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What I Watched Last Night

Welcome to the dog days of summer. It's hot and humid outside, friends are on vacation in exotic locales like Sturgeon Bay and there isn't jack cheese on television. So, I've decided to make my own fun and dig into my vast DVD collection to see if anything catches my fancy. And what have we here? The 1976 cinematic tour de force Mother, Jugs & Speed - a cavalcade of comedy with an All-Star cast fit for the times.

Directed by Peter Yates. who also brought us Breaking Away and Bullitt, Mother, Jugs & Speed features Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch, Harvey Keitel and Larry Hagman as the main ambulance drivers. In the supporting roles are some '70s film regulars like I.Q. Jones, Bruce Davison and Dick Butkus.

Welch plays Jugs, a secretary at a crooked ambulance service, F & B, in Los Angeles - one of the two private ambulance companies that happen to be under scrutiny by the county. The pressure is on F & B and their main competition, Unity, to straighten up and drive right or lose their exclusive county contracts.

Jugs is the target for constant sexual harassment (hence the nickname) by the other drivers but mainly by Pervy McPervertson Murdoch (Hagman). These were the times when calling a co-worker's breasts 'melons' didn't land the offender in a sexual-harassment seminar or part of a lawsuit. Ah, those were the good old days when playing grab-ass with a female co-worker was par for the course. When she vehemently rebuffs his invitation to see a Cat Stevens concert, Murdoch claims that Jugs is probably a lesbian. Good times.

Cosby is Mother, who sports a modest Afro and drives the sweetest, tripped-out rig in L.A. His eight-track is always blasting the latest funk and his cooler is placed strategically in the front seat and always filled with cold beer. He's called Mother because he watches out for the others and appears to care the most, but it's all done with a heavy dose of wise-cracking sarcasm. Not exactly Dr. Huxtable, but almost as memorable, minus the ugly sweaters.

Keitel plays Tony Malatesta, aka Speed, a cop who has been accused of selling cocaine to kids. He takes up ambulance driving while on suspension sans pay. Keitel shows off his comedic side here and, well, it's a good thing he usually sticks with crime dramas. Of course, he and Jugs fall in love. After their first kiss, Jugs gives Speed the "I don't want you to misunderstand my feelings" speech that was typical dialogue of women in movies of the '70s and '80s. I don't know about other women out there, but screen sirens of that time were romantic role models for gals like myself. So imagine our surprise when we tried the "misunderstand my feelings" speech after getting felt up at the junior high dance to eternal bafflement. The mini-Harvey Keitels and Shaun Cassidys of the world didn't quite get our cinematic-inspired words.

The boss, Harry Fishbine (Allen Garfield), is in a constant battle with Mother, who believes, of course, that rules are made to be broken. But he's a heroic rule-breaker. Fishbine is a villainous one; he passes information to an ambulance-chasing lawyer to aid his lawsuits and keeps a book of fake patients to defraud the county. (No, this doesn't take place in Cook County; remember, it's L.A.)

These were the days when women didn't drive ambulances. Thus, Jugs is rebuffed when she informs Fishbine that she has passed the EMT exam and wants to take the wheel. A series of unfortunate incidents ensues, however, such as one driver getting rabies and another getting killed by a drug addict (played by Toni Basil), which advances Jugs's cause.

Not that the plot is all that important. The scene to end all scenes, for example, has Mother at a massage parlor getting massaged by three women and two, brightly colored, battery operated vibrators.

Yes, Bill Cosby doing blue. Between him, Keitel, Welch, Hagman and Butkus (and Basil), this is a cultural artifact that is less than the sum of its parts, but classic in its own way nonetheless. "This 1976 car-chase comedy features three of the decade's landmarks: Raquel Welch's breasts and CB radio," Rob Sheffield wrote in Rolling Stone. "Perfection."

*

Mother, Jugs and The What I Watched Last Night archives.



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Posted on August 23, 2007


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BOOKS - How Stereo Was Sold To A Skeptical Public.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Chicago Footwork King's Bail Battle.


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