Wednesday, November 07, 2007


It cost $350,000 to make back in 1974, and one reviewer (I believe it was Ted Mahar in The Oregonian) said that it looked like it was shot in the director’s basement. No matter. In the short months just before Saturday Night Live, itself woven from borrowed threads belonging to Second City TV, The Committee and the National Lampoon, it was the movie comedy to see. A good friend of mine was lucky enough to catch it when it first came out. But by the time it rolled through my local drive-in, on a double bill with Flesh Gordon, Saturday Night Live was already gathering its first real head of steam, and my buddy had related the most hilarious bits so vividly that I practically had the movie memorized before I ever saw a frame firsthand. Even so, as it unspooled under the stars at the long-gone Circle JM Drive-in for the first of four times that week (I was there for two of ‘em!), even though I already apparently knew it backwards and forwards, The Groove Tube was still, along with Blazing Saddles, the most side-splittingly funny movie I’d yet seen in my young life. Devised as a very loose set of sketches parodying the inanities of the still young medium of TV, The Groove Tube had no unifying theme or philosophy other than irreverence, which was, for the generation about to canonize the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, plenty unifying philosophy enough. Paddy Chayefsky would end up looking like a legitimate prophet and Howard Beale would end up looking not quite angry enough. But The Groove Tube, seen from a distance of 33 years, perhaps because of its accurately low-ball production values and chillingly precise recreations of some of the more mawkish and self-serving advertising of the era, more resembles like a murky crystal ball through which we can catch a smudged, warped glimpse of the way TV, and comedy way too raunchy for Ed Sullivan, actually was.

And thanks to YouTube, it’s my pleasure to be able to present a special viewing package of personal favorite highlights from The Groove Tube to carry you all through the upcoming long weekend which I’ll be taking off from SLIFR.


The Groove Tube represents a lot of firsts for me—the first female full-frontal nudity I saw in a movie, the first male full-frontal nudity I ever saw in a movie, my first exposure to one of my all-time favorite songs, the brilliant Move On Up by Curtis Mayfield. And, amazingly, all three are packed into this one three-minute segment, part of the movie’s opening sketch. I only wish whoever was kind enough to post this clip had included the hilarious parody of 2001 that leads directly into this segment. But you know what they say about gift horses-- never run after them buck naked through the woods.


This parody of TV cooking shows, shot in one take, with director Ken Shapiro’s lulling narration and Chevy Chase’s wonderful pantomime hand performance, is just as funny today, especially if you can remember life before Emeril, as it was in 1974.


BROWN 25 1:10

Of course The Groove Tube was littered with spot-on, barely exaggerated TV commercials, of which these two spots for the mysterious industrial corporation Uranus, "aired" during the nightly news program, were the absolute peak. The first mocks like a dagger the notion of the sensitive, caring multinational by perfectly aping the brokenhearted, ecologically-oriented public service announcements of the time. The second— Well, you just have to see it for yourself.




But The Groove Tube wasn’t just great TV parody. Three of its most memorable moments were inexplicable musical bits crammed into the leaky crevices of the movie’s stitched-together structure. The first, “Four Leaf Clover,” again features director Ken Shapiro on drums and Chevy Chase on vocals (stick around for Shapiro’s sociopathic “who’s next” stare at the end). “Democratic National Committee” showed up about 2/3 of the way through, and if it weren’t so weirdly funny and appropriate it might have signaled the point late enough along where the movie, like Saturday Night Live typically would later on, had started to run out of gas. But the Tube still had surprises in store, not least of which is the third clip, “Just You, Just Me,” the penultimate sketch of the movie, featuring Ken Shapiro again, proving that you don’t have to be built like Gene Kelly to be light on your feet.

Do you remember other great Groove Tube moments?



Greg said...

Hey I remember The Groove Tube Although I didn't see it until about six years after it was released because I was a tad too young to see it in the theater and thus had to wait for video. But I liked it a lot when I did finally see it. I think I watched it with Kentucky Fried Movie (I rewound the court scene over and over - "Objection! Counsil is leading the witness!") but haven't seen either since.

I do remember that Chase was the only non-Second City member on SNL and it was because of the success of Groove Tube that he was included with the Second-City folks.

Greg said...

Just so we're not confused, in the above comment I'm referring to the court skit in KFM.

By the way, it's amazing how much The Groove Tube influenced SNL: The news, the commercials, the parody films. I know it had all been done before from Your Show of Shows to The Carol Burnett Show but not in the same deadpan format. For instance on Burnett's show I remember she would actually introduce the commercial parodies skits (which would usually poke fun at several different products in one longish, formal skit) whereas with The Groove Tube and SNL the commercials just happen - as if they're real. It's a big difference. I've always preferred comedy that might get mistaken for being serious rather than the budda-bing, budda-boom variety. And I'm talking deadpan delivery, like in The Groove Tube's cooking show segment, not just parody commercials.

Great stuff to watch again Dennis, thanks.

Patrick said...

I liked the Geritol parody where Chevy Chase is blandly talking about the vitamin supplement his wife is taking while she's in the background stripping and rubbing herself all over Chevy.

"My wife... I think I'll keep her."

Anonymous said...

First the link to the bootleg Pauline Kael page, now this. Are you planning to turn your site into The Pirate Bay?

Greg said...

"The Pirate Bay" - Now that's a cool nickname! We could have a picture of Dennis with an eyepatch and a bandana on his head instead of a baseball cap. The subtitle of the blog could be something like, "Captain Bluebeard and the Infield Buried Treasure Rule."

Then Dennis could introduce each post with, "Yar Haaaar me maties!"

Dennis, JUMP ON THIS IDEA NOW before I steal it myself!

Boy, Anonymous, I don't know who you are but you are clearly an "idea" man. Hey, here's an idea: Get a life!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Jonathan: That deadpan is what I love about the Uranus ads, especially the first one bemoaning the fate of the once-mighty Mayopac River. I remember as a 15-year-old kid watching that and not even realizing, until well into the logo ("You Can Put Your Trust In Uranus") that there was even a joke, much less what the joke was, and then being devastated by how it crept up on me. Well into the next bit, I was still turning over in my head and enjoying the wonderful double meaning-- trust vs. contempt-- of that slogan. Much of The Groove Tube is crass and raunchy, but I've always appreciated how smart so nicely co-existed with those two qualities, yet another template shared by the great generational comedy of the '70s still to come.

Patrick: I would have never posted it, but I also really liked the Sex Olympics bit, broadcast live from some seedy motel room in Tijuana where the video signal keeps threatening to wink out, then finally does, but the announcers keep on with the enthusiastic play-by-play-- "Oh, what a lovely probe!"

Anonymous: The Pirate Bay sounds too obvious. Don't wanna give up the game to the Feds too easily. How about Turhan Bey? Nah, too inside. Doesn't hint at the nefarious underbelly of the operation. I'll keep thinking.

Anonymous said...

I tend to get this confused with TUNNELVISION, another TV satire done around the time, also with a variety of soon to be famous comedians (and done by Neal Isreal of AMERICATHON and BACHELOR PARTY fame) - but I seem to remember one of GROOVE TUBE's skits being THE DEALERS, a parody of the type of cop drama that was on every network at the time, with Richard Belzer and Shapiro himself as the title characters.

Have a good weekend, Dennis.

Anonymous said...

"Eat the weed!" Has been one of my go-to catchphrases since I was a teen, in reference to the still-hilarious bit where Richard Belzer eats handfuls of marijuana because The Dealers are afraid the cops are about to pull them over.

I saw this movie when it came out. I was six. I'm certain it had an influence on my personality that lasts to this day.

joe cable said...

more trivially, does anyone remember 'tunnelvision'?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

The only thing I can remember about Tunnelvision is that eerie eyeball-in-the-mouth logo. I saw it at a midnight screening back in college, and I don't remember a thing about it other than Larraine Newman was in it.

odienator said...

The only thing I can remember about Tunnelvision is that eerie eyeball-in-the-mouth logo.

Man, was that creepy! It freaked me out as a kid. I know I've seen it, but I don't remember ANYTHING but that logo on the poster.

I also remember going to see a double feature of KFM and The Groove Tube, both of which I was too young to see. My aunt took my cousin and me, after which she told my mother that The Groove Tube was "the most disgusting piece of shit I've ever seen!"

I'd have few memories of The Groove Tube if I hadn't seen it on cable in my 20's. Maybe it caught me on one of the numerous grouch days that populated my 20's, but I just didn't find it funny. I can remember the skits you posted, and I'm tempted to click on them to see if they strike me as amusing now. Regardless, I'll agree with you that Blazing Saddles (another movie I first saw when I was way too young) is one of the funniest movies ever made.

Anonymous said...

Great post Dennis...

My first memory of the groove tube was at.... drum roll please.... at the drive-in. I had gone to the old Whittier drive-in that had only recently at that time been "plexed" into a 4 screener an renamed The Fiesta 4. I don't remember what my friends and I went to see that night, but I'll never forget looking over at the screen in the other theater and trying figure out what was on the screen. It looked like something with 2 eyes but I could not make out what it was. As the camera moved in closer to what ever it was I stared at it until it suddenly hit me that I was looking at an upside down penis and testicles with toy goofy eyes stuck to each testie. I fell over and laughed so hard I had to run to use the mens room.

Booksteve said...

I was literally the only person in the downtown theater on its opening day but any enjoyment I might have gotten from it was dampered when a very smelly "street person" shambled in, slowly worked his way to the seat right next to me and after a few minutes whispered to me, "Yer pretty." I said, "Excuse me!" and went for the manager. When we returned he was gone but the rest of the movie was a blur. The joys of inner city cinemas!

Anonymous said...

17 and also saw it in the drive-in. Actually saw a lot of great lowbrow things there: Death Race 2000 , chopsocky epics and breasts.

But back to TGT:
The bit where the TV kids clown (a proto Krusty) shoos the parents out of the room for storytime, and once the parents have left, picks up a cigar and digs into chapter whatever of Lady Chatterly's Lover.

That subversiveness sold me. I also liked the antiestablishment tones of Uranus, Brown 25 and the like. Loved the Sex Olympics, but that's pales compared to Howard Cosell's play-by-play account of Feilding Melish's honeymoon in Bananas. Saw that when I was 15.

Actually the Groove Tube plays like a Cheech and Chong record with visuals. Maybe The Groove Tube got them in the pictures...

Cooper said...

Thanx for posting these. I have GT and KFM sort of lumped together in my mind because I saw them both, once, on a double bill. As for Flesh Gordon...I think I still have the audio track for that lying around somewhere

Anonymous said...

I am wiping tears from my eyes after that Kramp TV Kitchen clip...I've only watched the first two clips and I think I need a break. Guess I had forgotten how funny that movie is, and now I want to rent it! (I think it's been about 29 years since I've seen it).

Thanks for the laughs!

Anonymous said...

True story. I saw the Groove Tube at a theater in the 70s, back in my college days, with my girlfriend.
She loved the penis with the face so much she demanded I let her do the same to mine.
Of course I refused. But within about 30 seconds, being a college boy who lived to have sex with this beautiful girl, I realized I'd better relent, fully.
Embarrassing, yes. But on the other hand, there are worse things in life than letting a beautiful girl play with your penis.

ChristopherHillman said...

What I'M amazed about is that Nobody Remembers that Groove Tube AIRED UNEDITED on DAYTIME NETWORK TV!
(From one of the NY stations in the early 70s)
(Either Accidentally or somebody was trying to get fired i guess)
It was actually something like NBC or ABC around noon on a weekend I think.
And yeah I was watching at like 6 yrs old and there's this funny puppet with a big nose ...hmm ...funny lookin puppet talking about vd