I Saw A Film!

Saving the best for last, I worked backwards through the Cheech and Chong proper catalog to land on their first and best counter-culture product (I just realized I’d forgotten about Nice Dreams–so stay tuned). Once again our heroes are slacking their way through a blue-collar existence (though we are given hints that Tommy Chong’s origins seem to have a bit better than labor springboard). It hadn’t occurred to me before, but there’s a bit of a mention of “bodybuilding” as Chong prepares himself a fruit smoothie, presumably a hint at health and fitness that I hadn’t noticed before. Meanwhile, Cheech living on a sofa is awakened by a gang of kids in dirty diapers, steps in a bowl of cereal, pees in a hamper and, well . . . you get the drift.

Most of the film is wrapped up in scoring weed, driving a truck actually made of weed across the border, and participating in a battle of the bands, in which you can actually see legendary West Coast punk outfit The Dils partially perform and then get into an argument. I’m told The Germs were meant to be in the film as well, but they annoyed the production with a food fight (not hard to imagine given Darby Crash’s self-destructive tendencies (dead at the ripe old age of 24) and lost their opportunity, but their song made it to the soundtrack album.

Throughout, and probably the best part of the film is, Stacy Keach as Sargent Stedenko and his team of floundering half-wit cops being too easily misled and redirected despite their dedication to “undercover” efforts, at one point even dressing up as Hare Krishnas which, when I was fourteen were completely boggling to me, I had never heard of such and had never seen the religious cult (they never were a New England staple), so I recall wondering just what the hell was going on. Forty years later with the power of hindsight, the scene is still entirely sense-less. Keach plays on, stolidly representing the “law and order” the happy hippies hope to escape and lampoon.

This film has a few of the gags I remember including a call-back to “Dave’s Not Here, Man”, when the fellows meet Tom Skerritt as Strawberry (for his massive birthmark). A silly sequence of Cheech trying to fish a joint out of his pocket and momentarily mistaking his own dick for it. Though one of my favorite moments in the film, that somehow stuck with me all these years, happens just before this as Chong ingratiates himself into Cheech’s company by complimenting his customization job on the low-rider. We knew Cheech’s relationship to the car as we just heard War’s “Low-Rider” playing through the previous sequence as Cheech proudly wipes and dances around this heap. It is a highlight of the first act. And after all, there is something sweetly appealing about the meaningful friendship that carries through from Hard Day’s Night all the way to Withnail & I in these types of buddies-at-lose-ends stories. The terrific song “Framed” features nicely and wraps the film in a fine expository. “I never do nuthing wrong but somehow I get the blame!”

Up In Smoke works well, even though it does include plenty of immature bathroom humor (I suppose you can’t miss with a universal “gotta take a crap” gag, as it still leans into the counter-culture anti-law enforcement spirit. The boys just want to smoke and make music, and their gentleness as well as easy-going rapport are what create a bond that makes the comedy team click. Cheech and Chong aren’t violent, and aren’t thieves. Their dedication is never toward hurting anyone. They are practically Jainist in their dedication to live and let live. It’s hard to imagine either of them without the other (though we’ve now had decades of both of them playing a variety of roles, Chong’s reprise, for several seasons, of the hippy druggy photomat owner in That 70’s Show was a highlight of that series. It seems a serious lost opportunity never having had Cheech manage to stumble onto that set, and I can’t imagine the idea never occurred to producers. I suppose Cheech was busy playing a cop!

it’s the standard 3.99 on Prime

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