different. The tone is more Rock Hudson/Doris Day sex farce, almost as though the script were written for them, but Day passed because it was a little TOO sexy for her or something. Knotts plays his standard milquetoast Walter-Mitty type character, Abner Audubon Peacock, the publisher of a defunct birdwatching magazine in a small town. Due to circumstances beyond his control, he ends up the figurehead publisher of a tawdry (by 60s standards) skin mag. Brought to trial on obscenity charges (the "Apple Dumpling Gang" this ain't), his good name is being smeared all over the trial (by both the prosecutor AND the defense), to the titillation of the repressed, mostly middle aged female spectators in the court.
Anne Francis plays a manipulative rival magazine publisher who goes to work for Peacock with plans to build him up into a media Sex Symbol. He's surrounded by women who would make Derek Flint drool (Peacock's Pussycats), given a swinging bachelor pad a la Austin Powers, and almost forgets he's supposed to marry his childhood sweetheart back home, played patiently and sweetly by Maggie Peterson.
James Gregory (that annoying LT in "Barney Miller") has a GREAT time in his role as Abner's defense attorney, a man less concerned with libeling his own client than in seeing himself on the News. Only when Abner threatens to tell everyone he only wants to publish his little Bird Magazine does Gregory actually even look at him (and that only happens after Peacock is found Not Guilty). Gregory spent the trial condemning Peacock's life, his character and his patriotism (remember this is Peacock's defense attorney), all because Peacock publishes smut. When Abner, in an effort to clear his good name, decides to hold a press conference and tell everyone he's just interested in publishing a bird magazine, Gregory almost BEGS him to continue to publish the smut for which he was so reviled in the courtroom.
The plot is direct, but there are a lot of extraneous subplots whirling around. Francis' role is especially confusing. One scene has her firing some of the Pussycats out of jealousy over Abner (truly!), the next scene she's conniving with the magazine's silent partner/mob boss to keep Abner a completely duped, completely manipulated, completely contrived "sex symbol" so the magazine he supposedly publishes will continue selling out every month, then she's drugging him, pretending to spend the night with him, in order to stop Abner from admitting to the world he's never been with a woman before. Also, this is a bit edgier of a role for Knotts, who actually gets to right hook the mob boss once, and even knocks his fiancée on HER butt and out cold, as the mob boss is about to shoot them all and she won't leave Abner's side. Of course, this being a movie from the 60s, when she comes to, she looks at Abner adoringly, no thoughts of removing his genitalia on their wedding night apparent from her expression. She looks almost enraptured. Of course, these days, this type of behavior would never be allowed, and even considering the times, the sight of Don Knotts tagging a woman on the chin with his fist is pretty jarring.
The subtext of this movie is pretty plain: In this media-driven world, ANYONE can be made to look desirable, wanted, cool, what have you. I wonder what Nat Hiken (writer/director) thinks now when he watches "The Swan" or "Extreme Makeover" or some of these other blatantly "You're Not Good Enough" shows. Does he feel his film was somehow prescient, that he foresaw the inevitable extreme we all now take for granted every night on our TVs?
No, of course he doesn't. Nat Hiken died before this movie was released. The only other thing I can say, is do NOT judge this movie the way you judge other Don Knotts movies. I believe you will come away from viewing this movie thinking "This is the first movie starring Don Knotts which wasn't actually written with Knotts in mind."
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