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Case Number 13991: Small Claims Court

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The Optimists

Legend Films // 1973 // 111 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 4th, 2008

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All Rise...

Unfortunately for this film, Judge Clark Douglas is a pessimist.

The Charge

A magical, musical, heartwarming story of courage and friendship.

The Case

I really do feel guilty about the idea of saying anything bad about The Optimists. It's such a tender little movie, it doesn't have a single mean bone in its body. It also offers a surprisingly restrained performance from Peter Sellers (The Pink Panther), who was making a credible pre-Being There attempt at dramatic acting. It's got kids, London, and it's a musical, too! How can anyone possibly dislike a movie like this? It only wants to be loved. However, I'd like to take this opportunity to hide behind the wise Roger Ebert, who had this to say when reviewing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (a film that I actually do love): "Movies that want to be loved are like puppies in the pound: No matter how earnestly they wag their little tails, you can adopt only one at a time."

Indeed, not only does The Optimists wag its own tail, but it actually offers an irrepressibly lovable puppy…in a pound…earnestly wagging its tail…begging for the kids to adopt it. Sure, those cute kids would just love to adopt a puppy. But then the kind, sweet, and understanding lady behind the desk at the pound tells them they need to pay a fee of three pounds. "Three pounds," the children cry. "How will we ever raise three pounds?" Yes, it's that sort of movie, and I suppose that only an incredibly heartless jerk could possibly dislike it. Ladies and gentlemen, I hang my head in shame before you. I disliked it.

Now before you going throwing your tomatoes and other assorted vegetables at me, please understand that I am not naturally inclined to dislike this sort of thing. I did actually cry when Old Yeller died, I promise! But The Optimists spends a full forty-five minutes or so following the adventures of these kids who are trying to save a homeless puppy. Frankly, it gets pretty boring after a while. This isn't like a "save the old theatre" picture, in which all kinds resourceful fund raising takes place. No, the kinds mostly pout about the fact that they won't be able to raise three pounds, and spend the rest of the time begging their rather financially disadvantaged old man (Peter Sellers) to give them the money.

Actually, it's the relationship between the old man and the children that forms the heart of the movie. The old man's name is Sam, and he is a street performer by profession. He hits the London sidewalks each days, singing cheery tunes and playing a banjo or accordion (songs are provided by Lionel Bart and George Martin). He only has one friend, his tired old dog. And yes, we have yet another dog subplot. This particular plot involves the dog looking increasingly tired as the film progresses, and I doubt I will be spoiling much by informing you that the film's climactic scene takes place in a pet cemetery. Yes, there is a dying dog and a helpless puppy in the same movie. But again, let me assert that the film isn't about canines. They're merely on hand to provide some emotional manipulation.

As I was saying, the film is about the relationship between the old man and the children. This film borrows the well-worn Heidi format (or perhaps it's the "Our Gang" format…or the Pollyanna format) in which a seemingly cranky and cantankerous old person acts in a grumpy manner toward a sweet child/sweet children, while secretly being delighted that they have found some new friends. This particular plot (like everything else in the movie) has unfolded in our minds within the film's first half hour, but the film wanders through it in such an agonizingly slow manner, acting as if it were carefully revealing something other than a tired old cliche. One might expect some engaging side items or character development in a film that moves as slowly as The Optimists, but after a while we realize that the film is simply moving very slowly without good reason. Oh yeah…if it moved at a reasonable speed, it would only be as long as…well, as an "Our Gang" short.

And where are the parents of the children in this film? Well, they are included (and are played by David Daker and Marjorie Yates), but they are most notable for their absence. They only want to make sure the children stay out of the way and don't mess anything up. The whole movie builds to a scene in which kind old Sam chastises the father, telling him that life "isn't about what a child can't do, but what they can do." It's a nice scene, but hardly satisfactory payment for the investment we are asked to make in the film.

Perhaps I might have been able to feel a little bit of warmth and kindness toward the film under better circumstances. However, the technical side of this DVD is the final nail in the coffin. Kids, it's been a while since I have seen a studio film that sounded this awful. I'm not just talking about films from the 1970s. I've seen very few films from the 1930s that sound as bad as this one. The dialogue is occasionally too quiet to hear, and the rest of the time it is so muffled that you have to strain to hear anything. I decided that I needed to turn on the subtitles for assistance, but what do you know? No subtitles included. The songs and the original score are so garbled that they frequently sound terribly off-key. If you have external speakers connected to your television, think of them for just a moment. Imagine that someone poured soda on them and coated them with peanut butter. Then imagine that someone else came and beat them with a baseball bat. Then imagine that someone threw them into a fish tank filled with acid. Now imagine how those speakers would sound after that, and you have an idea of just how bad the sound on The Optimists is. The transfer is crummy too, with lots of scratches and flecks all over the place, along with drab, washed-out visuals (though that might just London, har-har-har). No extras are included on the disc. Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 60

Perp Profile

Studio: Legend Films
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Classic
• Comedy
• Concerts and Musicals
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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