Scavenger Hunt (Blu-ray)Patrick Bromley
Winner takes all!
The star-studded cross-country road trip comedy It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World inspired more than a few imitators, from The Cannonball Run and its sequel to 1987’s Million Dollar Mystery to 2001’s Rat Race, essentially a remake of the 1963 classic. One such imitator that has been off my radar until now is 1979’s Scavenger Hunt, directed by Michael Schultz (The Last Dragon) and featuring an insane all-star cast that includes Richard Benjamin, Cloris Leachman, Richard Masur, Richard Mulligan, Stephen Furst, Scatman Crothers, Cleavon Little, Dirk Benedict, Ruth Gordon, Willie Aames, Roddy McDowell, Tony Randall, Stephanie Faracy, Stuart Pankin, Meat Loaf, Vincent Price and even Arnold Schwarzenegger. There are so many familiar and likable faces that the movie feels like one giant party — which, I suspect, is what they were going for.
When millionaire Vincent Price passes away (spoilers I guess? It’s in the first scene), his greedy family shows up to collect their inheritance. However, there’s a catch: the full $200 million will go to the winner of a scavenger hunt, which sends a number of cars — the passengers of which are made up of some family, some staff — scrambling to collect everything from a suit of armor to a toilet and return the items to the mansion by 5 p.m. that day. Comic chaos ensues.
I have to confess something: I am generally not a fan of “busy” comedies. These are movies that attempt to wring laughs out of how much all of the actors can run around and yell, how much activity can be crammed into a single sequence, how loud and boisterous everything can be. I tend to find comedies like this exhausting rather than funny and often become distracted by the realization of just how hard everyone is working to make us laugh, which is often the last thing I want to be noticing in a comedy. Scavenger Hunt is definitely one of these movies. There are so many actors, so many plot lines, so much zaniness on display that it all becomes overkill. I don’t think this is unintentional; the movie’s excess is pretty much its reason for being. But even while the movie is trying really, really hard to be putting out a crazy amount of energy for every minute of its running time, I couldn’t help but be charmed by it. There are too many actors for whom I have great affection and in too many unusual combinations for the film to not be fun. How can I resist a car that contains Richard Benjamin at his slimiest, Cloris Leachman acting crazy and Richard Masur being hilarious as their oddball son, giving a performance that feels like it served as the primary inspiration for Dan Schneider’s Ricky in the classic teen comedy Better Off Dead? Or Stephanie Faracy as a sexy French maid riding alongside uppity Roddy McDowall and the great Cleavon Little? That’s a group of people I want to hang out with.
The greatest sin of Scavenger Hunt is just how overstuffed it is, an issue that extends even to the movie’s running time. While it’s not It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World long, Scavenger Hunt does clock in at just a few minutes shy of two hours. That’s hard to sustain for any comedy, and especially hard for a comedy that has to keep up this level of zany energy. Nowhere is the bloat more apparent than in the film’s climax, which I won’t spoil here except to say that it has to be a full 20 minutes long and could have been less than five. There is one idea presented, and then it’s presented four times more in what feels like real time. It is endless and it lets the air out of the movie even as it crescendos to it’s biggest flurry of activity and shouting. The wheels spin almost to the point of falling off, but only almost. The cast holds it together enough for Scavenger Hunt to cross the finish line and remain a really fun — if crowded and sometimes exhausting — comedy.
Like a lot of overlooked or forgotten movies of the ‘70s and ’80s, Scavenger Hunt comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber as part of their “Studio Classics” line. The movie is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio in full 1080p HD, offering accurate skin tones and no visible wear or print damage but which is often soft and a bit on the washed out side, though I suspect both of those criticisms are inherent to the source and not the result of a deficient transfer. Schultz isn’t overly concerned with the photography of the movie, opting instead to cram the frame with actors and business, meaning even the best possible transfer is only ever going to make the movie look ok. The only audio option offered is a lossless stereo track that’s actually a little muddy, but again that may be a function of there being so much audio on the track. In addition to a commentary with director Michael Schultz, there are new 10-minute interviews with stars Richard Benjamin and Richard Masur, the latter of whom addresses the movie more regularly (Benjamin’s talk takes a look at his overall career) but both of which are interesting if a bit brief.
Scavenger Hunt is one of those movies that slipped by me all these years, so I’m really happy I had the chance to catch it in this high def presentation. It’s not a great comedy, but within it’s limited subgenre it’s a standout. They don’t really make movies like this anymore — I suspect assembling a cast of this caliber by 2017 standards would be prohibitively expensive — so we should appreciate the few that we got.
I’ll take too much of a good thing over not enough.