Under the Rainbow (1981)
Release Date: July 31st, 1981 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Steve Rash Actors: Chevy Chase, Carrie Fisher, Eve Arden, Joseph Maher, Robert Donner, Billy Barty, Mako
n perhaps the only little person Nazi role ever scripted for film, Otto Kriegling (Billy Barty) is assigned by the Fuhrer to meet with a Japanese man in a white suit for a covert operation in the United States. At the same time, Secret Service Special Agent Bruce Thorpe (Chevy Chase) is given the task of escorting the exiled and incredibly paranoid Duke Leopold (Joseph Maher) and nearly blind Duchess (Eve Arden) by train to Culver City, while remaining secretive and in disguise. After Thorpe arrives, a group of amateur Japanese photographers (coincidentally all wearing white) become stranded at the hotel when their bus breaks down.
Meanwhile, casting director Annie Clark (Carrie Fisher) must oversee the special supervision of “The Wizard of Oz” extras – 150 little people need accommodations at the very same Culver Hotel during the shoot. Her only help is the extremely tall Homer (Peter Isacksen), the bumbling nephew of the producer. From Los Angeles, little person Rollo Sweet (Cork Hubbert) stows away to arrive at Culver Studios in the hope of making it big. And finally, an Italian assassin shows up to kill the Duke. Despite such a large number of characters and subplots designed solely to be confused with one another, tragically, none of them are all that interesting.
Thanks to one of the most contrived verbal mix-ups in movie history, Otto confides with the wrong Japanese businessman, giving him a map crucial to an invasion plot. From here, various parties follow one another to carry out their missions, with continual switches, accidental deaths, random interference, and unintentional murders. Further shenanigans involve a ridiculous romance, the repeated killing and replacing of a dog, the growing body count of Japanese tourists (who are stored on meat hooks in a food cooler), hokey munchkin swordfights, and nonstop partying.
With rather racist insinuations, short jokes, midget jabs, dwarf ribs, and all sorts of political incorrectness, and the use of the word “nifty” and other stale dialogue delivered by silly supporting characters, there are very few laughs to be found in this dated, bland comedy. Even the cute, fluffy dog Strudel and an impressive stunt involving a little person tumbling down a flight of stairs can’t bring much spirit to the premise, which is unique but very poorly assembled. It’s especially surprising that shortly after “Caddyshack” and “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” Chase and Fisher, respectively, would decide to star in this uninspired mess, which they would both go on to quote as one of the worst films they ever made. Coincidentally (or maybe not), before the success of Princess Leia in her metal bikini, Fisher is stripped down to her underwear – one of the only notable elements of this highly forgettable film.
Was “Under the Rainbow” an excuse to make a movie with a large amount of little people? Or did the producers actually think this material was funny? Admittedly, the culmination of all the storylines, involving a bus/buggy/dog/horse/little person chase through the sets of “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz” – and the final scenes, the real frown-inducing kicker – are mildly amusing in their cinematic audacity.
– Mike Massie