Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Film Appreciation - Every Dog Has His Day

Childhood viewings have left Cody Hamman with Film Appreciation for 1987's Walk Like a Man.

The fact that screenwriter Robert Klane named the lead character in Walk Like a Man after himself makes me wonder if the whole idea was inspired by someone's reaction to his nickname. In the film, the character named Robert is called Bobby and his family gives him the nickname Bobo. Is Bobo also Robert Klane's nickname? Did he once tell someone that he was called Bobo and the person replied "Bobo? Sounds like someone who was raised by wolves!" - and in that moment, Klane was struck with the idea for Walk Like a Man? I don't know, it's just something to ponder about an '80s comedy that failed at the box office when it was released and has since seemed to fade into obscurity.

I don't know how many people know of or remember Walk Like a Man, but it will always be an important film to me. When I was very young, it was one of my favorite and most-watched films. I can't recall if we had a copy of it on VHS, but if we didn't they must have shown it a lot on cable, because I watched it many times during my childhood.

Howie Mandel stars as Robert "Bobo" Shand, who was ditched in the snowy wilderness when he was 2 years old by his spoiled, greedy, conscienceless older brother Reggie. It's said that their father Henry, who had set up a gold mine in that wilderness, searched for Bobo until the day he died... And Henry must have been a terrible searcher or else he had awful luck, because animal behaviorist Penny (Amy Steel) crosses paths with Bobo during her first night camping in the woods.

Penny is there to study the behavior and nomadic instincts of wolf packs, and Bobo happens to be a part of a wolf pack. This is how he has been surviving in the wilderness since he was 2 - a wolf pack took him in as a pup and raised him as one of their own. Bobo doesn't really act like a wild wolf, though. He's more like a dim-witted domesticated dog who loves to go on car rides, lick and sniff people, and chase cats and fire trucks. A lot of the humor in the film comes from the sight of Mandel acting like a dog.

Coincidentally, Bobo has been located just when his inheritance is on the line. When Henry passed away, he willed one third of his fortune to his wife Margaret (Cloris Leachman), one third to his son Reggie (Christopher Lloyd), and one third to Bobo... but if Bobo wasn't found by his 30th birthday, his share would go to Reggie. Bobo has been missing almost 28 years and is about to turn 30 when Penny takes him out of the woods and brings him to the Shand family mansion.

Reggie burned through his inheritance in just one year, so he and his alcoholic wife Rhonda (Colleen Camp) were forced to move in with his off-kilter cat lady mother while they wait for the day when Bobo's money would become theirs. Now that Bobo's back, that money isn't going to be going to them. So they immediately begin scheming, planning to lose Bobo in the wild again or get him to sign his money over to Reggie. The people Reggie owes several thousand dollars to are also pretty keen to see him screw Bobo out of his inheritance.

Of course, Bobo will need to fill out paperwork to give Reggie that money, so Reggie enlists Penny to teach Bobo how to function like a human, not telling her about his ulterior motive. Penny gets Bobo speaking, writing, and walking like a man... and yes, there is a human-training montage set to the 1963 song "Walk Like a Man" by The Four Seasons. Once Bobo is human, Penny starts to fall in love with him - which is a predictable but odd (and kind of creepy, but I didn't question it when I was a kid) element of the story. I guess she really wants to show him every aspect of the human experience.

With some cynicism, you could say that of course a woman would fall for a simple wolf-man who stands to inherit millions, but Walk Like a Man isn't a cynical movie. Penny falls in love with Bobo because of the sweet human she watches emerge.

Directed by Melvin Frank, Walk Like a Man isn't a forgotten classic and it's easy to understand why the general audience wasn't too interested in seeing it when it was released in 1987, but it's a decent, enjoyable movie that will always have a place in my heart because of the memorable viewings I had of it in my childhood, watching it repeatedly with my maternal grandmother.

I was watching this movie with my grandma around the same time I was also establishing myself as a horror fan. Looking back, it's interesting to see the puzzle pieces I didn't put together from all the movies I was watching then. How it didn't stick in my head that Penny from Walk Like a Man was played by Amy Steel, who was Ginny in Friday the 13th Part 2, is a mystery, since they're both major characters and Steel didn't change at all in the six years between the two films. Years after Walk Like a Man lapsed out of my regular viewing rotation, I was stunned to see Amy Steel's name on its cast list.

You might need a childhood connection to Walk Like a Man to have a deep appreciation for it, but I still find it to be fun and pleasant when I revisit it thirty years later.

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