Director: Robert Altman
Screenplay: Donald Cantrell, Ted Mann
Starring: Daniel H. Jenkins, Neill Barry, Paul Dooley, Jane Curtin, Dennis Hopper, Ray Walston
Year: 1985 (released in 1987)
Running Time: 109 min
BBFC Certificate: 12
By 1987, the year O.C. and Stiggs was released (four years after it was filmed and two after it was copyrighted), director Robert Altman had already directed more than 20 feature films. A number are classics (M*A*S*H, Nashville, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, 3 Women, to name a few) and others are less fondly remembered (Popeye being the main one, although its stock has risen in recent years).
O.C. and Stiggs falls into the latter category and received lacklustre reviews when it was finally released. Based on a series of stories published in National Lampoon magazine, it follows the anarchic story of the titular O.C. (Oliver Cromwell Oglivie played by Daniel H. Jenkins) and Stiggs (Mark Stiggs played by Neill Barry); middle-class teens who slack off school, perform pranks and are embroiled in an increasingly bitter feud with the rich Schwab family.
The story is told via flashbacks as O.C. and Stiggs reminisce about their summer to the President of Gabon, Omar Bongo, after a home (well, garden) invasion at the home of the Schwabs that opens the film. It’s essentially a series of comedic vignettes, from a glorious wedding party (a highlight of the movie which features a bird attack and a couple of musical numbers) to a Mexican fiesta, and ultimately building to an Apocalypse Now parody as the battle between our heroes and the Schwabs erupts into all-out war.
It’s easy to see why National Lampoon was proving a fruitful source of inspiration for films, following the success of Animal House and Vacation, but O.C. and Stiggs is a mixed bag. It’s very hit and miss: when it works it is very funny, but a number of the jokes fall flat, while others haven’t stood the test of time. The occasional use of cartoony sound effects also didn’t work for me, but the jazz score, which evokes music from The Pink Panther, had the opposite effect and worked well.
The cast is a highlight, particularly the supporting actors. Ray Walston is excellent as O.C.’s Gramps, as is Paul Dooley as antagonist, wealthy insurance salesman, Randall Schwab. There’s an early role for Cynthia Nixon as O.C.’s girlfriend Michelle and a memorable cameo for Dennis Hopper as Vietnam veteran photo journalist, Sponson.
Altman described the film as a satire of the teen comedy and I can see why, to an extent, but it didn’t all work for me. Overall it’s a flawed but certainly interesting and never dull take on the genre, which particularly found its place during the 1980s with the likes of the films of John Hughes and teen sex comedies like Porky’s. In the documentary, included on this disc, Tiffany Helm, who plays Charlotte, shares how she’s warmed to the film more over time, and it’s a movie she feels gets better with each viewing, so perhaps that’ll be the case for me too. Based on my solitary viewing so far, I would say it’s far from successful but, for the elements that do work, I’d warmly recommend it for Altman and 80s movies enthusiasts.
O.C. and Stiggs is released on limited edition Region B Blu-ray on 17 July 2023 by Radiance Films. The transfer is strong and retains the filmic quality, with the right level of grain. It looks good throughout, and the audio is clean with particularly strong dialogue.
LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:
– High-Definition digital transfer
– Uncompressed mono PCM audio
– The Water is Finally Blue – The Untold Story of Robert Altman’s O.C. and Stiggs
– New interview with camera operator Robert Reed Altman
– Gallery of rare photos from the collection of the University of Michigan
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow
– Limited edition 32-page booklet featuring new writing by critic Brad Stevens and archival writings by Robert Altman about the film and his approaches to filmmaking
– Limited edition of 3000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip
The documentary has been newly filmed for this release and is fantastic! At 129 minutes long it’s 20 minutes longer than the movie and is split into chapters with wonderful art design, and a plethora of audio interviews with the cast and crew, which play over scenes from the film. There’s a lot of information here, from the fact the leads were signed up for two sequels that never materialised, to the costume design, scenes that weren’t filmed, and fun behind the scenes anecdotes (particularly the wedding reception party). There are some great stories about Dennis Hopper and Melvin van Peebles, who played Wino Bob. It also looks at the National Lampoon magazine and origins of the O.C. and Stiggs stories. Well worth the time, it’s a really great extra.
The interview with Robert Altman’s son Reed Altman is 11 minutes. It’s informative, looking at the director’s filmmaking style (no more than three takes) and anecdotes from the filming of the movie. Another worthwhile inclusion.
The image gallery contains just over 200 images, all black and white, and a mixture of production stills, portraits, behind the scenes and candid moments.
I didn’t receive a copy of the booklet, but Radiance’s booklets so far have been first class, packed with text and incredibly informative. This one contains writing by Brad Stevens, who is always good value for money.
In conclusion, whilst this isn’t one of my favourite Altman films, it certainly has its moments and is better than its reputation (though still flawed and a mixed bag). Radiance have given the film a strong release, headlined by the fantastic feature-length documentary, and are cementing their place as a major force in the boutique Blu-ray world. Warmly recommended to Altman enthusiasts, and strongly recommended to fans of the film.