I was 11 years old when Strange Brew came out and my excitement was like an average kid felt about jedis. SCTV was — and will always be — the best show ever created, after all.
Stars Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas created Bob and Doug McKenzie out of necessity. When SCTV moved to CBC, each episode has two minutes more time than those syndicated in the United States.
To make up the difference, the CBC network heads asked the show’s producers to add specifically identifiable Canadian content for those two minutes, in line with government broadcast regulations.
Moranis and Thomas thought that this was totally ridiculous, as the show was already taped in Canada, with a Canadian cast and crew, but then they decided to make a sketch that was as Canadian as it got: The Great White North. At the end of a day’s shooting, with just Thomas, Moranis, a single camera operator and lots of Molson, everything was improvised and the best two minutes would air.
Thomas said, “Rick and I used to sit in the studio, by ourselves — almost like happy hour — drink real beers, cook back bacon, literally make hot snack food for ourselves while we improvised and just talked. It was all very low key and stupid, and we thought, ‘Well, they get what they deserve. This is their Canadian content. I hope they like it.”
They even did in America, where NBC specifically requested more Bob and Doug on the show.
There was even a Bob and Doug McKenzie comedy album, The Great White North, which sold a million copies.
Based on this success, they considered a movie. After all, John Candy had made Going Berserk. Then Andrew Alexander, executive producer for SCTV, reminded them that he had exclusive contracts with the two men and that if they wrote a script, he would sue them.
So how do you take a two-minute sketch and make a movie?
You remake Hamlet.
Moranis and Thomas were not going to direct or write the film — Steve De Jarnatt (Cherry 2000, Futuresport, Miracle Mile) is credited with some of the scripting — but ended up doing both with help from executive producer Jack Grossberg.
The movie starts with an angry mob destroying a theater, enraged over the quality of Bob and Doug’s movie Mutants of 2051 A.D. before going all in on a new plan: placing a mouse into a bottle of Elsinore beer — Molson and every other brewer in Canada wanted to be the beer for this movie until they learned that mice would be inside their brews — and getting free beer for life. Beauty, eh?
This plan ends up with both of them working at Elsinore for the mad Brewmeister Smith (Max Von Sydow), who has been brainwashing the patients of the Royal Canadian Institute for the Mentally Insane, using special beer and music to make them into killers.
The brewery’s former owner, John Elsinore, has passed on under some level of chicanery, leaving his daughter Pam (Lynne Griffin) to be in charge — and Smith to take over — and the truth lies in a Galactic Border Patrol video game. Also, a hockey player who had a nervous breakdown, Jean “Rosie” LeRose (Angus MacInnes), is one of the men under the control of Smith.
So much more happens — van crashes, flying dogs, Bob growing to massive size after drinking an entire brewery — and writing about it makes me want to watch it again.
Speaking of Max Von Sydow, the role of Brewmeister Smith was written with him in mind even if that seemed like a quixotic ask. Freddie Fields, then-president of MGM had just produced Victory, so he sent the script. Von Sydow showed it to his son, who was a huge SCTV fan and that’s how it all came true.