A toast! Let’s raise those waxed cups n’ strawed A&W Root Beers to Harry “Tampa” Hurwitz and his return to the big screen with Robert De Niro starring in the remake of Harry’s 1982 feature, The Comeback Trail.
Prior to his tenure as a screenwriter, director and producer, the New York born and raised Hurwitz worked as a professor of film and drawing at several New York institutions, including a prestigious tenure at New York University.
He made his debut as a filmmaker with 1970’s critically-acclaimed The Projectionist — a film noted as the acting debut for a then unknown comedian named Rodney Dangerfield — in a tale about a lonely projectionist (Chuck McCann) who imagines himself in the films he shows. Hurwitz also translated his life-long love of Charlie Chaplin in the 1972 sophomore effort, The Eternal Tramp.
While his films would see distribution with major studios, such as MGM/United Artists (Safari 3000), and major-independents, such as Almi Pictures, a division of Carolco (The Rosebud Beach Hotel), and Compass International (Nocturna), Hurwitz produced and directed 12 pictures, 9 of which he wrote, independently.
His resume features two films produced with a pre-Empire Studios Charles Band: the late ’70s sexploitation pieces Fairy Tales and Auditions. Hurwitz also wrote and directed 1972’s Richard, a social parody on President Richard M. Nixon. He re-teamed with his lifelong friend Chuck McCann in 1982’s The Comeback Trail, a somewhat semi-autobiographical tale about two independent film executives against-the-odds in producing a western with a washed-up cowboy star.
And the $50 response is . . . “Is a Rose”
The $150 response is . . . “Wood”
And the $500 response . . . “Bud”
What the hell? Napoleon Solo? Well, it was either Match Game . . . or do a film with Harry. Oh, shite . . . say it ain’t so, Solo! The “comeback trail” isn’t paved with Harry Hurwitz films, Mr. Vaughn. Just ask Christopher Lee. . . .
Repeating the semi-documentary cinéma vérité style of 1978’s Auditions, Hurwitz also concocted 1989’s That’s Adequate; a Spinal Tapish tale about a troubled film studio that features an eclectic cast of comedians with Sinbad, Richard Lewis, and Rick Overton alongside a starbound Bruce Willis, Maureen “Marsha Brady” McCormick as a Space Princess, Robert Vaughn as Adolf Hitler (which is “funny” to fringe movie fans, when we remember Vaughn starred in 1978’s The Lucifer Complex), Susan “Laurie Partridge” Dey as a Southern Belle, and Robert Downey, Jr. as Albert Einstein. (Seriously: the film is that crazy.)
Harry’s most significant screen credit was working as one of the five screenwriters on a tale about the 1939 production of The Wizard of Oz, the 1981 Chevy Chase-starring Under the Rainbow for Warner Bros.-Orion Pictures. And we can’t forget Harry dipping his toes in the Blaxploitation pool as a producer with 1983’s The Big Score starring Richard Roundtree and the late John Saxon*.
Harry “Tampa” Hurwitz passed away on September 21, 1995, at the young age of 57 from heart failure while awaiting a heart transplant at the U.C.L.A Medical Center. This Drive-In Friday is for you, Harry. May your films live on for a new generation of video fringe enthusiasts. And they do!
In the ultimate show of respect to Harry’s imagination, on November 13, 2020**, the remake of The Comeback Trail, starring the Oscar acting elite of Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Tommy Lee Jones, was realized by writer-director George Gallo of Bad Boys fame.
Way to go, Harry!
Now, Mr. Gallo . . . about that Safari 3000 remake. . . .
Movie 1: Nocturna, Granddaughter of Dracula (1979)
What do you get when you go into business with a noted Las Vegas belly dancer who appeared on TV’s The Beverly Hillbillies . . . then cast Lily Munster, a B-Movie Dracula, and a couple of on-their-way-down ’70s disco stars — and negotiate a deal with MCA Records to release a disco-flavored soundtrack double album to promote the movie?
You get a Harry Tampa box-office boondoggle with John Carradine making back dick jokes. Can Countess Dracula turn her gay singer crush, straight? Do we care?
And to think the Compass International — a studio that had a worldwide hit on their hands with their debut release, John Carpenter’s Halloween — backed this vampire hookers romp. But they also made Roller Boogie, Tourist Trap, Blood Beach, and Hell Night . . . so you know where this disco Dracula romp is heading. Flushing is required.
Movie 2: Safari 3000 (1980)
What do you get when you go into business with United Artists and convince them a Smokey and the Bandit ripoff set on the African tundra will work?
You get a Harry Tampa box-office boondoggle with Christopher Lee frolicking with baboons and the guy who voiced the CP3O knockoff in Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash. Does the fact that David Carradine is behind the wheel giving us some serious Death Race 2000 and Cannonball vibes save this VHS flotsam? No. And we wished ol’ Dave got off a couple of his dad’s bad dick jokes from Nocturna to compensate for the fact that Stockard Channing’s comedic timing makes the monkeys look good.
Intermission! With the stars of our next feature on tonight’s program!
Back to the Show!
Movie 3: The Rosebud Beach Hotel (1984)
What do you get when you contractually flim-flam cinema’s requisite Count, an ex-Runaway, a B-Movie apoc anti-hero, a washed up Tom Hanks TV sidekick, and wardrobe left overs from Glen Larson’s crap-ass Buck Rogers remake for TV?
You get a Harry Tampa ripoff of Bob Clark’s Porky‘s set in a South Beach Miami hotel. Do the adult film actresses working as topless bell hops for Madam Bobbi Flekman from Spinal Tap’s management team seducing Paco Querak from Hands of Steel save it? Do the cut-rate AOR-synth soundtrack ditties from Cherie Currie save it? No. And we wished Christopher Lee stuck to his original plan of torching the joint for the insurance money.
Movie 4: Fleshtone (1994)
What do you get when Harry Tampa answers paid cable’s call for “after hours” erotic thriller programming fodder for the wee-lads who can’t get dates on Saturday nights?
You get the bassist from the bane of our New Wave existence — Spandau Ballet — as a struggling painter twisting down a soft-core film noir spiral in this final, bitter sweet Harry “Tampa” Hurwitz’s effort completed a year before his death.
Truth be told, Martin Kemp, who been in the acting game in the U.K. since the ’70s before finding fame as a MTV favorite, is pretty decent here (he was in Sugar Town with John Doe and Michael Des Barres) as the noir schlub who can’t stay away from dangerous women who enjoy erotic sex games. And it’s nice to see Tim Thomerson (yep, the one and only Jack Deth from Trancers) on top of the marquee in this who-killed-her potboiler.
Do the adult film actresses that Harry likes to cast for that extra titillation-inspiration and lesbian sex scenes helping? Does the fact that the singularly-named Daniella also starred in Anal Maidens 3 and Assy 2 exciting you? How about those exotic Jo-Berg, South Africa locations?
Eh, a little . . . but in reality, this is probably the best of Harry’s films, courtesy of Kemp and Thomerson giving the material some class, and ’80s U.S. TV actress Lise Cutter isn’t so bad, but she’s not leaving the direct-to-video realms any time soon.
Yes! You Tube comes through in the clutch! You can enjoy Harry’s final film on You Tube. You can watch the other films on tonight’s program via the links in those reviews.
* We honored the career of the late John Saxon with our “Exploring: John Saxon” featurette.
** The Comeback Trail premiered at the 43rd Mill Valley Film Festival on October 12, 2020. It was initially scheduled to be theatrically released in the United States on November 13, 2020. However, due to the affects of COVID on theaters, Cloudburst Entertainment has pushed the release date to sometime in 2021.