This is mostly a Hindi film blog, but I grew up on a strict diet of Hollywood (those are my people!). There were early signs that one day the magic lunacy of “B” grade Indian cinema would suck me in, and my adoration of this admittedly not-classic is one of them. Interestingly when I began looking for it in earnest earlier this year I discovered another parallel: it’s not out on dvd and so I ended up with a pirated version made from a vhs tape. I hadn’t seen it since the mid-70s, when I saw it on television one fine afternoon after school. All I could really remember was that it made me laugh until I cried and had sheikhs, harem girl Shirley MacLaine, a seriously catchy title tune and a military pilot nicknamed “Wrong-Way Goldfarb” who couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag.
Watching it some 30-plus years later—with a lot of Hindi movies now under my belt—I was struck by how wonderful a Bollywood remake of it might have been. So here, in the hopes that maybe there is a Bolly-version out there and someone will tell me about it, is John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (and by the way I still love it just as much as I did then).
The small but oil-rich middle-eastern kingdom of Fawzia is ruled by the decidedly eccentric and megalomaniacal King Fawz (Peter Ustinov). His favorite son, Prince Ammud (Patrick Adiarte), is studying at Notre Dame University in the US and trying out for its legendary (American) football team. Fawz is constructing a football field in the middle of the desert so that his son can continue his practice while home on his upcoming vacation.
The King’s vast palace is networked by tracks on which runs an extensive collection of solid gold toy trains carrying spy cameras, live animals (chimpanzees, rabbits dyed pink, dogs, birds) and other sundry bits of cargo, all remote-controlled by the King.
Fawz himself moves about the palace in a golf cart (busting through swinging doors and running over stuff willy-nilly). It is his birthday, and the American ambassador has brought a gift of matching luggage in an attempt to curry favor: the US is negotiating an airfield lease with the King (I’m sure the oil is not the furthest thing from their minds either).
The only problem is that the luggage is made of pigskin.
In Washington, the fallout from this bumbling insult to the King is swift. Secretary of State Deems Sarajevo (Henry Morgan) calls onto his carpet the head of the CIA Heinous Overreach (Fred Clark) (it’s a delicious goof on American diplomacy, but not a subtle one); the head of the US Intelligence Agency (USIA) Stottle Cronkite (David Lewis); and the new chief of the Mideast Division Miles Whitepaper (Jim Backus).
Sarajevo orders the three men to see to it that King Fawz gets whatever he wants in order to pacify him.
Across town, the editor of Strife Magazine (Charles Lane) is meeting with his ace reporter Jenny Ericson (Shirley MacLaine) about a story he wants her to cover. She is emphatically not interested at first: the story is about the harem belonging to King Fawz, raising her feminist ire, but her editor goads her into it. I roll my eyes when she’s called a “broad” and subjected to a pinch by one of her male colleagues. Booo!
Jenny now makes contact with a guy named Mahmood (Telly Savalas) who agrees to smuggle her into the harem “as part of a regular shipment” for her undercover assignment. He assures her that King Fawz is not really interested in his harem but maintains it as a matter of prestige.
Meanwhile, Overreach has convinced Secretary of Defense Charles Maginot (Richard Deacon) that U2 pilot John Goldfarb (Richard Crenna) is the perfect guy for a spy plane mission to Russia, despite a reputation which has earned him the scornful nickname “Wrong Way Goldfarb”—a nickname coined by Jenny Ericson! Goldfarb is famous for having scored a touchdown in his college football years at the Air Force by running the wrong way 95 yards into the other team’s end zone.
I love the CIA chief’s “crisis map” filled with red flags.
Goldfarb meets Jenny Ericson on his way to the Defense meeting because he is lost: instead of the Pentagon, he is wandering around the State Department. This makes Jenny positively gleeful, and she does not endear herself to him when she introduces herself as the reporter (he calls her “that hack”) who gave him the nickname he despises.
Later, as Goldfarb takes off in his U2 spy plane, Mahmood delivers Jenny and a bunch of other girls to the King’s harem. He tells her that if she has any problems she can ask Sameer, the Chief Eunuch in charge of the harem, for help.
She will have problems: it is soon evident that King Fawz is not at all indifferent to his collection of women!
Prince Ammud arrives home for his holiday and confesses to his father that he has been cut from the Notre Dame football team. Fawz is furious and decides to teach the university a lesson. He will host a grudge match on his new football field: Fawzia versus Notre Dame.
Far above in the atmosphere, Goldfarb puts his U2 on autopilot and settles in with Popular Mechanic magazine, soon falling asleep. The dashes and dials of his plane begin to spin wildly and he wakes up to discover that his plane is going down. Forced to bail out, he parachutes down to land at the feet of Prince Ammud, clad in his university’s Fighting Irish colors.
Goldfarb is horrified to discover that he is in the Middle East, not the USSR.
In the harem, Jenny is supposed to be learning to belly-dance, but has everyone doing the twist instead. Arabian Nights a-go-go! The music in this film, by the way, was composed by “Johnny” Williams—the legendary film soundtrack composer John Williams in his early days. And it’s totally wonderful—here’s a small taste of it:
King Fawz decides that the “crooked pilot” who has fallen into his hands (along with the very expensive U2) shall become Fawzia’s football coach and lead his son the Prince as quarterback to a glorious victory over Notre Dame. In exchange, Fawz won’t ignite a scandalous Cold War incident by telling the Russians about the aborted US mission. Almost all of the King’s wishes, by the way, are delivered via his avuncularly British Major-Domo Gus (Wilfrid Hyde-White) since the King speaks only a very broken sort of English.
Poor Goldfarb hasn’t got much choice but to agree.
His team is made up of Whirling Dervishes (“Fine specimens,” Gus says. “Mostly cousins.”). They are more skilled at bashing each other up than playing as a team, and I crack up over the plumes of oil which randomly begin spewing from the ground around the field everytime we are there.
In the US, the State Department has realized that Goldfarb and the $5 million U2 are missing, and CIA chief Overreach is in big trouble. He places an ad, hoping to catch Goldfarb’s eye wherever he might be.
Now that he has his son’s ambitions sorted out, the King’s attention turns to the newest members of his harem, and of course Jenny is the one he settles on. Sameer, when she pleads for his help, is no help at all. What King Fawz wants, King Fawz gets—or else he’ll cut your throat!
Jenny manages to evade the King’s attentions that night, but he’s not about to give up on her.
So when he magnanimously offers Goldfarb the pick of his harem for his own use (and parades the girls in front of him), Jenny is thrilled to recognize him and seizes her opportunity: “Pick me!”
King Fawz is not at all pleased with Goldfarb’s selection, but gives way when Goldfarb remains adamant—although he hilariously dresses Jenny up in a burlap sack and weird lighted fruit-basket hat for her big date with his new coach.
And thus these two former antagonists are forced into an uneasy alliance over the next few weeks while Goldfarb coaches the Dervishes during the day and protects Jenny from lecherous King Fawz at night (who sends a constant stream of trains through the bedroom in an effort to distract them).
Then the State Department learns just where Goldfarb has ended up (plus they are still trying to make up for the pigskin luggage mistake), and when Fawz demands that they send the Notre Dame football team to Fawzia for the big game they comply.
Will Wrong Way and Jenny learn to get along (and maybe even fall in love)? Can Jenny escape the King’s intentions? Can “Crooked Pilot” coach his team of Dervishes and Prince Ammud to victory over the formidable Notre Dame football team and save the US from a diplomatic nightmare (the Notre Dame coach refuses to “throw” the game: a coach has to have ethics, he says)!?
Although the comedy at times is a little forced and frantic, there are oodles of very funny details. This is not a politically correct movie: if it were released today there would be an uproar. Stereotypes abound, but nobody is spared in the poking-at of fun (particularly the US government). Peter Ustinov is absolutely hilarious as the over-indulged and completely loony King, and manages to give him a little bit of a scary edge as well. Fawz is a man with absolute power and he is not afraid to wield it! Richard Crenna is blandly handsome and enough of an “every man” to be sympathetic and believable as the bumbling nice guy Goldfarb, and Shirley (clad in very skimpy outfits) is feisty and funny if a little shrill at times. If you can surrender to the aesthetics of the time when it was made, this film is a goofy, spoofy 1960s Cold War delight.