September 14, 2009

Doing business is a pleasure

I recently watched an interesting movie: A Pleasure Doing Business (1979). It's a comedy about a trio of regular middle-aged gentlemen who attempt to make a fortune running a pimp business, full of wacky misunderstandings and mildly offensive innuendo . Stars included Conrad Bain (Mr. D from Diff'rent Strokes), Bubba Smith (Hightower in the Police Academy movies), Tom Smothers (the non-daffy Smothers Brother), and in a bit part, Phyllis Diller. Madcap shenanigans galore, especially the climactic TV-studio-trashing brouhaha:

This film came and went pretty quickly in theaters; it didn't make any money, and has never been released on DVD. I got my hands on a rare copy of it because I know the director-writer-producer, a gentleman named Steven Vagnino, who happens to be my girlfriend's father. He spent much of his career directing commercials, and A Pleas ure Doing Business was his sole theatrical feature (and his only credit on IMDb).

This is not a good movie, as the director readily admits. The plot drags at times, and many of the performances are outright lousy (though Conrad Bain's a real pro, and Misty Rowe, who plays the hooker, is surprisingly good). Watching it was a unique experience, though; my lady was periodically texting her father during the screening, asking him questions about production details, giving us sort of an ad hoc personalized director's commenta ry (where they got Tom Smothers's toupee, where my girlfriend's pregnant mom makes a walk-on appearance, who on set was banging Misty Rowe, etc.). We found out that in this scene, Bubba Smith was so high on coke, he had to read his lines off a piece of paper pinned to his pants:

And I was particularly intrigued by this moment: For no real reason, Mist y is in the Zig Zag Girl (yes, I'm the one who updated the Wikipedia page to mention this film).
When I asked Director Vagnino where they managed to find that rare piece of magic equipment, he couldn't recall, but mainly commented, "Yeah, it was hard to find."

Which gets to what I find most interesting: Yes, this movie might suck, but man, it's a movie! A real movie, feature-length, with working sound, in color, and even a couple recognizable stars. I mean, I've never made a movie; anyone who can manage to do it with what I assume wasn't a lot of big-shot Hollywood support, and get it released even briefly, should be commended for their effort, regardless of the results.

And the movie isn't that bad; it's not one of the worst ever, far better than big-budget garbage like Snakes on a Plane or Batman and Robin—those movies were actively horrifying and offensive. A Pleasure Doing Business is merely silly, and even fun in moments. Besides, I strongly believe that this basic plot—regular schmoes become pimps, and eventually their prize talent turns the tables on them—has the makings for perhaps not a great modern movie, but certainly a successful one.

Think about it: Paul Rudd, Vince Vaughn and Bradley Cooper as the pimps. The hooker is played by Movie Bimbo du Jour (I wanted to say Heather Graham, but I'm clearly living ten years in the past). Plenty of gross-out humor. We're sitting on a goldmine here, Hollywood. Steve Vagnino is waiting for your call.


Steve Vagnino said...

I don't know whether to feel honored or embarrassed to be your blog subject.
My biggest goal in life at this point is to be the guest speaker at a retrospective for my film in a foreign country (preferably European with a strong wine culture) with a free airline ticket and per diem so I can have a free vacation for an evening of bullshit commentary.

Yours truly,
Steve Vagnino

Anonymous said...

I was a 19 year old production assistant on this film, This movie was shot on a shoestring budget in three weeks. Steve Vagnino was in his thirties when he made film and he is truly a great director!!!!!I was very impressed working next to him as he made this independant feature film. No one else would have the balls to tackle this huge project!!!!! This film was a huge success! I was there to witness the opening night movie premiere of this blockbuster!!!!!!!

Yours truly,
Glen Gruner

TotalToyz said...

The hooker is played by Movie Bimbo du Jour (I wanted to say Heather Graham, but I'm clearly living ten years in the past).

No, you're not. That's pretty much her whole career.

Anonymous said...

Did they film any more of the magic stuff, or has Mr. Vagnino recorded any specific commentary? Either would make interesting extras for DVD (or whatever they're watching these days).
Interested Parties

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