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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hill's Angels

What's On? Wednesday presents: The North Avenue Irregulars

Growing up in the 70's, I used to love going to the movies and seeing the live action Disney movies. The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Herbie Rides Again, Freaky Friday,and The North Avenue Irregulars. I remember trying to tell friends about North Avenue, but people would look at me and say, "Huh?". Not many people had heard of this film. After it's theatrical release, it was rarely shown on TV. You might could catch it on a Sunday afternoon on one of the UHF channels. If you don't know what UHF means, then you're way too young. After years of waiting, it finally was released on VHS and then finally DVD. I watch this film at least once every two months. I was lucky enough to find the press kit for the film and wanted to share with you my love of this film.

Here's the production information provided in the press kit:

Walt Disney Productions’ The North Avenue Irregulars, a comedy against crime, is the hard-hitting story of a new minister who gathers a flock of female parishioners to fight organized crime.
Edward Herrmann top lines the cast as Reverend Mike Hill, new preacher at North Avenue Presbyterian Church who faces low attendance, lack of interest, and the wrong side of parochialism. When the church sinking fund is sunk on a horse race, Hill begins to fight.
Since no men are willing to help, some female church members become Hill’s angels, played by six of Hollywood’s most leading women.

Susan Clark plays a prim church secretary. Cloris Leachman is a madcap divorcée whose crime-busting adventures demolish a succession of her Lincoln Continentals. Barbara Harris is a frenetic housewife whose station wagon is full of Little Leaguers, would-be ballerinas, and exotic pets. Karen Valentine is the church organist engaged to the richest and most mothered man in town. Virginia Capers depends on her husband’s very used cars for transportation on her missions, and Patsy Kelly has to be driven by her husband, who dresses as a woman to escape retribution from the mob he has supported with his small bets.
Based on a true story, The North Avenue Irregulars was written by Don Tait from a book by Rev. Albert Fay Hill. Bruce Bilson directed the film for producer Ron Miller and co-producer Tom Leetch.

It was based on book: During the 1960’s, Rev. Albert Fay Hill preached at North Avenue Presbyterian Church in New Rochelle, New York. In 1968, his book of crime-fighting experiences in that town was published. The following year Disney Studio bought the rights. In 1977, screenwriter Don Tait wrote the script. Though many of the specifics in the script are fiction, the story is based on fact. The group’s name comes from the Baker Street Irregulars, a reference to the youth of Dickensian London who gather information for Sherlock Holmes for a pittance. Today, the Baker Street Irregulars is a literary group.

In the past, I have only posted a synopsis if it isn't readily available elsewhere online. Needless to say, I wasn't able to find one for this film, so:

When Reverend Mike Hill (Edward Herrmann) arrives in New Campton with his children Carmel (Melora Hardin) and Dean (Bobby Rolofson) to become minister of the North Avenue Presbyterian Church, he faces low attendance, a lack of interest, and the wrong side of parochialism.

His first attempt to arouse interest goes awry when Rose Rafferty (Patsy Kelly), to whom he’s entrusted the church sinking fund, rushes to tell him her husband Delaney (Douglas V. Fowley) put the money on a horse race. Hill grabs Rose to head for the bookie joint. Harry the Hat (Alan Hale) won’t refund the money. The horse loses; and so does the church.
Appalled at the patronizing investigation by the police department, Hill veers from his planned sermon on the evening telecast to alert the town about its crooks. Listening are Harry the Hat and Max Roca (Frank Campanella), local crime kingpin. Roca says it will blow over, but the town is incensed.

Anne Woods (Susan Clark), prim church secretary, informs Hill that his parishioners deserve a pastor, not a rabble-rouser.
He acquiesces until he is secretly approached by Treasury agents Marv Fogelman (Michael Constantine) and Tom Voorhees (Steve Franken).

They want Hill to round up a few trustworthy men, but Hill can’t find even one. Instead, he handpicks five of his female parishioners beginning with Rose Rafferty.

Others are flashy divorcée Claire Porter (Cloris Leachman); harried car-pooling housewife Vickie Simms (Barbara Harris); cool, strong housewife Cleo Jackson (Virginia Capers); and church organist Jane Prindle (Karen Valentine), sweet fiancée of the richest and most mothered man in town.

Their first endeavors to place illegal bets fail miserably. Jane’s fiancé Howard (Dick Fuchs) blows Jane’s cover and she socks him. Claire asks agent Tom about his government work and blows her own cover.
Rose, Mrs. Simms, and Mrs. Jackson narrowly escape an angry bookie when Rose hits the wrong button on her tape recorder and the Andrews Sisters start singing.

Marv tells our ladies to forget it, but they want another chance. This time they go after the “bank”, the place where all the money filters from local operations. Jane tails a man with a paper bag leaving a coffee stand, but she loses him.

Marv contacts Mrs. Simms to take over, but she has to wait until the Little League shortstop is finished in the boys’ room. Marv instead hails Mrs. Jackson who is in a used car from her husband’s lot. When it won’t start, she takes her infant niece and a baby carriage, in which she has hidden her walkie-talkie, and trots along the sidewalk to keep up with the pickup car.
She tails him to a supermarket, where Claire takes over and waits until he comes out with a brown bag. Claire takes over and waits until he comes out with a brown bag. Claire follows him. He opens the bag and takes out a sandwich. Foiled again.

The next day, Mrs. Simms follows the man into the market and follows the new pickup man back out.

Claire reports that the man’s car is right behind hers, and as she maneuvers to try to follow him, they collide. They’ve blown it again.
Marv is confined to his bed with ulcer pains. Hill takes over.

Mike is confronted by Anne, who still insists he stop using the church. That night as Anne drives up to the church, there is a huge explosion. She and Mike battle the flames. Angry and beaten, Anne joins Mike’s crusade.

But just as the Irregulars figure out how they’re losing the pickup cars, the church board sends a note closing North Avenue Church and declaring the pulpit vacant.

Anne drives to the airport to pick up the church officials, including Dr. Reems (Ruth Buzzi). Suddenly Anne sees the money van and decides to follow it, transmitting the message to Mike.

Claire leaves her streaking appointment at the beauty shop; Jane and her amazed new husband flee the wedding reception. They locate the bank, a deserted warehouse.

A demolition derby follows, with the Irregulars using their cars to surround Roca. Mike and the federal agents arrive to help. Roca is trapped.

At the church the next Sunday, our ladies band together and convince the other stiff church officials: Mike Hill can stay and the North Avenue Presbyterian Church will be rebuilt and remain open.

There are some really great moments like when Rev. Hill invites the rock group Strawberry Shortcake to join the church choir to give it pizzazz and Claire (Cloris Leachman) doesn't understand why. Or when Jane (Karen Valentine) starts to rock her organ with the music and realizes she's getting the evil eye from her future mother-in-law. The scene shown above when Claire goes crazy because her procelain nails get damaged in the demolition derby. Of course, I love Cloris and Barbara Harris and they both have some really great scenes.

When using their walkie-talkies, each person had a code name. Rose (Patsy Kelly) was called Blarney Stone for her and her husband's Irish heritage. Mrs. Simms (Barbara Harris) was called Kiddie Car because she always had some children with her. June Bride was the code name for Jane (Karen Valentine). Claire used Phantom Fox as her code name. Because she was always driving different used cars from her husband's lot, Cleo (Virginia Capers) used Clunker for her code name. Rev. Hill's office was called Home Plate. When Anne joined the team, she became Rookie.

Capitalizing on the Charlie's Angels craze, the alternate title for the film was Hill's Angels. In fact, that is the title it was released under in the UK.

All the cars that they demolished. How much did that cost?
More than $155,000. That’s what the studio paid for cars involved in the filming of the mobile movie. And if that’s not enough, almost all of them are totally destroyed in the final scenes of the film where the Irregulars are trying to capture the local kingpin. In that scene, 14 cars and one motorcycle, including a brand new Lincoln Continental, a 1978 Cadillac, and a vintage Jaguar limousine, are smashed to smithereens.
“We still came in under budget,” says Roy Hollis, transportation captain. “We could have tried to fake it by using other cars, but if old beat-up cheap things are used, it shows on the screen.”
To add to the realism, the studio sent a crew of sound men with three drivers and lots of cars out to a deserted road after filming was finished. They spent the day recording car crashes which are incorporated in the sound track.

It's always great to see someone you don't expect to see in a small role and this film had a special surprise: Louisa Moritz!!!

UPDATE: Mom Smackley and I were talking about this movie after I did the post and we wondered, was it really aimed at kids? I mean you have 6 older women (well, Karen Valentine was at least 10 years older than I was when this film was released) who are fighting organized crime and gambling establishments. Would kids have understood the plot? There were no special effect and the only kids in the movie that children could possibly relate to are the Reverend's kids and the Little Leaguers and it doesn't focus on them much, if at all. Why would kids want to watch this movie? Little boys may like the demolition derby at the end, but that's about it. I loved the whole movie. Maybe only little gay boys enjoyed the whole thing.

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