At 25: “My Blue Heaven”

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August 17, 2015 by billysparrow

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My Blue Heaven

Released: August 17, 1990

Starring: Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Joan Cusack, William Hickey, Bill Irwin, Melanie Mayron, Carol Kane

The summer of 1990 was coming to an end and I was only a few weeks away from starting high school when either my mom or dad dropped me off at the Fairview Plaza in Hudson, NY. I’m sure I’ve discussed the Fairview Plaza before but (a) who has time to search things on the Internet? and (b) I’m guessing the odds of you reading and remembering everything I’ve written here are high enough that I can feel comfortable extolling the virtues of the Favorite Strip Mall of My Youth without being repetitive.

The prize jewel was Bookland, which had the largest magazine collection I’d ever seen in my life up to that point. I bought some books there, but there never seemed to be a lot of turnaround in new product. So I mainly loaded up on wrestling magazines and even odd comic books, like a “Married…With Children” one and a “Jetsons” one. I still have those comic books, but Bookland is no longer there.

Then there was Strawberries, a record store where I bought quite a few soundtracks, some “Comic Relief” cassettes and my only Grateful Dead product: the grey 45 for “Touch of Grey.” I still have those soundtracks and the “Comic Relief” tapes, the “Touch of Grey” was stepped on and broke (not intentionally), and Strawberries, though it did move to a bigger store at one point, is now long gone.

The anchor for the plaza was the Ames department store, which was a glorious new world to explore when I was a child. There were no Ames stores near Staten Island, so it was magical when we came upon this new store, which was, I suppose, not all that different from the Kmart on Staten Island. But it was called Ames, you see. And that meant it was something new. And amazing. And there were two of them within driving distance of our summer house in the Catskills (to be honest, the one in Greenville was better, though I’m not sure I could tell you why). I still have some of the things we bought there (including the VHS of “Good Morning, Vietnam” my dad pre-ordered), but that Ames in the Fairview Plaza (and the one in Greenville, and every Ames everywhere) is no more.

But there is one star of the Fairview Plaza that remains. And that is the Fairview Cinema 3, where I saw, to the best of my recollection, “Dragnet” (the only movie I ever saw with my dad), “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” “Jetsons: The Movie,” and the reason why I have come here to share all the seemingly unrelated commerce-centered nonsense above with you today, “My Blue Heaven.”

I do not think my anticipation was super-high heading into the Fairview Cinema 3 that day to see the story of a mobster who is placed under the FBI’s care in the Witness Protection Program. At that point of my life I wasn’t a huge Steve Martin fan, and I was probably more excited that Rick Moranis was in it, because I liked “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” I was most likely more pumped to not be “boooooooooooooored,” which is something I complained about a lot, particularly in the summer months, and my parents were probably delighted to shut me up. We started renting a house in Windham, NY, in, I think, the summer of 1985 or 1986, and when I discovered from reading the Mountain Eagle newspaper sometime in 1987 that there was a multiplex in Hudson (roughly an hour away from Windham), the chorus of “Can you take me to the movies?” was unceasing. The fact that I only saw four movies at the Fairview is a testament to my parents’ strong capacity to endure my whining, though I did make them take many other non-movie trips to Hudson (my folks liked Ames, too, or at least they pretended to like it for my sake).

Oh yes, the movie. I suppose I should get back to that.

Some movies take a while to hit you, but “My Blue Heaven” was an almost-instant classic from the second I stepped out of the Fairview. It is far and away my favorite Steve Martin performance, and that is not to say I haven’t enjoyed him in a ton of other stuff from the last three decades. I’ve seen most Steve Martin movies at this point (though, inexplicably not “Three Amigos,” which is something that baffles me so much that I keep forgetting to rectify it) and enjoyed all of them, but there’s something about his performance as Vincent Antonelli/Tod (internet jerkoffs will spell that “Todd,” but they are incorrect) Wilkinson that gets me. To wit, maybe my favorite scene of his in the movie.

I should also note that it appears I may be in the minority in my love of Steve Martin as Vinnie/Tod, based on the recent American Film Institute tribute to Steve Martin, in which approximately two seconds was devoted to a scene from “My Blue Heaven.” I guess I will not be invited to join the board of the American Film Institute. Just as well. I won’t be letting them guest blog here either.

I know this makes me seem like the coolest person on Earth ever and thus comes off as a ridiculous flight of braggadocio, but I’ll say it anyway: You don’t know anyone who can quote as many lines from “My Blue Heaven” as I can, and I will do so at the drop of a hat. In fact, next time you see me, drop a hat and get ready to hear a line from “My Blue Heaven.” Here’s one of my favorites, at the very end of the clip.

And after you pick up your hat, hold onto it while I dazzle you with all the minutiae I can pull up about the movie. Want to know what movie is on the marquee of the movie theater in Fryburg? I can tell you. Curious to know what flavor of ice cream cone District Attorney Hannah Stubbs’ elder son orders at the ice cream shop? I got it. And, what, you breathlessly ask, was Vinnie/Tod’s dog’s name, in both the original and the edited-for-TV version? Ooh ooh, I know. And rest assured (one of my favorite ways to rest), I knew all of these things before this weekend’s anniversary viewing. I’ve been doing this since college, son. I’ve got references.

Now, I’m not gonna tell you the answers here, just as I’m not listing all of the lines I can quote. Because I know how you operate. You’re just gonna take what I tell you and pass yourself off as a “My Blue Heaven” expert and start encroaching on my turf. Next thing I know you’re the new Super Cool Guy who knows everything about “My Blue Heaven” and I’m left in the dust, watching as you bed women and amass uncountable riches. I can see your kind coming a mile away. Back off, bud.

But I would be remiss (and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s being remiss) if I didn’t bring up a quote from the owner of Sparrow’s Pampered Pets, Mr. Billy Sparrow (formerly known as Johnny Bird, which is odd, because you’d think the FBI wouldn’t give a bird-related name to someone whose last name is Bird in the Witness Protection Program, nor would you think they’d let “Peter Baker” and “Michael Peterson” operate companies with their actual last names in the company name). Mr. Sparrow is played by the unbelievably great William Hickey, Academy Award nominee for “Prizzi’s Honor,” guest star on “Wings,” Uncle Lewis in “Christmas Vacation,” and. most importantly, an inaugural member of the Tinsel and Rot Hall of Fame.

The abbreviated (yes, I used to abbreviate things) story of my meeting with Mr. Hickey, a genuine highlight of my life, is at the link above, but if you can’t be bothered with clicking links, let me offer you these photographic reminders (there’s no YouTube clip, yet again proving the shortcomings of the Internet) of the one line he says that fills me up with happiness. Here’s a screen cap of him beginning to say it.

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And my all-time favorite autograph:

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The only thing wrong with this movie is not enough Billy Sparrow. Oh, and Hannah Stubbs’ kids are a little annoying (the older son is played by Jesse Bradford, who somehow went on to something of a successful career in acting).

But there is other non-Hickey greatness in the movie. And credit should be given to Rick Moranis, who does a stellar job as Barney Coopersmith, the slightly uptight FBI agent who has a system for eating pancakes (which. if you ask me–and I could swear that you did–seems like a fine thing to have and not a reason why your wife should leave you) and purported inventor of the rotary engine (though that is, of course, Wankel…another failing of YouTube is not having the airport arrival scene) and that valve doohickey on the artificial heart. He and Martin work well together, and perhaps never better than in the merengue scene.

And while I’m on the merengue tip, props must also be given to the underrated Bill Irwin (guest star on one of the best episodes of that TV show from the 1980s that none of us are ever gonna feel the same way about again), who plays Coopersmith’s eager partner Kirby. When he drops down to the ground in the second merengue scene, I never fail to smile.

In fact, I still laugh and smile throughout “My Blue Heaven” every time I watch it, which is, as you might suspect, fairly often. There are movies that make me laugh harder, and surely there are more consistently funny movies. But few hold a more special place in my heart. Maybe that’s because I saw it in Hudson. Or maybe it’s because William Hickey was in it. Or perhaps it’s because it’s one of the last movies I saw before high school hit, so I mark it as one of the last movies I saw when I was a “kid.”

Whatever the case, I wholeheartedly love this movie just as much as I did (probably more) when I walked out of the Fairview Cinema 3 that August afternoon. You, like Siskel and Ebert and their two thumbs down, might not share my opinion, but I’m not gonna fight you on it. Why make war? That’s my philosophy anyway.

That’s a quote from the movie, dummy. Don’t go around acting like you knew.

Anyway, thanks for making it all the way through this ramble. Like your shoes, it’s a miracle you lasted as long as you did.

Boom! Another one! With pronouns altered to suit the occasion!

OK. I’m going now. Enjoy every popover.

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