Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Barefoot Executive (1971) - "He Knows"

The Barefoot Executive 1971 film poster
"The Barefoot Executive" (1971).

Slacker comedies like "The Barefoot Executive" (1971) didn't start with "The Hangover" or even "Animal House." In "The Barefoot Executive," we are darn near the birth of the genre, as Kurt Russell takes on his first huge role and gets assistance from some of the legends of comedy, led by Joe Flynn, John Ritter and even Wally Cox. There also are all sorts of other faces that you will recognize, including Harry Morgan of "MASH," Beulah Bondi (in an archive clip), and Bill Daily and Hayden Rorke of "I Dream of Genie."

The Barefoot Executive 1971 Joe Flynn Kurt Russell
Joe Flynn, funniest second banana ever, in "The Barefoot Executive."

This is an absolutely hysterical junk-food movie if you are in the mood for that sort of thing. Kurt Russell stars as mail room worker Steven Post, who wants to get ahead at his TV Network but can't get his stuffy boss Mr. Wilbanks, played in inimitable fashion by the legendary Joe Flynn, to use any of his ideas (now, who would turn down a show idea called "Lincoln's Doctor's Dog," anyway?). But then he finds a way to make them all take him seriously....

The Barefoot Executive 1971 Kurt Russell
In "The Barefoot Executive," when the chimp is smarter than you are....

It isn't giving anything away to reveal that the way Post gets the executives to listen to him is through his girlfriend's (Heather North) chimp, who has a taste for highly rated TV shows. The chimp even likes to take a beer during commercial breaks. If the satirical possibilities in this brief summary aren't leaping out at you yet, then this film probably isn't for you. But if you see where the film is going with this, then sit back and enjoy some of the funniest satire about the TV business that you'll ever see. So the collective taste of the viewing public is at the level of a beer-swilling chimp, hmmmm....

The Barefoot Executive 1971 Joe Flynn John Ritter
Two comedy legends at work in "The Barefoot Executive."

John Ritter is terrific as a network underling who sneers at everything Post does, and Harry Morgan steals the film as the Network President who starts fearing for his own job because he's not as smart about the viewing public's taste as is the chimp. Wally Cox as Mertons, Flynn's chauffeur, is terrific. He isn't listed as such in the credits, but I'm willing to bet that he also plays the role of the scientist who confirms that, yes, bananas really are brain food.

The Barefoot Executive 1971 Kurt Russell
"He knows!" is the catchphrase of "The Barefoot Executive."

Anyway, this is biting satire, and what happens to the bigwig TV executives at the end clearly is wish fulfillment that undoubtedly echoes the feelings of most who work in the TV industry. Heather North is fine, if a bit of a wallflower, as Post's girlfriend who actually owns the chimp, and Bill Daily briefly appears as an airline worker who helpfully notes that they are over "unexplored territory" at the film's climax.

"The Barefoot Executive" is a brilliant comedy, and it made me laugh out loud several times.


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