“Loose Shoes”: “Here’s a movie that makes Mel Brooks’s humor seem sophisticated, Woody Allen’s statuesque”

By on December 6, 2015

The 1980 film Loose Shoes — a relatively late entry in what we like to call omnibus films, comprised of satirical sketches, skits, parodies, musical performances, and fake film clips — is likely and perhaps luckily forgotten today, and typically continues to be panned for its crude, uneven and ill-conceived attempts at trying to do what John Landis’s Kentucky Fried Movie had done much better just a few years earlier (both movies had poster artwork featuring the image of with a tongue coming out of a shoe).

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Still, we think it’s going to be hard to forget the movie’s sepia-colored centerpiece, a 1930s-era Cab Calloway-led black musical skit called “Dark Town After Dark,” which features a somewhat profane song (sung by David Downing, and composed by Murphy Dunne, the keyboardist in The Blues Brothers) that provides us for the reason for the movie’s title, but, more importantly, it gives us a chance to focus briefly on a horrid political gaffe from 1976 that ultimately ended in member of President Gerald Ford’s cabinet being asked to resign from his post.

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Tricky Dick with Earl Butz

Just a few years earlier, Richard Nixon’s former White House counsel, John Dean — who had just gotten out of prison for his role in the Watergate scandal coverup — was sent by Rolling Stone magazine to cover the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City.

Interviewing entertainer Pat Boone for the piece, Dean recalled what Boone had told him that he’d heard aboard a commercial flight to California following the 1976 convention, a racist joke from then President Ford’s Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz (Sonny Bono was apparently present to witness this gaffe too).

Boone told Dean that Butz had actually begun their conversation with the re-telling of a dirty joke that involved a dog and skunk fucking.

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“Lemme tell you a joke!

Dean, perhaps knowing that Rolling Stone‘s readers might be pretty shocked if they knew the Secretary of Agriculture was in the regular habit of repeating obscene jokes, and racist jokes that were insulting to black Americans (all Americans, really), likely  knew that it would be scandalous if he’d included it in his Rolling Stone piece, and so he did include it, and yes, the re-telling of it indeed caused a scandal.

Here’s the excerpt:

Pat [Boone] posed a question: “John and I were just discussing the appeal of the Republican party. It seems to me that the party of Abraham Lincoln could and should attract more black people. Why can’t that be done?” This was a fair question for the secretary, who is also a very capable politician.

“I’ll tell you why you can’t attract coloreds,” the secretary proclaimed as his mischievous smile returned. “Because colored only wants three things. You know what they want?” he asked Pat. Pat shook his head no; so did I.

“I’ll tell you what coloreds want. It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit. That’s all!”

Pat gulped twice. Within a week of his “tight pussy” quote in Rolling Stone, Butz was forced to resign.

As we said, Butz did indeed resign, on October 4, 1976, and the quote about “loose shoes” provided this film — directed by Ira Miller, a former Second City comedy troupe member in Chicago during the 1960s — with its title and arguably its funniest segment.

As with quite a few films from the same era in which comedic actor Bill Murray appears, his rising stardom meant that he ended up receiving first billing on movie poster (and subsequently on the DVD and home video covers), although the first poster for the movie featured both Howard Hesseman (we love him, and he’s probably best known from the TV show “WKRP in Cincinnati”) and Buddy Hackett, who like Murray, only appear in one segment, as do all the other actors.

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The picture was “filmed mostly in 1977,” according to film critic Leonard Maltin, and Wikipedia states that “the film was shot around 1977 and only released years later in 1980, probably to capitalize on Bill Murray’s success as a box office film star.”

Hackett appears as himself, incidentally, as a spokesman for an organization called S.T.O.P.I.T., an acronym standing for the “Society To Oppress and Prevent Involuntary Tinkling.” That’s right, tinkling. You see, it’s a bed-wetting charity. Ho ho ho, hilarious stuff, right? Perhaps that’s why the original tagline on the first poster of the movie promised “There won’t be a dry seat in the house!”

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The rest of the actors are collectively billed on the poster as “and a cast of total unknowns,” but those unknowns included the great character actor Ed Lauter, voice-actor and all around awesome dude Harry Shearer (pre-Spinal Tap and “The Simpsons” fame, of course), along with cult favorites Susan Tyrrell (you’ll remember her from Forbidden Zone), the always incredible Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects, Spider Baby), “The Gong Show”‘s sexpot Jaye P. Morgan, Lewis Arquette, Avery Schreiber (he teamed with Jack Burns in the comedy duo Burns and Schreiber), cigar-chompin’ Texas songwriter/comedian Kinky Friedman, and celebrated songwriter/composer/musician Van Dyke Parks.

Murray’s brief appearance can be seen in the sketch “Three Chairs for Lefty,” a death row prisoner skit, which begins with a prologue: “This is the true story of what six-years-to-life is like for caged men behind bars! There was a lot of hyper-tension!”

Some of the other perhaps ill-conceived skits and sketches collected here are merely bad parodies, many of them simply based on film trailers that were already outdated by the time Loose Shoes was being made (how else do you explain a parody of a 1950s sci-fi movie titled “The Invasion of the Penis Snatchers”?). As you can see and hear from the movie’s trailer — “Here’s a movie that makes Mel Brooks’s humor seem sophisticated, Woody Allen’s statuesque” — the people involved in this knew they were offering their audience a sub-standard product.

Sometimes the humor here is built upon the joke of simply poking fun at a celebrity’s name, and often — and remember, this was the late 70s, folks — this was coming along many decades after the peak of popularity for some of the celebs being parodied, meaning we have to think a lot of the “jokes” simply were doomed to fail because their intended theater audience of teens and twenty-somethings had no real working knowledge of what was being parodied. It’s probably good to pause here to mention that The Groove Tube (1974) Tunnel Vision (1976) and the aforementioned Kentucky Fried Movie (1978) are much better examples of what was being attempted here.

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For instance, billionaire Howard Hughes shows up in “The Howard Huge Story,” and Charlie Chaplin is spoofed in a couple of segments here, in “The Kid and the Yid,” which pokes fun at his 1921 film The Kid. Also, Chaplin’s “tramp” characters is spoofed as “The Bum” (are you laughing yet?) for a skit titled “The Chronic Sympathizer.”

There’s a Woody Allen parody called “Sneakers,” featuring David Landserg, which riffed on Allen’s 1972 movie Play It Again, Sam, a movie which was itself a parody, only this time, Loose Shoes replaces the ghost of Humphrey Bogart with the ghost of Clark Gable — both were legends in their time, of course, but from the decades perhaps meaning more to the parents of those who probably went to see Loose Shoes in the movie theaters. Remember, by 1978, Allen had moved on to considerable success in his career, and a parody of, let’s say, Annie Hall, might have been more timely.

There’s a Walt Disney parody (he’s Walt Whizney here, ho ho), and Ma and Pa Kettle parody (really? in 1978?) called “A Visit with Ma and Pa”, highlighted (if that’s the word) with a potty-mouthed pig, but more contemporary characters are parodied too —  and “Ernie Piles” was based on Ernie Pyle, America’s most popular war correspondent during WWII.

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We’re happy to note there’s a few timely 70s-era parodies here too, including the skit that pokes fun at late 60s/early 70s biker movies — with skateboards! — called “Skateboarders from Hell.” Billy Jack gets parodied as Billy Jerk but it’s actually a Wizard of Oz spoof, “Billy Jerk Goes To Oz.”

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Ho ho ho, are you pissing yourself with laughter yet? How about taking a look at these X-rated adult movie titles in the “That’s Sexploitation!” segment, which include (are you ready?): “The Spy Who Bit Me”, “All The President’s Girls”, “The Happy Hooker Goes Down On Washington” and “2069: A Space Orgy.”

Four writers are credited (if that’s the correct word) for the screenplay, including Miller, include Second City alumni Royce D. Applegate, Ian Praiser and Charley Smith, and the title of the film, by the way, was subsequently changed later to Coming Attractions, and it’s also known as Quackers.

As you might expect, this was first, final and only ever movie written and/or directed by Ira Miller, although he would go on from Loose Shoes to be involved as a bit-part actor in a couple of Mel Brooks’s lesser-known projects, including Spaceballs (1987) and Robin Hood: Men In Tights (1993). Miller died in 2012.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • http://dangerousminds.net/ Chris Bickel

    I never knew the back story behind the title/sketch. I liked this movie a lot as a kid, but most of it doesn’t hold up. I still laugh about the Billy Jerk “did you just call that midget ‘shorty'” scene though.

  • Michael Dare

    Ira Miller and Mel Brooks were pals and he has the best line in History of the World Part I. Romans catch a runaway slave and say “You know what we do with runaway slaves, don’t you?” Everyone in the crowd raises their hand and goes “Oooh, oooh.” The Roman points to someone and Ira steps out of the crowd and says “You shove a live snake up their ass?”

  • Munkiman

    Thanks!

  • Chris

    Nice article about a film I’d forgotten I’d seen. Probably for the better.

    BTW, the character of Ernie Piles was based on the famous real-life war correspondent Ernie Pyle. Not Gomer Pyle.