Control Nathan and Clint: Angels with Angles
When I included the 2005 comedy Angels with Angels as one of two contenders for Control Nathan and Clint, the column where we give you a choice between two impossibly terrible-looking movies we must watch and then talk about on Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast, I assumed that the insane novelty of Angels with Angles being about a dead George Burns in heaven would make it a clear winner.
I was wrong. When I put up a Control Nathan Rabin poll, I’m often rooting for one contender over another. In this case I was rooting for Angels with Angles and I was both surprised and flummoxed when the vote total for this particular Control Nathan and Clint turned out to be a dead tie: seven votes for My Five Wives and seven votes for Angels with Angles.
We sure could use more patrons for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast, if only to make ties like these less likely.
I could have pretended there wasn’t a tie and spared myself some agony but if I were to do that, I wouldn’t be me, a weird loser just barely existing on the fringes of pop culture media. So faced with this unfortunate dilemma my pain-craving brain decided I should have to see both movies. I’m glad that I did because my pain is your gain, and also because Angels with Angles was terrible in a vastly different way than I had anticipated.
Angels with Angles represents a shameless act of misdirection, a sadistic case of bait and switch. Angels with Angles promises something mind-bogglingly terrible—a sentimental comedy about lovable dead George Burns earning the right to posthumously bone Gracie Allen—when it’s actually something much different and somehow even weirder and ickier.
Namely, Angels with Angles is a stealth vehicle for Scott Edmund Lane. Who is Scott Edmund Lane, you ask? Well, for starters, Scott Edmund Lane is the co-screenwriter of Angels with Angels. In a related development, he is also the director of Angels with Angles and a man with the looks, presence and advanced age of cult auteur Neil Breen, albeit without that ineffable X factor that makes Neil Breen Neil Breen.
Scott Edmund Lane is this geriatric movie’s conception of a dynamic young man on the go, which means that he’s deep into his mid-fifties (he was fifty-four when the film was made, playing a role seemingly meant for someone in their early thirties) and judging from his appearance and almost impressive lack of charisma and presence, seems to have spent his entire career auditioning unsuccessfully for hair transplant ads.
Like Neil Breen and Tommy Wiseau, Lane seemed to have gotten into writing, directing and starring in films largely, if not exclusively, as a way to trick beautiful women into making out with him by making it a professional obligation. Angels With Angles may be wholesome and family-friendly, but it nevertheless represents a far-fetched sex fantasy, namely that a woman who looks like Julie Carmen, the film’s romantic lead, would have sex with a man who looks like the star/co-writer/director.
Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Before Angels with Angels can immerse us in the love life of one of the least charismatic leading men I’ve ever seen we’re introduced to the film’s version of heaven, which is realized with a level of special effects seldom seen outside the world of bad public access.
George Burns (Frank Gorshin, Batman’s Riddler and a legendary impressionist who, for example, was a guest on The Ed Sullivan Show the night the Beatles performed) is in heaven, having recently died like most of the film’s cast soon would, and is bummed to discover that he won’t be reconnected with his beloved wife/muse/comic foil Gracie Allen until he makes the leap from level one Angel to a level six Angel.
Rodney Dangerfield plays God and is introduced watching Gracie perform on a black and white TV called “Respect-O-Vision.” Rodney’s God tells George Burns that he’s causing all kinds of problems because people see Burns in heaven and think he’s God. See, because George Burns starred in a very successful motion picture called Oh God in 1977. That’s forty-one fucking years ago, or roughly the age of Angels with Angles youngest viewer. That would be me.
That is the film’s idea of a joke, although the film also very much feels like the result of some weird movie star fantasy camp that allows even the oldest and least charismatic of campers (that would be our star) the opportunity to pretend they're starring in a latter-day Oh God sequel opposite a professional impressionist doing George Burns.
The film's idea of a timely pop culture reference is Lane’s character, Shoomie quipping, “Whenever I go to Miami I feel like I woke up in a Gloria Estefan video.” Ah, but who is Shoomie? He’s an unlucky in love, unlucky in looks, unlucky in talent and just plain unlucky musician/songwriter/senior citizen who God dispatches George Burns to Earth to help.
For a movie ostensibly about a dead George Burns, Angels with Angles seems perversely uninterested in the late comic legend, whose energy level can be deemed "Jeb Bush-like". When an actor plays a real person for an entire film the danger is that they’ll deliver a glib impersonation of the the real-life icon they’re portraying instead of delivering a full-on performance.
Gorshin’s turn here barely qualifies as an impersonation. Gorshin sticks with the surface: the twinkle in the eye, the cigar, the wry delivery, the underlying old-time sentimentality. How lazy is Gorshin-as-Burns? George Burns doesn’t even represent Gorshin’s most committed performance in the film.
For reasons known only to Lane, Gorshin delivers a dual performance here as a martial arts adept kingpin involved with the illegal smuggling of Fidel Castro’s very own personal stash of Cuban cigars. I’ve seen Gorshin give this hammy, terrible performance over and over again through the decades. I watch a lot of terrible movies. He starred in a lot of terrible movies and ended his career with a particular stinker.
Let’s just say that the film’s dedication to Gorshin, who died around the time of its semi-release, and its dedication to Dangerfield, who also not surprisingly died around the film’s release, feels more like an insult than an honor. Many, many of the people onscreen here have subsequently died, including Scott Edmund Lane, who died in 2011, just six years after the film’s release. I do not know precisely what Lane died of, so I am going to have to assume it was of old age. The film’s idea of realism involves casting as dead characters actors who would soon be dead themselves.
Yes, most of Angels with Angles is devoted to a subplot about the smuggling of illegal cigars that’s so vast and all-consuming that it pretty much becomes the film’s main plot.
Julie Carmen plays Graciela, the film’s female lead and the poor woman cursed with having to kiss Lane onscreen. She’s a fiery revolutionary and true believer in Castro’s revolution involved in the smuggling of the illegal cigars, and when she meets up with Shoomie he likes her looks but doesn’t like her sassy over-political attitude.
At a bar where he’s being served by a bartender played by Richard Moll, one of an endlessly series of familiar faces on hand for some reason, they exchange the following banter, which is far more stilted than it sounds:
Shoomie: I’ll have one of whatever she’s NOT having.
Graciella: You are what is called in this country a wiseass.
Shoomie: Yeah, That’s me. I’m Señor Wise ass. Perhaps you’ve seen my movies:Señor Wiseass, Return of Señor Wiseass, the Dawn of the Living Señor Wise Ass. Cigars. They’re a big deal nowadays.
Graciella: Where I come from, they are the blood of my people.
Shoomie: Cuba, huh. How long you been here?
Ah, but it isn’t just Shoomie’s hair transplants and doughy mid-fifties physique that wins Graciella’s heart. He also says totally profound things like “I know you earn wisdom working through the pain. Sometimes I just wish I was offered a little less pain for a little less wisdom, you know? Sort of like a Life sandwich on rye, hold the mayhem.” and “Forgiveness is the fragrance left by the rose on the heel that just crushed it. You understand?”
To be honest, I do not.
Honestly, it’s easier to buy that George Burns is an angel who goofs around with terrible representations of W.C Fields and Elvis Presley (played by Frank Stallone, who, sadly, outclasses the material here for the first and possibly last time) and works for Dangerfield’s God than it is that a woman like Graciela would be attracted to a world-class schmuck like Shoomie.
Angels with Angles is an insane vanity project not terribly dissimilar from the self-obsessed amateur cinema of Tommy Wiseau and Neil Breen but with a supporting cast of groaningly familiar faces (folks like Jerry Mathers, Adam West, Soupy Sales, Zelda Rubinstein, the aforementioned Richard Moll and Dwayne Hickman) that somehow makes the whole thing seem even sadder and less professional. This isn’t a movie: this is an autograph convention for senior citizens in film form.
Angels with Angles feels like it should be the first film released direct to nursing homes, but haven’t those poor people suffered enough? It’s cinematic fan fiction for people too old to know what fan fiction is.
Want to listen to Clint and Nathan talk Angels with Angles? Oh yes you do! And you can do so at
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