Robert Altman Retrospective: O.C. and Stiggs
Being a big fan of the late Robert Altman’s work, my goal is to see every film he made in his career. One of the titles that I had heard come up over the years was O.C. and Stiggs (1987). I never did alot of research on the movie and didnt exactly know what year it was released. I assumed it was one of Altman’s 70s films from its title (which reminded me of something like Freebie & The Bean or even a Blaxploitation film like Thomasine & Bushrod). Imagine my surprise when I watched it and found out it was actually an 80s New Wavey teen comedy satire set in sun baked Arizona! There is one minor connection to the 70s, and even Blaxploitation, Melvin Van Peebles has a role in the film as Wino Bob.
Based on a National Lampoon’s story, it was supposed to be released in 1985 as a more traditional teen comedy but since the studios didn’t find Altman’s final product appealing, they shelved it. The movie had a limited release in 1987 but failed to find an audience due to it’s overly satirical spin. Having grown up on the 80s teen comedy genre movies myself, I can say right off that O.C. and Stiggs is definitely its own kind of animal.
Oliver Cromwell Ogilvie (Daniel Jenkins) and Mark Stiggs (Neill Barry) are 2 high schoolers who look like your average 80s teens, except these two are really closer to being punks, they just dont have the visual identification (mohawks etc). What they do have is a punk attitude and both despise middle class people. Their main target of hatred is Randall Schwab (Paul Dooley) the owner of an insurance company that has recently canceled the policy on O.C.’s wacked out grandfather (Ray Walston). The Schwab family are a bunch of goofs who all dress in neon colors. They walk around together and bicker back and forth. Pretty in Pink alum Jon Cryer plays Randall Schwab Jr. who is an uber nerd (it’s obvious Cryer was watching Jerry Lewis in The Nutty Professor before he was cast in the part).
O.C. and Stiggs mess with The Schwabs by pulling different hoaxes while the family seem to be so preoccupied they never recognize what’s happening. The two hooligans have a running joke throughout the film where they are constantly seen in a variety of weird costumes and disguises bringing to mind Hawkeye and Trapper John, two of Altman’s characters from his classic wartime satire M*A*S*H (1970). The two also decide to buy an old Studebaker which they turn into a jacked up eyesore they call the “Gila Monster” (I guess it’s their dumpy version of the Batmobile).
The movie does not follow any sort of genre rulebook and is more about poking fun at the teen comedies of the time (interestingly, Altman was not a big fan of them). The story moves at a frenetic pace as the two pals run around their town acting like loons newly released from the funny farm. While on one hand it’s a ‘never a dull moment’ type of movie, on the other it’s the sort of thing where I never completely latched on to these indulgently eccentric characters because they’re off and running before the film even begins (as noted by the fun sound effects laid over the MGM Lion’s roar). All in all, the film never really comes full circle as a satisfying experience but it’s such a weird little offbeat experiment that it certainly deserves to be re-examined by film fans.
The supporting cast is filled with many familiar faces, most notably Dennis Hopper who plays Sponson, a spoof of his deranged photographer character in Apocalypse Now. You’ll also see Jane Curtin (Kate & Allie), Tina Louise (Gilligans Island), Martin Mull (Two and a Half Men), Cynthia Nixon (Sex in the City) and Tiffany Helm (Friday The 13th Part 5).
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