The Archivist XLI: Two SNL Legends Try Their Hand at Being Men of Intrigue

by Frank Calvillo

The Archivist

Welcome to the Archive. Following the infamous “Format Wars” (R.I.P. VHS), a multitude of films found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their admittedly niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Disc On Demand & Streaming service devoted to some of the more idiosyncratic pieces of cinema ever made. Being big fans of the label, we here at Cinapse thought it prudent to establish a column devoted to these unusual gems. Thus “The Archivist” was born — a biweekly look at some of the best, boldest and most batshit motion pictures the Shield has to offer. Some of these will be recent additions to the collection, while others will be titles that have been available for awhile. With over 1,500 pictures procurable on Warner Archive (and more being added every month), there’s no possible way we’ll get to all of them. But trust me when we say we’re sure going to try.

There’s no question that two of the greatest talents to ever to come out of SNL were Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. The two regulars parlayed their success on the long-running variety show into movie careers full of a collection of titles now considered bona fide classics. As is the case with any big screen career however, there are naturally box-office misses. Usually these occur when an actor either tries to step outside their wheelhouse, or when the type of role and project that made them famous in the first place, has started to wear a bit thin with moviegoers. This edition of The Archivist looks at two such as examples featuring Chase (in the former category with Memoirs of an Invisible Man) and Murray (in the latter with The Man Who Knew Too Little) who tried to shake things up a bit in a pair of fun projects which had them on the run from black suit-wearing bad guys and top secret agencies.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man

In this John Carpenter-directed tale, Chase stars as Nick Holloway, a San Francisco stock market executive who, after sneaking off during a meeting at a prominent chemical plant to sleep off a hangover, is left unawakened after an accident calls for the entire building to be evacuated. The event causes the whole building to actually disappear before everyone’s eyes, turning Nick invisible in the process. Almost immediately, the CIA becomes hot on Nick’s tail, led by the menacing David Jenkins (Sam Neill), who are intent on capturing him. With virtually nowhere to go, Nick finds an ally in the lovely Alice Monroe (Darryl Hannah), a documentary filmmaker who also finds herself falling for the invisible man as the two try to escape danger any way they can.

Many people forget that this is a Carpenter film (Memoirs is one of the only Carpenter efforts that doesn’t bare the director’s name above the title), due to alleged studio battles. Whatever the process of getting the film to the screen was like, it was all worth it. Memoirs of an Invisible Man is an incredibly fun ride, mainly because of the way it blends several genres together. David’s never ending pursuit of Nick throws the film into action thriller territory, while Chase is never short on an assortment of one-liners, which he delivers in his classic deadpan way. The love story between Alice and Nick is truly touching, while the main character’s overall narration gives the film a definite noir stain. It should also be noted that everyone in the film is simply outstanding. Hannah was never lovelier, Neill proves himself a more than capable heavy and Chase succeeds at the many different tones the movie’s screenplay throws at him. Finally, although movie technology has made huge strides since 1992, the effects of Memoirs of an Invisible Man remain spectacular, from the evaporation of the main lab, to the sight of Nick and Alice kissing at the train station as rain pours down, beautifully outlining Nick’s face and body.

The Man Who Knew Too Little

When Wallace Ritchie (Murray) flies to London to visit family, his brother James (Peter Gallagher) needs to get rid of him for the night while he entertains some important dinner guests. In order to keep his brother occupied, he signs Wallace up for a live theater participation experience. Through a series of unforeseen events however, Wallace actually ends up in a real-life espionage plot involving a powerful agency and a sexy femme fatale (Joanne Whalley). The only problem is, Wallace thinks it’s all part of the act.

The Man Who Knew Too Little was made at an interesting time in Murray’s career. Coming straight after a pair of flops (Kingpin and Larger Than Life), and predating his resurgence with Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, The Man Who Knew Too Little has understandably gotten lost in the shuffle of Murray titles. What a shame this is, since the film is actually a pretty fun romp with lots of classic Murray throughout. It may be a one-joke premise, but that joke is able to lend itself to one solid laugh after another, with the discovery of a dead body being my personal favorite scene. Lunacy can more often than not provide the best of backdrops for comedy, and The Man Who Knew Too Little proves it with its continuous strain of delightful ridiculousness and nonsensical tone. Only in a movie like this can a character like the one Murray is playing be stopped by a pair of angry policeman, proclaim he’s a secret agent, give his communication device to one of the skeptical cops where he exchanges words with the film’s heavies and eventually cut to Murray wowing said cop with details about his fake profession. The Man Who Knew Too Little represents a sort of end for the hapless Murray audiences loved from movies such as What About Bob? and Groundhog Day, but for some, it remains a definite highlight in the actor’s more than impressive career.

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