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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

'Panic Button' DVD: Euro Take on 'The Producers'

Panic Button (1963)
Warner Archive kicks off its always wonderful (and often awesomely weird) DVD releases for 2015 with the 1964 comedy "Panic Button", which stars the unlikely pair of  film legend Maurice Chevalier and spectacular sex kitten (who does not go to college) Jayne Mansfield. This clever take on the Mel Brooks classic "The Producers" has a syndicate of legitimate American businessmen that seeking a $500,000 tax write-off deciding to produce a television pilot that is sure to fail.

As an aside. the cynical attitude regarding TV pilots being a money pit makes "Panic" a perfect companion to the Unreal TV reviewed late 2014 Archive release of the 1938 James Cagney comedy "Boy Meets Girl." That one focuses an unflattering spotlight on the studio system.

The scheme of the entrepreneurs commences with the theory that TV pilots are a good bet for losing money; the next step in hedging that wager is selecting aging French actor Phillipe Fontaine, whom Chevalier terrifically portrays,  as their star based on the films of that thespian constantly bombing in the ratings when run on television.

The syndicate sends Frank Pagano, played by future "Mannix" star Mike Connors, to Rome to recruit Fontaine for the project and film it there. This soon leads to casting untalented wannabe starlet Angela, whom Mansfield gets down to a T, as the female lead. Recruiting the hilarious inept Pandowski to direct completes the main group for what is easily the worst ever staging of "Romeo and Juliet."

The ensuing hilarity largely revolves around Fontaine, who is a textbook has-been in blissful ignorance regarding his appeal and the true motive for the project. His best scenes include hamming it up in an early performance and the negotiation of his contract for "Romeo."

For her part, Mansfield plays the knock-out with a heart-of-gold wonderfully well. Her best moments include using her sex appeal to sell the paintings of an otherwise starving artist and flirting with a couple of local studs while on an outing with Pagano.

Of course, the footage of the final "Romeo" product steals the show. It is even worse than anyone could have imagined.

The clever '60s style plot points continue with a development that is as reminiscent of "The Producers" as the overall plot of "Panic." Suffice it to say, this still results in a Hollywood ending that would provide "Boy" good fodder.

The trifecta of classic film elements in the overall look of "Panic" and household name stars. terrific '60s style Europe elements, and similarities to "The Producers" further validate the theory that Archive could not find a money-losing dud in its seemingly infinite vault of vintage films and television if it tried.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Panic" is encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.