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Back To School
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
This has been an excellent Tunnel Vision Tuesday season for classic comedy films. This isn't the last Tuesday night that we're spending at the Mahoning this season, but it is the last comedy... at least for us. I hope that they carry this focus on comedies into 2024 because these have been some of my favorite nights at the drive-in this year.
Tuesdays are a good night to bring Harvey out to the lot. There's usually not too many other dogs, so he doesn't get too hyper, and he isn't overly tired at the end of the night like he is when we bring him out to a double or triple feature.
They screened a 35mm print of a classic animated short before the feature film instead of a trailer reel, and the one they picked was absolutely perfect. The 1951 cartoon Cock-a-Doodle Dog was directed by the legendary Tex Avery toward the end of his time working for MGM. Avery's work in his years with MGM are the gold standard for animated comedies in the mid 20th century. They have the feel of Loony Tunes without relying on their well-known cast of characters, which gives them a feeling of being fresh and original that still holds today over seventy years later.
The 1986 comedy Back To School began immediately after the cartoon. If you're a fan of the great Rodney Dangerfield, this is a must-see film. Caddyshack gets most of the attention when it comes to his film work (and rightfully so, because it's one of the greatest comedies of all time), but Back To School is the best film if you want to see Rodney being Rodney. He plays a man who rose from humble beginnings to become the rich and successful owner of a chain of big & tall clothing stores, but he never finished high school or went to college. When his son struggles, both socially and academically, Rodney donates a building to the school in exchange for admission in an attempt to relate to his son by putting himself in his shoes. It's a fish-out-of-water comedy that gives him the perfect platform to flex his comedic talents. I'm sure some of the humor will make younger viewers "cringe" (as the little kiddies like to say), but frankly, that's says more about them than it does the movie. The only way to sit through Back To School without laughing your ass off is if you've got a stick firmly jammed up there holding it in place.
This movie checks all the boxes for an 80's comedy classic. First of all, you've got Rodney Dangerfield. His son is played by Keith Gordan, who is probably known best for his starring role as Arnie in Christine. Rodney's love interest is played by Sally Kellerman, who played Hot Lips Houlihan in the M*A*S*H movie. You've got Robert Downey Jr and Ned Beatty in smaller roles, but they make the most of their minutes with some of the funniest lines in the movie. William Zabka plays antagonist to the son, and while he isn't quite the iconic bully that he was as Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid, he's absolutely perfect as the arrogant jock and antagonist to Keith Gordan's character. There's a short, but memorable performance from legendary comedian Sam Kinison as a professor who's suffering from PTSD from the Vietnam War.
Rodney Dangerfield's friend, driver, and muscle is played by the great Burt Young, who I cannot say enough good things about. I wrote about him a few days ago for his performance in Blood Beach, which was the last movie of Camp Blood IX, but all I really said is that he's best known as Pauly in the Rocky movies. I don't know enough about the man to even come close to doing him justice, but he has a list of movie and television credits a mile long and he's been phenomenal in everything that I've seen him in. In addition to being a great actor, he's a Marine and he been a boxer, a painter, and an author, among other things. When the drive-in shuts down this winter, I think I'm going to spend a good portion of my free time watching more of his work and learning more about the man. He seems like a truly fascinating dude!
Speaking of authors, Back To School includes a hysterical cameo from Kurt Vonnegut, a musical performance from Oingo Boingo, and a fun soundtrack that includes a catchy as hell title track by Jude Cole. This movie really is a sampler platter of everything that was good and fun about the 80's, and once again, the Mahoning made it possible for me to see a movie on 35mm at the drive-in that was released when I was too young to see or appreciate it.