Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Finding the Secret of Life

"Lord, we give you Curly. Try not to piss him off."

At Curly's impromptu memorial service

I didn't see "City Slickers" at the movie theater after it premiered on this date in 1991.

I saw it later that year — on Christmas Day. My brother gave me a copy of the video tape, and I watched it with my parents on Christmas evening.

My folks had seen the movie at the theater, and they kept telling me the best lines before the characters on the screen did.

In hindsight, I couldn't blame them. There really were some great lines in that movie.

Would the experience have been better or worse if I had seen the movie at a theater first? I don't know.

(I do know that I noticed some similarities between the plots of "City Slickers" and 1972's "The Cowboys." Granted, the former was a comedy and the latter was a drama — but both dealt with a group of green cowboys who persisted with their cattle drive in spite of various obstacles after their leader died.

(And, yes, there were some similarities between Jack Palance and John Wayne, but that really is a topic for another time.)

In some ways, I guess, it would have been better. For one thing, I'm reasonably sure that, if I had seen it at the theater, no one would have been handing me punch lines before the setup lines had been spoken.

And there were some really nice shots of the southwestern United States that would have benefited from being seen on the silver screen.

But I remember that Christmas evening with great fondness — just me with my parents.

In a way, I guess, it was kind of a movie viewer's version of a so–called speed date in which a roomful of men and women have a limited time to converse before they are told to switch partners (sort of like the "musical chairs" of dating, I guess).

That Christmas, the three of us were laughing at jokes that hadn't been completely told on the screen. It was a bit of a time saver.

That was kind of what it was like to watch a movie with my parents that they had already seen — and, by 1991, they had reached a point in their lives where they went to see a lot of movies. They appreciated good lines, and they seldom passed an opportunity to recite one, preferably (but not always) within context.

(Actually, that is what it was like to watch a movie with my parents that they had seen recently. If it was a movie they had seen several years earlier and were watching for the first time in awhile, they would often listen to the joke all the way through to sort of refresh their memories — and then they would repeat the gag over and over after the movie ended.)

(I guess it goes without saying that it usually helped if any companions had seen the movie before, too.

(My mother, as I have written before, was a great fan of Peter Sellers and the "Pink Panther" movies, so much so that she would often recite, in her best Inspector Clouseau impression, her favorite lines — right in the middle of seemingly unrelated conversations. That could be baffling, to say the least, for anyone who was unfamiliar with those movies.

(Mom, it should be noted, was selective about those with whom she did this.)

Anyway, "City Slickers" starred Billy Crystal and Palance (along with some lesser–known, at least at the time, actors) on a modern–day cattle drive.

Crystal happened to be on this cattle drive because he and two of his closest friends were experiencing midlife crises, and they all went on a two–week getaway vacation.

And it was truly a revelation for all.

During the vacation, everyone learned something about himself.

When the movie was over, I was sure they had all found that one thing that Curly said was the secret of life ...

... that one thing that is different for everyone.

That was the moral of the story. Each person has to find the thing that makes him/her happy.

Some folks never find out what that is.

But the characters in "City Slickers" did.

At least, I think they did.

There was a sequel, after all.