Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Enchantéd, Pt. V: Second Time Lucky

Enchantéd: A Retrospective Tribute to Diane Franklin

V. Second Time Lucky (1984)
(R, United International Pictures)
[ED: The following article has literally been ghostwritten by the spirit of John Bishop, who dictated this article to a close friend in the wake of an unanticipated heart attack after repeated viewings of both Summer Girl and Second Time Lucky. Until he has ailed enough to type the next article in this series, which is devoted to the movie that introduced him to Diane Franklin in the first place, all we have for now is this piece regarding the 1984 movie Second Time Lucky. Our best wishes go out to John and his closest friends and family...]

The overwhelming temptation with this review is to write about what every other person who has seen Second Time Lucky can only focus on, which is the slack-jawed, goo goo-eyed glory of watching Diane Franklin frolic about a New Zealand wilderness in the buff (and still managing to star in a PG-rated movie, at least in some territories). In all honesty, I can't deny the allure of such fanservice, myself, particularly because unlike the last two movies which displayed Diane's fantastic flesh, herein I can find only guiltless pleasure in the sight of a very beautiful, barenaked woman, the same one who stole my heart whilst keeping her clothes on (in Better Off Dead, natch), without the context fouling up my natural arousal.

Remember that in The Last American Virgin, Karen is twice stripped down in moments that are particularly unpleasant to watch. The first, of course, is her inevitable sexual encounter with the boorish Rick, which poor, lovesick Gary cannot effectively delay. The postmodern reading behind Gary's pursuit of Karen is that of a "stalker with a crush," and in this scene in particular, that description feels dangerously true. Although the viewer who actually believes in love would wish Gary had the fortitude to stand up for himself and for his feelings toward Karen, what if he did happen upon Karen and Rick making it in the press box? Very little he has done prior to that suggests a comfortable self-reliance in making his intentions clear. Chances are that if he caught them, he'd only be acting in the manner of a sad, teenage voyeur. The use of The Commodores' "Oh No" is another clue to the tragic futility of Gary’s adoration for Karen.

The second is Karen's stay at the abortion clinic, which the less said about it, the better. In both cases, Diane's nudity is deployed with proper context towards the downbeat story so that any deliberate ogling carries with it the sense of shame and sorrow.

Amityville II: The Possession, meanwhile, didn't linger as much on Diane's R-rated parts, framed primarily to showcase her body from the shoulders up and thus emphasizing natural facial expressions, a particularly poignant power Diane has as a performer, over gratuitous fanservice. The moments of more explicit nudity are fleeting and handled with more taste, which is surprising since Patricia Montelli doffs her nightgown to appease her evil-spirited brother Sonny and ends up getting violated in a particularly queasy fashion.

It took the network-aired MOW Summer Girl from 1983 to show some form of progress. This is the first movie in which Diane Franklin demonstrates sex appeal in a truly playful manner, rich with glamour, conviction and class. There are still a few notable implications, mainly in the first instances of calculated titillation used to ensnare Gavin/the viewer, first by having Cinni take her shirt off near an open window and then at the beach via her application of both water and lotion in a teasing manner. And that Cinni is the villain of the film does invite a correlation between her comfortable acceptance of her femininity and her impure schemes against the Shelburne household. Diane talks about this double-standard in her autobiography, but nevertheless she projects a mature attitude of seduction and is allowed a greater chance to become charismatic in her sensuality, not just merely desirable.

In Summer Girl, Cinni was a schizoid bombshell who slipped in and out of personalities to both give her an advantage and to demonstrate her instability. The Australian production Second Time Lucky is more generous towards Diane's character-oriented performance preferences, as she plays era-hopping variations on the Biblical persona of Eve all the way from the Book of Genesis to the New Wave, No Nukes modern world. Temptation is posited in several different period settings as Adam tries his best to resist in the name of both God and true love.

Yes, this is essentially a romantic farce which mines the classic Judeo-Christian fable of mankind’s fall from grace for erotic jokes and japes. The premise is that God in Heaven (Robert Morley) gets a collect call from his downstairs neighbor in Hades (Sir Robert Helpmann) challenging him to a "double or nothing" wager to see if man still has what it takes to uphold the saintliness and virtue of His image. Their pawns are two bespectacled college kids sitting aloof at a hedonistic frat party, conveniently named Adam and Evelyn and played with clear concessions towards the American teen market by Roger Wilson from Porky's and Diane Franklin from The Last American Virgin. It’s a typical meet-cute marathon session wherein hapless valedictorian Adam takes a tumble down the stairs and bumps into Evelyn, known by her friends as Eve, leading to a succession of toothy grins, wide eyes, and serendipitous sentence fragments. Of course, Adam accidentally stains Eve’s party dress and she unwittingly picks his room in which to change. And it’s expected that an elderly neighbor calls the police complaining of a disturbance of peace.

Adam doesn't predict the archangel Gabriel (John Gadsby), aka Gabby, to show up incognito as a motorbike cop and whisk him away to the Garden of Eden. Decreed as "the chosen one," the naïve Adam fails to catch on quickly in regards to what the setting dictates, and reluctant Gabby's vague instructions do him little service once Eve appears in a very familiar body, namely that of Evelyn. Adam plays along with the scenario as does Eve, who dutifully gets paid a visit by the snake, or merely Satan with a sock puppet, once she happens upon the Tree of Knowledge. The Devil dupes her into eating the apple, persuades her to offer one to Adam and, naturally, the first test is a smashing failure.

But God need not fear, as there's always a second time...and three more after that.

Gabby frequently reminds Adam of a certain "danger signal" involving a particular impulse that, if Adam had any cognizance (or the slightest history of arousal, despite protesting at one point that he feels like he’s been swindled into a skin flick), would immediately recognize. His second go takes place in ancient Rome during the Gallic war, wherein “Adameus” returns from battle to the cheers of Caesar (Lucifer) and his voluptuous vestal virgin fiancée Devia (Eve). She beckons Adameus to her nuptial bed and promptly seduces him into a stupor, allowing for Caesar to catch Adameus and sentence him to ignoble death in the Coliseum.

Round three is where the turnaround finally occurs, as Adam’s now an English soldier in WWI wounded by a bomb (a candle dropped down from on high by the frustrated Lord) and taken under the care of a comely French nurse (Eve). But she’s still the Devil's plaything, as Old Scratch resurfaces now as Wilhelm II and Eva is his top spy. They still get found out by the British army and Eva is placed on the firing line, where Adam realizes in the midst of a potential tryst that he's not supposed to give in to lust. But will his newfound freewill carry him through the rest of the tests, as he attempts to sway Eve into rediscovering her own immortal soul whilst the Devil thickly lays on the deceit?

Let's get this out of the way right now: Diane Franklin is really splendid in this movie. I mentioned that in Summer Girl, you could sense Diane’s growth as a creative, confident screen presence, building upon the promise of her first two film roles (I will leave Deadly Lessons alone, because that's the last movie I'd recommend to anyone who hasn't watched a single DF vehicle). With Second Time Lucky, Diane continues to prove herself an enchanting, relaxed actor of both boundless range and splendor. Seeing her as Devia in the Roman passage and as a gum-chewing blonde gangster moll named Evie in another Chicago-set vignette invites sincere comparisons to Liz Taylor and Jean Harlow, but Diane finds her own groove in every unique character and works wonderfully through vocal inflections and multiple body languages to make each personality dazzle.

Better Off Dead diehards (myself, included) should thrill to the revelation of watching Diane act with her first use of a French accent. The character of Eva is more than just a precursor to Monique Junet, though, especially in the direct sexiness Diane brings to this duplicitous nurse. Watching Eva come on to Adam in her cell provides the film its best moment of genuine steamy bliss, and when she taunts her executioners with a brazen flash of her breasts, accompanied by a snippet from "La Marseillaise," my own heart could do nothing except explode on the spot...just my luck.

The whole principal cast is encouraged to handle multiple personalities, including Franklin, Wilson, Gadsby, Helpmann, and John-Michael Howson as Satan's overeager emissary. Although not all of them rise to level of a Peter Sellers or Alec Guinness or Mel Brooks, they are occasionally fun to watch and do allow for some better appreciation of the performers. Wilson doesn't quite nail each Adam variant with the same finesse as Franklin (although he shares with her a sense of plucky humor: "Would you settle for demigod?" he concedes to a pompous Caesar), but gets better as he goes along. Although his injured English soldier looks very similar to Cary Elwes from The Princess Bride (he even says "As you wish" at one instance), Wilson's highlight remains his untouchable Prohibition copper Adam Smit in the film's funniest ("Is that what the chef recommends?"), most dramatic segment. Helpmann and Howson provide the movie more than its fair share of ham, camping it up recklessly in an attempt to make the film’s innuendo-laced dialogue sound more droll than it is on paper (Howson’s swishy Mark Antony surrogate communicates only in comically gay comebacks). The amiable Gadsby, meanwhile, is the brunt of some of the script’s most embarrassing dialogue (the "jolly roger" speech is a low) as Adam's hesitant celestial guide.

Would you believe this one-time Bo Derek vanity project was directed by Michael Anderson if I told you? Michael Anderson, Sr., the English journeyman who once scored the mother of all triple crowns in the 1950s with The Dam Busters and adaptations of both 1984 & Around the World in 80 Days, who later found cult esteem among genre fans for Logan's Run and Orca: The Killer Whale in the late 1970s? Anderson has an impeccable sense of scope and is one of the most generous directors any actress would seem fortunate to collaborate with. Even in a pan-and-scan DVD transfer that is regrettably murky and noisy at times, Second Time Lucky has production values of immense grandeur and a perky female lead who never stops brightening up the scenery. This is a pair of aces that desperately cries out for a full house of some serendipity that doesn't quite get dealt.

I will not chide the film for its predictability, as the opening makes it clear that Adam and Evelyn are preordained lovebirds meant for a duet, but the inconsistencies of the screenplay are tough to ignore. Begin with Adam, a real-life braniac whose commencement address hints at avoiding temptation but whose intelligence wavers between an understanding of God's will and a staggering density. He gets fooled close to three times until he knows exactly what the "danger signal" entails, which is kind of pathetic for a romantic lead let alone a young man of his age. Evelyn, too, betrays her own apparent smarts without explanation, which has the unwelcome hint of objectification despite the instinctive nuances Diane brings to the characters, who progressively develop a little more heart and soul with each passing reincarnation. Did Evelyn blindly agree to let the Devil possess her before she appears in Eden? I dunno, but at least there is no incest involved. Setting aside all manner of theological paradoxes, I'd rather just say that the love story element itself is rather contrived if ultimately cute and graced with some sweet chemistry.

Although it's not a trying experience if taken wholly as a lark, Second Time Lucky is scatterbrained and often too sophomoric for its own good, threatening to extinguish the honest sparks developing between Adam and Evelyn. Despite the best efforts of Roger Wilson and Diane Franklin, both of whom eclipse their prior libidinous glories as Mickey and Karen, one could easily forget there is supposed to be a love story by the time things wrap up with a sacrificial show of devotion spurned on by a cheater in the game. The greatest reward of watching this at least once (I don't suggest multiple times unless you're asking for an RSVP to '80s babe heaven the same way I did) is that Diane acquits herself very gracefully in preparation for the next entry in this series, one that offers up her most warming, lovable "babe" persona in the midst of a madcap suburban wonderland.

The Scorpion Releasing DVD release recycles the old 1.33:1 master from the antiquated Academy disc without much restoration, but Diane Franklin and veteran producer Tony Ginnane, a familiar voice from Scorpion's previous releases of The Day After Halloween and The Survivor, do allow for this edition to be truly special. They team up for an audio commentary and provide individual interviews, and Diane raids her photo book for some typically adorable behind-the-scenes stills. Ginnane continues to charm and inform in his native Australian brogue, but this is Diane's maiden voyage on bonus feature territory, and her hyperactive, super-enthusiastic personality is in full flight. Aside from referring to Evie as a "sexy dingbat" and continually marveling at the freedom of her performances repeatedly with a disarming sigh or cry of "oh my gosh," Diane also points out something not mentioned in her book: that Roger Wilson wrote and performed the song ("Radioactive Tears") which he uses to spit in the face of the Devil for the final segment.

Because of Franklin and Ginnane's participation, Second Time Lucky seems an apt description for this film’s American DVD release history.