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|Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness |
Hieronymus Merkin has recently turned 40, and is in the midst of preparing a film that details his life's history and development. Portraying himself as a marionette being controlled by an unseen puppet master, young Merki... more »
A Jaw-Droppingly Pretentious Nihilistic Ego Trip
Robert I. Hedges | 05/28/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
""Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?" is an ultra rare, self-indulgent ode to the excesses of the 1960's starring Anthony Newley. In fact, this entire work of anti-art can be fully attributed to Newley, who not only starred in it, but wrote and directed it as well. Oh, and he composed and performed the numerous musical numbers, too. After suffering through "The Garbage Pail Kids Movie," I was confident that I had seen the worst movie of Newley's distinguished career. I could not have been more incorrect.
"CHMEFMHAFTH?" opens with Hieronymous turning 40 and reflecting on his life, being disappointed with his progress and future, and opening a museum to himself. Almost immediately he runs into "The Presence" (George Jessel), who is a sort of joke telling, cigar smoking specter of death in a white suit and umbrella. The Presence re-enters the movie at seemingly random intervals, tells a couple of terrible jokes and then leaves (sample punchline: "If you're not careful who your have your eggs with, very often the yoke's on you"). His main function is to provide the continuity to the movie. Almost immediately after dealing with the Presence, Satan enters the scene disguised as "Good Time Eddie Filth," a sort of agent of (and for) evil played by Milton Berle (!) in a baby blue sport coat and plaid shorts. Hieronymous imagines himself as a marionette being controlled by outside forces and launches into the first of what will become an annoyingly large number of musical numbers, interspersed with second-rate animation, all in dreadfully washed-out color.
The film is narrated by multiple narrators (including Merkin himself), adding to the disjointed effort. Most of the narration is from an uncredited offscreen voice who somberly intones ponderous platitudes. For instance, at one point Hieronymous "continues his courageous search for the nocturnal foot bath of the night bloom." (I fully realize that makes no sense, but I watched it four times, and that's sure what it sounds like to me.) Hieronymous becomes a music star, and becomes utterly self-indulgent and irresponsible, especially in his numerous relationships with women.
His lifestyle catches up with him when a former tryst arrives pregnant with her parents, and a shotgun wedding ensues. His new wife, Filigree Fondle, is played by a young, thin, and pretty Judy Cornwell. Seeing Cornwell was worth enduring the movie for: I love her characterization of Daisy, the daft sister of Hyacinth Bucket in "Keeping Up Appearances." To see her in this is a bit of a shock, the only pleasant shock of the entire experience. Unfortunately Hieronymous and Filigree lose their baby (in a wholly unnecessary plot diversion) and Filigree sadly leaves Hieronymous to pursue true love with another man: after all, Hieronymous is only capable of loving himself.
The film gets creepier as it goes along. Most of the action is observed by the mother and children of Hieronymous; the children, "Thaxted" and "Thumbelina" are in fact played by Newley's actual young children Sasha and Tara Newley. I wonder if they found the experience upsetting or merely boring. Overall I regret the musical numbers the most, though, especially when they involve clowns, which is often. Unfortunately, Newley sings a lot, and the lyrics (remember, he wrote this) get worse and worse. In one scene when Princess Trampolena Whambang crosses paths with Hieronymous, she actually sings a love song to her donkey. If you are wondering, this is the only song in the known universe to rhyme not only "Trampolena" with "hyena," but also "wonky" with "donkey." Ghastly.
The narration lets us know that in his thirties, Hieronymous begins to like women decidedly younger than him, a plotpoint that brings us (finally) to Mercy Humppe. Mercy, played by Playboy Playmate of the Year for 1969, Connie Kreski, meets Hieronymous on a merry-go-round in a manner that the film describes as "Snow White meets Attila the Hun." Hieronymous is smitten and finds even her name "is like music," while Mercy, somewhat less impressed, greets him with the line "Oh, you're Hieronymous Codpiece!" Just when you thought this self-important narcissism couldn't get worse, Milton Berle starts to sing. Enjoy!
After Berle's unmercifully long song, the plot thickens when Hieronymous becomes involved with a woman named Polyester, played by...wait for it...Joan Collins! This is when the film totally looses its moorings as there is a mind-numbing astrological dance, followed by an even more mind-numbing song by Collins called "Chalk and Cheese." I am absolutely not making this up. This song (and some other parts of the film) contains nudity, so viewer beware. Actually, viewers should exercise extreme caution, as most of the nudity features Anthony Newley. As Collins finishes crooning "I'm a fool maybe, but I don't mind chalk with my cheese" it becomes evident that Hieronymous is becoming both emotionally and physically exhausted carrying on relationships with both Polyester and Mercy. Thankfully this prickly situation is rapidly resolved when Polyester becomes pregnant. Mercy realizes Hieronymous is a self-absorbed egotist and leaves him. This prompts Hieronymous to engage in a totally surreal game of chess while Polyester delivers their beautiful daughter, Thumbelina.
Family life is difficult for Hieronymous, who cries to the heavens that he is just "a caraway seed on the rye bread of life." To sum up his id-filled nihilistic existence, he launches into a song which is (surprise!) all about him: "I'm all I need; If I've got me, I've got rainbows...." Hieronymous mopes about as an "addict" to the memory of Mercy Humppe, while Polyester produces their second child, Thaxted. Good Time Eddie finds himself losing his touch with Hieronymous despite tempting him with girls with names like Quiche Lorraine, all of which leads to Eddie taking the form of a "hobgoblin" in the big donkey song and dance number by Trampolena. The falling out between Hieronymous and Eddie is completed when Hieronymous beats up a man selling banana ice cream on a merry-go-round. (Please note the gratuitous hog imagery.) Eddie takes offense and goes off with the vendor of frozen delicacies, Icicle Ike (Bernard Stone). This is never explained fully, but at this point I was over trying to make it fit together sensibly.
The remainder of the film is literally watching Hieronymous (well, Newley, really) try to conceive an ending for this mess. After Polyester takes the kids and leaves him, the film producers demand a happy ending. The film, therefore, has what passes for a happy ending, although astute viewers will recognize it as the closing credits.
This film is truly breathtaking in its badness. It is utterly pretentious and goes out of its way to offend pretty much anyone's sensibilities (artistic and otherwise); it has endless numbers of terrible show tunes warbled by Newley while creepy things happen onscreen; and it has pointless and nonsensical film within a film scenes designed for absolute lack of continuity. While the multiple narrative is a device that can be effective in some films, unfortunately Newley doesn't have the talent to pull it off: he's no Steven Soderbergh, and this is no "Schizopolis." The narration is intentionally obtuse (again, that can work, but not here), and the multiple narrators do not add either background or insight to the film. The film is entirely about self-indulgence, and on that level, and on that level only, it succeeds: it highlights the loneliness of the truly egotistical, which is a point Newley was trying desperately to convey. He made his point, although he could have done so in much less time and with a much better movie.
This film will try your patience like few others, but I can't bring myself to give it a single star, as Newley did make a valid critical point of the evils on materialism and hedonism in spite of himself. Unfortunately, he felt it necessary to undress quite frequently, and to alternately bore and revolt the audience for 107 minutes, which leaves his grand cinematic self portrait at two very generous stars."