Here is George Burns to introduce to us a double bill of films like they used to show in the old days, and as he makes clear, this is intended to be nostalgia all the way. So without further ado, we begin with Dynamite Hands, a story of Joey Popchik (Harry Hamlin), an aspiring lawyer who was saving up for his education and made a bit of cash selling sandwiches. He goes into the local gym, but when one of the boxers starts to get aggressive and refuses to hand over the money, Joey ends up punching him to the ground. The owner of the establishment, Gloves Malloy (George C. Scott), recognises the kid has talent, but what will persuade him into the ring?
The seventies nostalgia for the golden age of Hollywood had to break at some point, and perhaps the point that it did can be attributed to Movie Movie, a flop in its day that slavishly recreated both a B-movie and a prestige picture from the nineteen-thirties with much care and attention, but not much of an audience. It was a Lew Grade production, one of his attempts to be as successful in the field of cinema as he had been on television, and like most of those efforts he produced it did not go down too well with the public: it was no Muppet Movie or On Golden Pond, that was for sure.
And yet, over the years there have been a group of fans who either saw this when it came out, or caught it on its rare showings elsewhere, who find they have a lot of good to say about it. If it does not entirely convince as an accurate portrayal of entertainment forty-five years before it was made, then it still struck a chord in those whose idea of amusement was classic films like 42nd Street. But there's a tension here between paying sincere tribute and sending the material up, as if they were unsure of how seriously anyone would take this and were hedging their bets on being regarded as the creators of an outright spoof.
As far as its comedy goes, much of the humour relies on straight-faced renditions of corny dialogue and situations that would be seen as camp with the benefit of almost half a century of time passing, as if to say, hey, nobody can really appreciate these films on the level they were originally intended anymore. Therefore a little light irony veers dangerously close to a sneer, only pulled back from the brink of outright lampoon by dint of the performances, which are commendably free of winking at the audience. The boxing drama that takes up the first half sets the scene early on: pack in as many clichés as you can, or in this case something which appears to be a cliché that you might be hard pressed to identify the origins of.
So Popchik is fighting to earn enough money to save his sister's sight but gets involved with the shady side of the business thanks to crooked promoter Eli Wallach, and in the second part, Broadway showman Spats Baxter (George C. Scott again) has weeks to live, and in that time he must put on a successful show. You will recognise actors from the first part in the second, as if these were a couple of films from the same studio who had the same stars under contract - they even appear in the intermission trailer for a World War One flying aces drama. But considering Stanley Donen was the man behind the camera, when the musical business starts it gets surprisingly short shrift, as if they didn't want to spend too much on the numbers because such things had gone out of fashion, a hesitancy which seems to go against the spirit of the project. So Movie Movie is fun, but also confused; you can see why it didn't pack in the punters. Music by Ralph Burns.