Sunday, June 29, 2014


From 2010...
NORMAN...IS THAT YOU? (1976, directed by George Schlatter of LAUGH-IN fame) is a movie that I've always known existed, even as a kid, but for one reason another never got a chance to see. I always thought Norman Lear was somehow connected because of the title and the casting. I was silly.
Until now. The movie (based on a 1970 play by Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick) opens with Ben Chambers (Redd Foxx, then star of Lear's SANFORD & SON) riding on a bus, as Smokey Robinson croons a Motown ditty about Redd being an “old-fashioned man, living in a brand new world.” Redd then arrives in Los Angeles and transfers to a taxicab which takes him directly to Hollywood (though it looks like WEST Hollywood to me).
Redd arrives at his son Norman's apartment building as his hunky son awakens from his waterbed slumber in nothing but a pair of form-fitting blue undies. Norman (Michael Warren of HILL STREET BLUES), in a panic, directs Redd to take the stairs to delay his arrival. Norman then puts on a paint of form-fitting pistachio green slacks that fit him like the skin on a grape. Norman attempts to awaken the other person in the bed, who appears at first to be a very lazy and annoying woman. But is soon revealed to be an extremely feminine and annoying man named Garson (Dennis Dugan, later of RICHIE BROCKLEMAN, PRIVATE EYE).
Garson just had the "most faaaaaabulous dream” instantly informing us that he is the embarrassing gay character that we've all seen a million times before. The mincing queen who wears caftans and delivers lines like he's Kay Thompson. To the film's credit, in 1976 we probably hadn't seen many characters like this before. But, why on earth would Norman be attracted to this? To each his own, I guess.
Norman, clearly embarrassed by Garson, makes him hide as he lets Redd into the apartment. Redd notices Norman's exquisite 1976 decor and comments on the purple drapes and declares "to each his own." (Just like I did a paragraph above!) After introducing Garson to Redd as his "neighbor" who came by to use the toilet, we learn that pops is here to visit because Norman's mother ran off to Mexico with his uncle, keeping it "all in the family". ;)
Garson, meanwhile, is visiting his puppeteer friend Larry Davenport (Waylon Flowers, later of MADAME'S PLACE). That's right, Garson's friends are even gayer than he is! Not only does Madame answers the phone when Norman calls, but Madame's sassy (nameless) black friend also makes a brief appearance, causing me to scream with laughter and disbelief. Meanwhile, Redd unpacks his suitcase and starts going through his son's drawers. So to speak. First he finds some frilly underthings and then he finds an Asian-style gown and jumps to the conclusion that Norman has a lady friend. Just then, Garson, Norman's lady friend, reappears and Redd begins to put two and two together.
After first declaring that he'll kill his gay son, he then calms down and tries to figure out what he and his wife did wrong. “Maybe we toilet trained him too soon?” Yeah, right...that's it Redd. After taking a walk through Hollywood, Redd pops into a bookstore and asks to see the gay section. He ends up picking up a bunch of books at random and buys them all from Barbara Sharma (of RHODA fame). He then plants himself on a park bench and reads them all. Out loud. He seems to harp on the fact that one out of every six people has had a homosexual experience. Hmmm....
After he absorbing all the knowledge he can, he comes to the conclusion that his son ISN'T gay - he's just on drugs. “Thank God my son is on drugs!” Did Redd ever consider that Norman is gay AND on drugs?
So Redd's denial continues and he breaks up with Garson for Norman, and they he hires CLEOPATRA JONES to fuck the gay out of his son. Yes, the stunning Audrey the hooker (Tamara Dobson) attempts to turn Norman straight, but alas the boy flees for the comfort of his fruit fly Melody (Vernee Watson of CARTER COUNTRY and a hundred other sitcoms), who gets him drunk in order to fuck the gay outta him. Doesn't work, and pisses her off.
Meanwhile, back at gay, Garson comes over and bonds with Redd and the two go to see Madame's drag puppet show. Redd later has a dream where he's decked in glitter and accepting some gay award. GLAAD? When Garson awakens Redd from the dream, the old man yells "Rape!" Yeah right, like Garson is a top!
The next day, Norman's mother Beatrice (the legendary Pearl Bailey) shows up and when Redd tells her that their son is gay, she's not having it. Until Audrey the hooker shows up and Beatrice asks her, " that you?".
Then real Norman shows up and announces that he's joined the Navy! What? Yes - so Norman decides to abandon his lover, and his parents by joining the military. Don't ask, don't tell. But what of poor tragic Garson? Well, Redd invites his new "son" to live with him and his wife in Arizona and to work in their shop (I'm thinking it's a dry cleaners for some JEFFERSON-inspired reason). All's well that ends well. Before the end credits Redd looks out to the viewing audience and wonders who out there might be gay as Thelma Houston belts out “One Out Of Every Six.”
Wow.  I actually enjoyed this more than I thought I would. I guess despite all it's internalized homophobia, the film was way ahead of its time. I mean, there are still gay films being made today that deal with this same exact subject and are no less preachy and just as filled with bad stereotypes. The film totally feels like a stage production, though the original characters were Jewish and not African American. I think this was a bold choice by the producers since homophobia was (and still is) very prevalent in the black community. I also think the late actors Redd Foxx and Pearl Bailey deserve to be commended for appearing in a project that was intended to teach tolerance in a time when it wasn't very popular. Despite it's many flaws (and numerous plot holes), the film is certainly a curiosity and should be seen (to be believed!). 7 outta 10.