Typical of Disney's 1970s output, this squeaky-clean comic adventure about a group of church volunteers and soccer moms who take on local gangsters is packed with slapstick humor, sight gags, and nonlethal car crashes. Cur... more »iously enough, it's based on the true story of Reverend Albert Fay Hill, who wrote a book about his efforts to stop mob-run gambling in his city. Edward Herrmann plays the fictionalized Presbyterian minister Mike Hill, a soft-spoken widower with two kids who ruffles the feathers of the dedicated church secretary (Susan Clark) when he organizes a group of women to help the Treasury Department catch the bookies in the act. The mobsters are more Damon Runyon than John Gotti: no one gets hurt and everything ends in a demolition derby free-for-all as the suburban-lady volunteers play bumper cars with the mobsters. There's a potentially fascinating story in there that Disney keeps a G-rated cap on (though seeing Karen Valentine swingin' her booty under the cover of pounds of makeup and a little halter top is a surprise in a family film), but it's a harmless little comedy enlivened by plucky performances by Barbara Harris and Cloris Leachman and a fun turn by Ruth Buzzie as a church elder with a CB-radio handle. --Sean Axmaker« less
"The North Avenue Irregulars was Disney's best attempt to revive its family film franchise. They started by choosing a true story and then giving it that Disney touch. Next they collected a group of up and coming actors from Broadway and television.
The North Avenue Presbyterian Church has a new minister. He wants to get the congregation more involved in the affairs of the church, so his first action is to give charge of the sinking fund to Rose Delaney (Patsy Kelly). The thing that he does not know is that her husband is a compulsive gambler. When she tells him that Rafterty has bet the whole $1,206 on a horse race, he goes to stop the wager but is too late. When he asks for the money back, he is given the door.
That night he goes on local television and instead of giving his planned sermon, he goes on a tirade about illegal gambling and the police looking the other way. This gets the eye of the FBI (Michael Constantine and Steve Franken) and Reverend Hill (Edward Herrmann) is asked about set up a sting operation.
The reverend goes to all the men in the congregation but they are unwilling to go up against the mob. But his crew of church ladies are ready to run the sting. The crew includes, the professional mom, Vickie (Barbara Harris), the bride to be, Annie (Karen Valentine), the rich perpetual single, Claire (Cloris Leachman), the retiree, Rose (Patsy Kelly) and the wife of a small business owner, Cleo (Virginia Capers).
Their first attempts at the sting are miserable flops. So rather than try to dry up the sources they decide to go after the bank. The girl try to follow the courier back to home base and after many hilarious attempts they finally find the bank and take on the syndicate in a wild demolition derby.
This is not a great film. It often goes over the top. But it is just an all out fun film with no gratuitous sex or obscene language! This has some of the best all out great visual gags including Cloris Leachman becoming a maniac after breaking all her fingernails.
Although this film took place back east, it was shot in the San Fernando Valley (Southern California). Watch during the pursuit scenes one of the street signs says Lankershiem Boulevard, a major street in the valley.
This is a highly talented cast including Tony Award winners (Barbara Harris, Virginia Capers and Patsy Kelly), Emmy Award winners (Cloris Leachman, Michael Constantine, Karen Valentine, Susan Clark and Edward Herrmann) and an Oscar winner (Leachman). And that was before they made this film.
This is one of the best of the later Disney family films and will always be a great time.
DVD EXTRAS: None "
Underrated Disney Comedy
mr_nasty | 05/25/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"To me, this is the best movie to come out of Disney's dry spell of the '70's (when it released such stinkers as "Million Dollar Duck" and "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo") . . terrific fun for the whole family. Edward Herrmann (who I normally find an unbearably annoying actor) is quite good as a pastor who finds himself fighting organized crime when one of his church members gambles away church money. (True, he should be angry at the church member, but our reverend believes in tackling the ROOT of the problem). After Herrmann speaks out against organized crime publicly, two FBI agents come to him and ask him for his help in going undercover to expose these gangsters. He asks for help from his congregation, and the only ones who will aid him are 6 indomitable females (Patsy Kelly, Virginia Capers, Barbara Harris, Cloris Leachman, Karen Valentine, and - later - Susan Clark). You'll relish every second that you see all of the ladies on the screen, especially the scatterbrained soccer mom Harris (her funniest scene takes place in a grocery store, as she spies on one of the pickup men); the constantly-primping Leachman; and tough-as-nails Capers. Features a cute cameo by Ruth Buzzi as part of a church committee out to remove Herrmann (she ends up joining the ladies to fight the criminals). Unfortunately, I find that the film suffers when nervous Fed Michael Constantine leaves the project in the Reverend's hands; his exasperated scenes with the ladies are among the most enjoyable in the film. Another small drawback is the cutesy way in which the movie treats organized crime . .you'll never believe for a second the gangsters are really out to hurt these ladies. The film's final moments, a "demolition derby" of sorts, will delight kids. I can remember absolutely loving this film as a kid . . I'm positive one day Disney will remake it (hopefully they do it justice)."
"Who would suspect a bunch of ding-a-ling dames?"
James D. Leverton | San Marcos, CA USA | 08/20/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Disney studios ended its family-friendly filmmaking in 1979 with two films: "Unidentified Flying Oddball" and "North Avenue Irregulars." While "U.F.O" is a silly time-waster, "North Avenue Irregulars" remains a personal favorite, with an outstanding cast enlivening thin (and let's face it, dated) material and delivering loud and frequent laughs. Feminists will object strongly to the female stereotypes, but most everyone else will ignore the silliness of it all and find much to enjoy in this fast-paced lark.
The Rev. Mike Hill (Edward Herrmann) has just taken over as pastor at North Avenue Presbyterian Church, much to the displeasure of Anne Woods (Susan Clark), whose father recently retired as pastor. The rest of the flock includes daffy housewife Vicki (Barbara Harris), dippy (and apparently wealthy) old maid Claire (Cloris Leachman), ditsy engaged debutante Jane (Karen Valentine) whose fiance Howard is an insufferable mama's boy, dotty elderly couple Rose and Delaney Rafferty (Patsy Kelly and Douglas V. Fowley) and apparently the only level-headed member of the congregation, matronly African-American Cleo (Virginia Capers). In his first decision as pastor, Mike decides to get the confrontation involved in church business by delegating responsibility, so he puts Rose in charge of the "church sinking fund." Unfortunately, his plans backfire when Delaney loses the money in a horse race, so Mike angrily confronts the bookie, Harry the Hat (Alan Hale Jr., the skipper from "Gilligan's Island"), and demands he give the money back, but instead he's humiliated and thrown out on the street. A trip to the police proves fruitless, so he decides to take matters into his own hands by using his televised Sunday morning sermon to blast the city's out-of-control organized crime and corrupt officials. His tirade catches the eye of Treasury agent Marv Fogelberg (Michael Constantine) who enlists Mike to set up a sting operation in order to catch syndicate boss Max Roca (Joseph Campenella). When he can't convince any of the city's men to help, he enlists the help of his churchladies, whose pluck he admires. At first Marv resists, then warms to the idea, after all, he says, "Who would suspect a bunch of ding-a-ling dames?"
What follows is a series of laugh-out-loud confrontations between the bumbling churchladies (including Delaney in drag) and the frazzled crooks, and at least one jarring act of violence that snaps Anne out of her daze and angers her enough to join the gang. And with the exception of that one act, everything is played for silly laughs and the crooks are so hapless even when Vicki brings her kids along on a stakeout and car chase noone ever seems to be in real danger. What makes everything work so well is the cast, who all seem to be having a great time. There isn't a weak link among the performers, but there are standouts, especially Herrmann, who plays a refreshing change-of-pace, a religious authority figure who isn't crazy, judgmental or a member of the moral right, so much as a nice and decent guy and concerned citizen doing what he thinks is right; Clark, who simply is incapable of giving a bad performance, and Harris, who seems to be having a blast playing an atypical (for her) brain-dead loon. Capers (who sadly passed away a couple of months ago) also makes a strong impression and has one hilarious scene where she chases a crook while pushing a baby carriage. (An additional note on the casting: look closely at the young girl playing Mike's daughter Carmel; she's Melora Hardin, who grew up to play the beautiful and sexy woman murdered by President Gene Hackman's secret service detail in Clint Eastwood's "Absolute Power.")
Other highlights include another of veteran Disney composer Robert F. Brunner's bouncy musical scores that really propels the action and will stick in your head for hours (if not days), an above-average animated opening credits sequence, and a very funny last-minute appearance by Ruth Buzzi as a CB-addicted church official. Unfortunately, once again a '70's Disney film ends with that tired plot contrivance: a car chase/demolition derby that kids will enjoy but adults will find as old and tired as it was when the Keystone Kops did it in the silent movie days. But up until this point, the film scores a comedic bullseye.
One note about Disney's DVD presentation: like most of Disney's films of the era, it was filmed in 1:66:1 widescreen format. However, Disney has cropped the top and bottom of the picture so that it fits on 1:85:1 widescreen TV screens, which seems to be a wide-spread practice with DVD transfers nowadays. (I've discovered this in Universal and MGM/UA releases as well.) They get by with this by labeling the DVD as presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen "enhanced for widescreen TVs." So purists beware: you're getting widescreen format but losing the top and bottom of the picture. I find this annoying but less annoying than fullscreen, since you don't get the headache-enducing pan-and-scan effect and there is less important picture information lost on the top and bottom of the screen. Either way, nobody seems to have caught on to this, so I thought I'd pass it on. At least Disney has cleaned up the picture and "North Avenue Irregulars" looks better on this DVD than the grubby VHS version. **** (out of *****) for the film, **1/2 for the DVD, which features no extras whatsoever."
A true guilty pleasure!
mr_nasty | 08/21/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am not ashamed to say I love this film. It is good, clean fun, and absolutely hilarious. It is one of the few films that me and my mom both like. The cast is outstanding, especially Barbara Harris, Karen Valentine, Ruth Buzzi, and Cloris Leachman. I never tire of watching this movie. I call this a guilty pleasure because while most serious film lovers would never even consider this film for a Top Films List, I would. Few films make me laugh like this one."
A Disney riot!
C. MacNeil | Fort Wayne, IN USA | 11/20/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Seldom does anything from Disney disappoint, and "The North Avenue Irregulars" doesn't. A sheer comic delight based on the premise of a group of church-going women setting off to undo small-town mob infiltration, the film packs some true rib-ticklers. In his role of the church's miniser, Edward Herrmann shows a rare comic side that, when first shown, was an about-face from his splendid dramatic work in the "Franklin and Eleanor" duo. But Herrmann is clearly upstaged by his supporting cast of distaffers, which is what this film calls for, and Cloris Leachman and the late Patsy Kelly are riotous! She has one of the film's best scenes with two confederates who try vainly to catch a suspected mob figure, running a refreshment stand, in a taped confession. Turning the recorder on only to get the Andrews Sisters' version of "Roll Out the Barrell" is nothing but splendid comedy. In sum, the film is one of those hidden gems that doesn't give us any serious social message or calls attention to the state of the status quo and instead gives us a welcome relief from all that serious stuff."