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DVD Paused: SCAVENGER HUNT (1979)

April 1, 2008

This is the first of a series of articles about movies that are not available on DVD, but should be. I won’t go into why the title under discussion isn’t available. It usually turns out that the reason the title is not available is that either the film itself is beyond restoration, or somebody involved with the film, usually someone with a LOT of influence does not want the movie to see the light of day ever again.

The first of these titles is SCAVENGER HUNT (1979). This movie starred Vincent Price as an eccentric, but brilliant games inventor named Milton Parker ( games fanatics will already get this particular joke). When Parker dies, his relatives descend on the mansion, expecting to hear Parker’s last will and testament. And what relatives they are. It’s a who’s who of famous faces of the 1970’s and 1980’s and beyond. Chief among them is Cloris Leachman as Mildred Cruthers, supposedly Milton Parker’s closest relative, and the one who feels that she, her son Georgie (Richard Masur) and their lawyer played by Richard Benjamin deserve the lion’s share of the inheritance. There’s also the Motley family headed by Tony Randall, the Stevens brothers (Dirk Benedict and Willie Aames), the domestic help (James Coco, Roddy MacDowall, Cleavon Little, and Stephanie Faracy), and the aptly named Marvin Dummitz (Richard Mulligan of TV’s EMPTY NEST), as a clueless cab driver. All of these people have some legitimate claim to a piece of the inheritance.

Unfortunately for the Cruthers family, getting the lion’s share of the Parker estate will not be so easy. Parker tells them via tape recording that the one who gets the inheritance is the one who wins the scavenger hunt he devised in the event of his death. There are only two rules: The hunt ends at 6PM, and NONE of the items can be purchased. Other than that, ANYTHING goes. This leads to one hilarious situation after another. For example, Dummitz has to get his hands on a wedding dress. So, he gets one the only way he can think of. You just have to see it to appreciate it. Meanwhile, the domestic help removes a toilet from a hotel restroom without even knowing the first thing about plumbing. As if that weren’t enough, Babbette (Faracy) wants to keep the toilet as a mascot(!), NAMES it, and TALKS to it like a puppy!

The star power isn’t limited to the hunters. The Governator himself makes a cameo as a weight trainer who sets up the Motley family with a medicine ball. And then there’s an appearance by Meat Loaf as the not so peaceful leader of the Peace Corps, a motorcycle gang that doesn’t take kindly to having their motorcycles messed with by the Cruther’s lawyer. Scatman Crothers also joins the fun, as a security guard who teams up with cab driver Dummitz. Then there’s Avery Schreiber as a tormented zoo keeper, who keeps losing ostriches every time he turns around, in one of the movie’s funniest running jokes.

With all these crazy situations, and famous faces, it’s a real surprise that SCAVENGER HUNT is not available on DVD. That’s a real shame, because SCAVENGER HUNT is slapstick done right. These days, it seems that slapstick needs to involve shots below the belt, or gross out humor to try to be funny. SCAVENGER HUNT demonstrates time and time again that this type of humor isn’t necessary for slapstick 100% of the time. Even better, this movie meets one of my most critical benchmarks: the heart factor. SCAVENGER HUNT has tons of it, especially when the payoff comes at the end (and yes, there’s ANOTHER great visual joke to go along with it).

If you are fortunate enough to own a VHS copy of this movie, then God bless you. You have a real comedy gem in your posession. As for the rest of us, I guess we’ll just have to keep scavenging.

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