Long before “Movie 43“, there was… “The Kentucky Fried Movie”, a zany, madcap collection of irreverent, puerile and often tasteless skits and sketches from David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker, who would go on to bring us “Airplane!”, “Top Secret” and “The Naked Gun”. It would also launch the career of legendary director John Landis, whose work on this movie led directly to his being tapped for “National Lampoon’s Animal House” and the rest is movie history.
Like its modern-day imitator, it’s chock full of unexpected and delightfully absurd celebrity cameos, with the likes of George Lazenby, Bill Bixby, Henry Gibson and Donald Sutherland joining in the fun but where it differs from “Movie 43” is that there’s never the sense of reluctant contractual obligation hovering over the scenes.
Very much of its time, “The Kentucky Fried Movie” is by today’s pseudo-puritan standards deeply problematic. Its humour is rooted in the 1970s sensibilities of sex, race, gender stereotypes and religion but it’s all – compared with the gross-out comedies of today – quaintly innocent and more daring in its casual treatment of our modern taboos than perhaps it was in tweaking the foibles of the trigger issues of its own time.
I originally discovered “The Kentucky” fried movie during my early teens, a late night Channel 4 discovery and while the promise of the involvement of the guys behind “Airplane!” got me to tune in, you can bet it was the movie’s liberal approach to sex and nudity that really captured my teenage attention. Sketches such as ‘Catholic High School Girls In Trouble’ spoof the sexploitation films of the time while peddling plenty of flesh of its own and ‘High Adventure’ with its almost Python-esque silliness during the TV interview of a famous French explorer keep things moving and show the range of comedy on offer. ‘A Fistful Of Yen’ – the closest the movie gets to a main feature – skewers “Enter The Dragon” with a scattergun stupidity that, while underdeveloped, establishes the template that “Airplane!” would perfect a few years later.
On its fortieth anniversary, “The Kentucky Fried Movie” is as funny as it was all those years ago and, yes, still as illicitly titillating. It’s even aged to the point where it’s grown beyond being dated and acquired a patina of recalcitrant edginess as it flaunts the politically correct conventions of today. The humour is bawdy, sophomoric and at times just plain silly but here and there are flashes of the wit, observational absurdity and ingenious sight gags that would become the hallmarks of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker’s later work.
It may not quite be a cinema classic, but it’s an important milestone in comedy cinema nonetheless and well worth revisiting in its 40th year (since it was released in the UK).