Nether Regions 12.14.10: Clarence
Posted by Chad Webb on 12.14.2010
Have you seen It’s a Wonderful Life? Well, you’re in for a treat. This is the 1990 spin-off featuring another adventure with Clarence, the angel that helped George Bailey. Enter if you dare…
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask, "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
Starring: Robert Carradine, Kate Trotter, and Richard Fitzpatrick Directed By: Eric Till Written By: Lorne Cameron and David Hoselton Running Time: 92 minutes Release Date: November 24, 1990 Missing Since: 1998 Existing Formats:VHS Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Very Rare
In 1946, It's a Wonderful Life, the story of George Bailey, was released to audiences everywhere. It disappointed at the box office and at the Oscars, mainly due to the William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives. As the decades have rolled along though, this classic has remained a staple of the Christmas spirit and of great cinema in general. It is funny, absorbing, and poignant. It can move just about anyone to tears. Over 40 years later, Republic Pictures decided it was time to revisit one of those characters. No, not George Bailey. We saw him hit his peak and logically it could have been all downhill from there. His brother Harry Bailey could have been the focus of his own movie, but alas, this spin-off is another adventure with Clarence Oddbody, the angel that helped George get back on track.
Robert Carradine looks up and prays even though he's already in Heaven
One has to wonder why, after so many years, they decided to resurrect this particular character, or why they couldn't think of a better title than Clarence. How about It's a Tolerable Life? It has a nice ring to it. Henry Travers was the seasoned performer that portrayed Clarence in 1946, so who better to fill those shoes than Robert Carradine? People were banging down his door to pick up projects during that tense limbo period between Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise and Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation. They perplexingly try to explain why Clarence is younger by saying the more successful assignments the angel completes, the more youthful they become. However, they also say that even though Clarence helped George Bailey, he messed up the one after that and has refused every assignment since. So if we're doing the math, in just aiding George, Clarence decreased half in age (Carradine was 36 at the time and Travers was 72). Judging by the little kid angels around, if Clarence isn't careful, he'll turn into a sperm soon.
We never do find out how exactly Clarence screwed up in the past. Did someone ultimately commit suicide? That has to be a stain on the old resume. Anyway, a new arrival named Jeremy (Richard Fitzpatrick) pours his heart out to Saint Joseph, the child in charge of handing out assignments. He explains that the angels are working overtime. Jeremy says that Clarence Oddbody is available and then we learn of his tendency to decline offers. After some persuasion, Clarence obviously accepts this mission, which consists of saving Jeremy's widow, who will kill herself unless Clarence can break a specific chain of events. Jeremy's death occurred on the same day his independent business was improving. He had a heart attack right after a promising phone call. That left his wife Rachel, son Brent, and daughter Casey to fend for themselves. Jeremy and Rachel had started a company around a children's character named Dexter (Could it be Michael C. Hall?), and were preparing a computer game where the player could communicate with Dexter (who suspiciously resembles Arthur) in the game. Without Jeremy, Rachel and their sole programmer struggle to figure out how they can make it function.
The problem is Rachel isn't bringing home any money and the bills are piling up fast. To make matters worse, she has competition in a company owned by Mr. Brimmer (Louis Del Grande). He's been trying to convince her to sell, and that's when Clarence arrives. He prevents her from selling, but the family is in a lot of trouble. Clarence tries quick fixes using his mind-blowing angelic Heaven powers, but they don't strike the root of the dilemma. Rachel needs her Guardian Angel now more than ever. Within minutes of returning to Earth, Clarence foils a bank robbery, yet accidentally pockets some of the cash himself. In a thrilling cab chase, he prevents Rachel from signing over her business to Brimmer by calling her the nickname her late husband gave her, "Ricky." Because of this, she trusts Clarence implicitly and when he's arrested for having the stolen money, she bails him out immediately, invites him to sleep at her home indefinitely, and soon allows him to babysit her kids. It might have been 1990, but you would think Rachel might have had second thoughts about rolling out the red carpet for a total stranger. Don't be silly Chad, this is rated G.
I forgot to mention that to waste time when he was refusing jobs in Heaven, Clarence fixed clocks. Meethinks Clarence had a minimum wage position. You should also know that they slipped in the lame line of dialogue "We had a wonderful life" to subtly remind every viewer of where Clarence began. The parties responsible for the insufferable screenplay are Lorne Cameron and David Hoselton, and I'm convinced that they were given the task of conjuring up a new tale as punishment. Maybe they were caught slacking off around the office, and someone said, "You're going to write the spin-off for It's A Wonderful Life or you're fired!." Or perhaps if they agreed to do this made-for-TV flick, they would be promoted to B-movie fare. I suppose the fact that neither gentleman has this title listed in their IMDB credits speaks pretty loud of how proud they are of it. I had to look on my VHS case. They did go on to collaborate on First Knight and Over the Hedge and Cameron penned many episodes of House M.D.. I joke of course, but seriously this script is cringe-worthy.
One of the rule changes in Heaven (they have regular policy meetings apparently) is that if Clarence confesses to any living human that he is an angel, he will be stripped of his wings and forced to stay on Earth for all eternity. This might ring a bell for anybody that has seen Wings of Desire or City of Angels. Robert Carradine is quite blatantly miscast in this role, but maybe he was the only number the casting director had in his/her Rolodex. Carradine has proven to be an extremely funny man, but here he plays Clarence too straight, missing all the levity and charm that Travers brought to the part decades before. When he doesn't strive for insipid drama, he comes off like an imbecile. I mean, who doesn't know what a bank robbery looks like? At a certain juncture, you'll realize the family is better off without Clarence, and that if Rachel had sold to Brimmer, she might have been able to improve her luxurious home in the suburbs.
A photo of Kate Trotter as she looks in Clarence
Kate Trotter overdoes the depressing widow attitude as Rachel on an energy-draining level. It's almost as if this woman is searching for an excuse to commit suicide. But as long as they can figure out the voice recognition software, all will be right in the world. No mention of how fun the game actually is. Brimmer's game, which includes mild violence, is deemed inappropriate and evil. Sadly, if we can imagine Rachel's future after this movie, her quest to make millions on educational and friendly games probably didn't get too far. Thanks Grand Theft Auto III. There is a slight romance that is hinted at with Rachel and Clarence, but it's dismissed as soon as it's introduced. Hey, Rachel hasn't gotten any nookie in quite some time. Angels can't lie or tell what they are, but all sexual escapades are their personal business. In other words, what Heaven doesn't see won't hurt anybody.
Clarence and Jeremy's boss is Saint Joseph, some creepy child whose voice is horrendously dubbed. When we first see him, he explains that he is super busy, yet he seems to have oodles of time to check up on Clarence by spying psychotically in trees. Many of the scenes in Clarence are haphazardly assembled. Take for example when Clarence is giving a speech to potential customers at a trade show. They don't have a product yet, but they have a 10 second (nearly silent) video of their character Dexter, and after condemning Brimmer's financially stable company with games that corrupt children's minds, people gleefully offer to buy hundreds and thousands of units of a game that they have not seen, nor know anything about. Sure. The best sequence has Clarence using his powers to transform himself into Rachel's son Brent. The real Brent plays hooky all the time, so Clarence has no qualms entering school in disguise and impressing the teacher with his knowledge of Mark Twain, or slipping on the football pads so he can morph to various spots and score touchdowns. It's amusing and also the height of stupidity. Sorry, I'm a sucker for 90's special effects.
The wicked and conniving Brimmer, whose main purpose in life is to complete one computer game (and destroy Rachel's reason for living), also manages to find time to maintain his constantly wet and slicked receding hairline. Her also eats giant lobster for meals. He discovers that Rachel owes $50,000 on a loan to the bank, and buys it from them for double the amount, which is ridiculous. Darnit, in my angel movies, I demand realism! In a convenient twist, Rachel's cute blonde daughter Casey possesses a book that directly applies to the sudden situation involving an angel in one's home. It's one of those contrived story threads where the youngest kid knows who Clarence is, but no one else believes her. Such is the stress of being a kid.
Director Eric Till (2003's Luther), like Kate Trotter, stuck primarily with TV work after Clarence. Shockingly, it did not make anyone a household name. Aside from the observations that the acting is universally horrible, the story is ludicrous and unmoving, and that one would rather spend time with the angels from Legion than the guys who stroll around in white nightgowns here, Till has no sense of tone, mood, or timing. I'm not even positive what all is meant to be conveyed as humor because much of the material falls flat when gauging any type of any emotional response. Clarence, for being classified by some as a harmless family film, is incredibly downbeat, more so than It's a Wonderful Life and the conclusion ranks among the most schmaltzy shoehorned ideas of an ending you'll ever see. Till, along with his screenwriting pair, spend so much time focusing on the hijincks of Clarence that the reason he's on Earth takes a backseat, as if it's not important as long as Carradine acts dumb.
So when the dust has cleared and all the chaos has settled, Rachel's business fails and she swiftly kills herself. Clarence admits to her that he's an angel, he loses his wings, and is placed in a mental hospital for the criminally insane. Meanwhile, Rachel's children, now orphans, are left to wander the streets on their own. Brimmer enjoys a mountain of money similar to the vault Scrooge McDuck has in Ducktales. Ok, so I might be lying just a tad, but that would have made the movie ten times better. I would be inclined to say that Clarence wounds the legacy of It's a Wonderful Life, but we all know that's not true since few are aware that this junk was ever made. Some portions might be laughably awful, but the bulk of Clarence is just an unnecessary misfire that tried feebly to scrap some last minute dough out of what is arguably one of the greatest films ever made.
Good luck finding this one. I had difficult tracking down any pictures, and YouTube had no clips from the various word combinations I typed in. If you want to see this one, you'll have to fork over a buck or two for the VHS like I did. Just wait until after Christmas to watch it, otherwise the family might not be too happy with you.
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