THE BOATNIKS (1970)
If you are anything like me, you probably saw the title of this movie and immediately assumed that it was about a bunch of beatniks on a boat. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Directed by Norman Tokar, The Boatniks has no beatniks in it whatsoever. It does have some no-goodniks, but I’m not sure that’s what the title is referring to. I’m not sure the title is referring to anything. I think it just sucks, not unlike the movie.
It’s tough being in the Coast Guard in a harbor full of pleasure cruisers. As a series of dull vignettes during the opening credits inform us, you have to deal with the constant problems of drunk assholes fucking around in boats. Oh no! A boat is lost because someone placed a metal can of beer next to the magnetic compass (despite that not being even remotely close to how a compass works). In any event, the current officer in charge has had it, and quits. Enter Ensign Garland (Robert Morse), a clumsy asshole with a famous Navy dad.
How to succeed at boating without really trying.
But trouble is afoot! Three jewel thieves, Commodore Simmons (Phil Silvers) and his two bumbling compatriots (Norman Fell and Mickey Shaughnessy) have found themselves trapped near the harbor by roadblocks and now must find a way to boat themselves to Mexico.
It’s unclear whether they are the titular boatniks.
I’m not sure if it could be classified as a clever plan or not, but the thieves stuff all the stolen jewelry into lunch items.
All part of this complete jewel heist.
Meanwhile, Ensign Garland sucks at his job. He pours paint all over the head of Kate the boat rental lady (Stefanie Powers), though she ends up falling for him anyway for some reason. He falls in the water. He runs his dinghy aground. Generally, he just sucks. Fortunately, he also crashes into the boat those jewel thieves are escaping in, and their jewel-filled lunch sinks to the bottom of the bay.
There’s time for a hug before they sink though.
From here on out the movie basically consists of the three bumblers trying to recover their loot from the bottom of the bay using various strategies, such as going down in atmospheric diving suits…
…hiring a Japanese pearl diver…
…and humping each other in a line.
Eventually their efforts pay off and the jewels are recovered, just as Garland finally figures out what the hell is going on. A chase around the docks ensues, and the criminals escape underwater while possibly giving a nod to The Beatles.
Abbey Road? I don’t get it.
Garland gives chase in a canoe full of young boys, because that’s obviously a good way to catch a submarine.
Somehow both ridiculous and unfunny.
When the actual Coast Guard show up, the crooks jettison the no-doubt rancid food they stored the jewels in to try to make it look like they sunk, and get aboard some strange Mexican plane, but they accidentally leave the jewels behind, and the Mexican authorities are contacted. The End.
Those wacky criminals sure suck at their job. But you know what? The way The Boatniks shows it, they would probably have done a bit better if they hadn’t tried to rely on the help of foreigners to get the job done. See, for quite some time, the trio of thieves was doing pretty decently. Sure, they had their boat sunk, and they lost their loot, but they were doing an alright job of keeping one step ahead of the Coast Guard. Then they call in help.
The Commodore contacts a Japanese associate and has him send an expert pearl diver to help retrieve the package from the ocean floor. Though she does recover the jewels, she lies about not being able to speak English, and is able to blackmail them. Entirely untrustworthy. Things get worse when the Commodore enlists a Mexican airplane pilot to pick them up.
A lackadaisical pilot shows up in a run-down plane loaded with tequila, and in the confusion that follows, the jewels are all lost. Goodness gracious, Commodore, I hope you’ve learned your lesson. The Japanese can’t be trusted to be honest, and the Mexicans can’t be trusted to be competent. Thanks, Disney!
WHY DON’T PEOPLE LIKE IT?:
Boats almost hitting other boats. That’s about 70% of what this movie is. And I’m going to be honest, I don’t think that has ever been particularly popular. Sure, there are moments where fun shit happens, but it’s too little too infrequently. Want to see this movie’s best joke? Here:
It’s an upside-down car on a canoe. It happens in the first minute of the film. Nothing better happens. Is it any wonder that this hasn’t gone down as one of the greats? But hey, maybe there’s a universe in which some weird asshole making hooting noises as he crashes his boat into a dock is considered classic comedy stuff. In that world, no doubt, Boatniks is king.
- One of the assholes that Ensign Garland has to rescue is played by Al Lewis, best known as Grampa from the Munsters. Interestingly, Robert Morse played Grampa in the 1995 TV movie Here Come the Munsters. So, there is a scene where Grampa is saved by a younger version of himself.
All the movie needs is Eddie Izzard and it’d have a trifecta.
MOST REGRETTABLE MOMENT:
While trying to spy on the crooks, Garland gets caught looking into his commander’s window. Commander Taylor (Don Ameche) assumes that Garland is a Peeping Tom trying to get a look at his wife. Garland replies, “I was trying to peek into Commodore Simmons’ room, not hers!” The commander responds with deep bitter disgust: “Oh, you are sicker than I thought.”
“Invading my wife’s privacy is one thing, but being gay? Unspeakable!”
You know, If I wanted to watch boats not collide with each other for two hours while people made racist and homophobic comments, I would go to a private yacht club. Zing! Seriously though, this movie doesn’t have a ton of redeeming qualities. Phil Silvers is kind of fun, despite the film’s best efforts, and I have a hard time disliking Robert Morse under any circumstances, but it just isn’t enough. I’m happy to let this one drift off in the tides of our cultural memory. (If for some reason you feel inclined to watch it, though, you can rent it on YouTube.)
One final thought: there’s a satisfying irony in the fact that the most homophobic movie on my list so far contains a meat torpedo.
The Million Dollar Duck (1971)