After "Mystery Science Theater 3000," the one TV show that has never failed to turn my crank is the original version of "The Gong Show." And here, Chuck Barris brings his unique vision to the big screen. This movie is still tragically unavailable on video and only circulated among the hardcore fans, even though reruns of the series are still readily available.
So, I was looking for this little treasure for a long time. Of course, as with anything you psyche yourself up about for that long, it didn't quite live up to the internal hype. I was hoping for something more in the tradition of those great "backstage musicals" of the '30s, with all the familiar characters dealing with various subplots and drama while preparing for the big show. And while there are elements of that, it mostly just follows Chuck Barris around while he has a crisis of confidence. All the great supporting players of the TV show -- Jaye P. Morgan, the Unknown Comic, Della Bella, Larry Spencer -- are reduced to giving brief cameos. (With such a self-serving script, it's not surprising it was co-written by Chuckie-Baby himself.) The on-air segments from the show weren't recreated or rewritten for the film, but were just actual clips from the show edited into the story.
But even with all that, I enjoyed it. Many of the most wacked-out scenes survive the poor acting and direction, and the uncensored clips from the original show (including Jaye P.'s infamous "exposure") were fun to see. And the final production number made it all worthwhile.
One of Barris' co-writers was none other than Robert Downey Sr. (No wonder the kid turned out so rotten...) Also, look for a bit part by a young Phil Hartman.
Chuck: "Promise not to talk dirty anymore?" / Jaye P.: "Cross my fucking heart."
"42nd Street" (1933) and the original TV series.
The Gong Show Fan Page.
Take a Look:
Here's the infamous "Popsicle Twins" act, which caused so much grief with the network, and which also was used in the movie: