Absolute WTF, 'what were they thinking' plots and subplots in old movies and TV shows

I took Boxing Day off yesterday as a buffer to a busy Christmas Day, and spent it lazily flipping channels all day. I settled on the '63 ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ and irony-watched most of it. For those who are not familiar, it’s a silly comedic musical in which a teen idol singer named Conrad Birdy has been drafted into the army (a clear parallel to Elvis and his draft experience). Shenanigans ensue in the days before he has to report in.

One of those shenanigans involve a struggling songwriter played by Dick Van Dyke, who has a contract with Birdie, and looks to be struggling even more after losing his star client to the draft. He plans one last publicity stunt which involves Birdy appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, singing a song he wrote, and kissing a randomly chosen fan played by a very young Ann-Margret.

But complications ensue-- the Moscow Ballet is performing a segment and refuses to shorten it at all, meaning Birdie’s segment will have to be cut. But Van Dyke’s character, who also just happens to be a talented biochemist, has invented a drug he calls ‘Speedup’. He and his girlfriend arrange to dose the conductor of the ballet orchestra without his knowledge, causing him to speed up his conducting, making the ballet dancers have to move far too fast, causing them to often fall and flub their moves, and results in the audience uproariously laughing as if it’s a comedy, enraging the Soviet handlers.

The result? Not only does it cause time to open up for Birdie’s segment, Van Dyke’s character realizes, since it served as the first human trial, that ‘Speedup’ works on humans, and he’s going to be rich! He can finally marry his girlfriend!

But let’s review: a drug called ‘Speedup’, clearly some type of powerful amphetamine, previously only tested on a turtle so there was no way of knowing how it would affect a human, is given to a member of the Soviet Union, with whom we were at the height of Cold war tensions at the time, without his knowledge. Causing him to ruin the performance of the Soviets’ treasured jewel, their Moscow Ballet troupe, humiliating the Soviets. It wouldn’t have been too difficult for the Soviets to figure out he was dosed with something, and an international incident, possibly even WWIII, would have ensued. At the very least, Van Dyke’s character and his girlfriend would have faced serious prison time.

There’s no way the Marx Brothers could have fit all those people in one tiny stateroom.

The movie isn’t a faithful adaptation of the original stage play. A lot of ridiculous stuff was added for the movie.

The 1995 TV version was reportedly much more faithful.

The parallel between Conrad Birdie and Elvis is pretty obvious, with botyh being popular music stars who got drafted, and the film certainly plays that up. But I always wondered about how “Conrad Birdie” was supposed to be :Elvis Presley", until I learned that music star Conway Twitty was also drafted into the Army.

Interesting. I knew the '63 movie was based on a stage play, but I didn’t know it had been altered so much.

The channel that was showing the '63 version actually showed the '95 TV version immediately afterward. I started watching to see who played which characters in that version, but bailed after a half hour or so, being a bit ‘birdied out’ by then.

I was also watching long enough to see for sure that they were going to drop the drug dosing plotline, because by '95 there’s no way that dosing someone with an untested amphetamine-like drug without their knowledge would be something that the ‘heroes’ of the story could get away with doing. Even in '63, and even being a silly comedy, I would have thought that they were aware enough of the dangers of drugs to realize it was not a great plot idea. It reminds me of the sexual harassment and rape-by-deception plot lines in ‘Revenge of the Nerds’. Even for the crazy 80s, it seems like somebody involved in the making of the movie should have spoken up and said “hey guys, ummmm…maybe it’s not such a great idea for the ‘good guys’ to be sexually harassing and raping people?!?”.

I’d like to say I hope this thread continues. I know I have seen movies where the movie progresses normally and then all of a sudden wham something weird happens.

I think I’ve blotted them all out of my head, so I can’t contribute.

Well, Burn After Rading takes a sudden weird twist, but it’s kind of the point of the movie.

Xanadu – although that likely is more of a case of " what were they taking? "

I’m still baffled by Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, a musical based on the Rape of the Sabine Women. It has not aged well at all.

They were a bit less subtle on The Phil Silvers Show, where the Elvis stand-in was named “Elvin Pelvin.”

I haven’t seen that movie since I was a kid, and all I remembered was a lot of singin’, dancin’ and barn-raisin’, so I looked up the wiki plot summary.

What’s so bad about the movie’s plot? Sure, the brothers kidnapped six women and held them hostage throughout an entire winter, but come spring they felt so bad about it they attempted to give the women back. Is it their fault the women had developed Stockholm syndrome by then, and refused to go back? And who among us guys hasn’t, at one point or another, pretended to have had a bastard child with a kidnapped woman in order not to be hanged by an angry mob?

A Big Bold capital ‘/S’, in case it wasn’t obvious enough.

Never mind Seven Brides For Seven Brothers; somebody explain how Paint Your Wagon came to be a “classic”, or indeed came to be in existence.


Clint Eastwood’s singing

We just watched ‘Strangers on a Train’ last night. Not at all faithful to the book. But the plot, as it unfolded, was wildly improbable.

It all hinged an a lighter… that wasn’t even at the scene of the crime. And the shenanigans in getting there, oh boy! The carousel scene was too much.

Was that what he was supposed to be doing?

I haven’t seen the film version of “Bye Bye Birdie” since 1963, when I was 11 years old, but I don’t recall it being…THAT STUPID. Guess it was.

I still have the soundtrack album, which hasn’t had a stylus drop on it since 1963.

There’s a funny story involving some kind of get-together at which all the male members of the cast gushed about Ann-Margret and what a big star she would be. All except Paul Lynde, who said “I guess I’m the only guy in the room who doesn’t want to f–k Ann-Margret!”

Worth it if only for The Telephone Hour, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Well, to be fair to Ann-Margret, no woman was Lynde’s type.

She had some smoking-hot chemistry with the real, genuine Elvis just one year later in ‘Viva Las Vegas’.

As movies go, few have aged more poorly than Revenge of the Nerds. Let me be up front, as a late adolescent, I laughed at it when it was first released, but the sheer volume of politically incorrect content (e.g. loads of jokes about homophobia, racism, underage and nonconsensual sex, to name a few) is truly cringe inducing by today’s standards.

Not just jokes, but sharing of naked pictures taken without consent, and straight-up rape by deception when the ‘hero’ nerd has sex with the cheerleader while dressed in the same Darth Vader costume as her boyfriend.

As I mentioned upthread, even for the 80s that would seem to have been considered pretty WTF. I’m surprised no one at the time took a look at the script and said, “hey guys, think maybe we should tone down all the sex crimes and actual rape?”

There could be an entire thread dedicated to casual, unremarked-upon rape in old movies. In the light frothy comedy Pillow Talk, Doris Day gets assaulted and it’s just another “comedic” moment. Marnie and Straight Talk are both movies in which a troubled woman gets banged into (seeming) normalcy. James Bond, though I’m a lifelong fan of the franchise, was tremendously rapey, particularly in the Connery years (Thunderball is maybe the worst offender).

Back to the OP, the climax of the forgettable Steves Carell/Buscemi comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (spoilers, I guess, for a ten year old movie that barely made a ripple) basically involves the magicians roofie-ing their audience to pull off a vanishing illusion. I actually saw this in the theatre, and thought at the time, wait, that’s how they’re going to pull this off?