J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Fabulous Allan Carr: A True Hollywood Legend


In retrospect, it is hard to believe the 1989 Oscar ceremony produced by Allan Carr was so poorly received at the time, but we live in a post-Uma-meet-Oprah, Anne Hathaway-awkwardly-co-hosting-with-James Franco world. So, there was a Snow White musical number that didn’t land? So what? However, there is nothing that can mitigate the train-wreck that was Can’t Stop the Music. Yes, he produced that too, but he also had a few successes. Jeffrey Schwarz chronicles his career ups and downs in The Fabulous Allan Carr (trailer here), which releases today on VOD.

Although he didn’t come out and say it, Carr was pretty open about his sexuality, especially for the 1970s. After college, he soon found his way to Hollywood, because he had a fondness for old school Golden Age glamor. He initially worked as a manager, doing quite well for his clients, including legends like Bette Davis and previously under-represented talents, such as Ann-Margaret. Eventually, he hooked up with powerful British producer-impresario Robert Stigwood, who backed him when he decided to take the Broadway musical Grease to the big screen—and the rest was history—rocky tumultuous history.

Schwartz covers the full scope of his life, using Sean Nadeau’s sly animation to liven up the early years, but he primarily focuses on four projects: Grease, Can’t Stop the Music, the original Broadway production of La Cage aux Folles, and the disastrous Oscar telecast. There is also some discussion of his work producing revues for Ann-Margaret, the much-maligned Grease 2 (sort of a Can’t Stop the Music-lite), and the teen sex comedy remake of Where the Boys Are—’84, but Cloak and Dagger, which so many kids watched on HBO back in the day, is sadly overlooked.

Still, the material on Can’t Stop the Music, the Village People bio-musical the world didn’t know it wanted, because it didn’t, is worth the price of admission on its own. It is the kind of stranger-than-fiction show business lore that makes you shake your head in disbelief. Cheers to Steve Guttenberg for discussing his not-so prestigious star-turn (but jeers to John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John for their absence).

At this point, Schwarz ranks as one of the best documentarians of Hollywood history, having previously helmed Spine Tingler!: The William Castle Story (the folks at Shudder really ought to consider picking that one up) and Tab Hunter Confidential. In many ways, Fabulous shares elements of both prior docs, as well as the brisk up-tempo pacing to all three.

Sadly, Carr passed away in 1999, but unlike his producer brethren, he was not shy about promoting himself on talk shows, so Schwarz had quite a wealth of archival footage to cull from. As a result, the film will also be a real nostalgia trip for anyone with hazy memories of Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, and late-1970s-early-1980s pop culture in general. Sometimes raucously funny and sometimes quite poignant, The Fabulous Allan Carr is very highly recommended for a wide gamut of movie buffs. It releases today on VOD platforms, including iTunes.

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