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Going Steady

the movie somnambulist


THE MOVIE SOMNAMBULIST #11: Going Steady




The Golan-Globus era is like the riddle of Zeno’s Arrow. Zeno of Elea suggested that before an arrow can travel the entire length of its shot, it must travel half that distance, but not before traveling half that distance and so on until there’s an infinite number of halfway marks. The career of Golan and Globus seems that way to me; every time I think I’ve seen everything they’ve done, there’s another of an apparently infinite number of movies made under their banner. Oh, you can be all cool and claim you’re seen THE APPLE, but how many of you have seen GOING STEADY?



It’s bad enough there’s a separate Zeno’s Arrow worth of teen sex comedies in the world; but when the blurb says it’s a coming of age tale set in 1950s Israel, you can be forgiven for not running it to the top of the queue. When it’s not running the entire goddam (when I spell it like that, think of the way Albert Finney says it) 1976-1986 teen sex comedy playbook (even calling a few audibles), it’s presenting us with some extremely Jewish parents doing extremely movie-Jewish things like eating stewed prunes and being vexed about their kids’ marriage prospects. So I really have no idea what 1950s Israel was like after watching this. There was a good, telling moment when Benji’s mom asks Tammy the new girlfriend if she was born there. Yes, she replies. Then Benji’s mom asks where her parents are from; the assumption is they couldn’t have been born there. Although with statehood in 1948, I’m not sure how you get teenagers in the 50s who were born there, but, hey, my Middle Eastern History isn’t all that sharp.



In look and feel, GOING STEADY is meant to echo AMERICAN GRAFITTI, and it does a good job of this. One of the rules of horny boys in movies is that there’s always three of them; here they’re Huey (the fat one), Bobby (the good looking one with the car), and Benji (our hero). They engage in variations of classic 50s juvenile delinquency, the most important of which is their plan to steal recyclable seltzer bottles for redemption at the store from which they steal them. In the midst of this grand plan walks Tammy, wanting to buy half a loaf of bread. This is just as successful as if you tried that at HyVee now. So Benji suddenly expresses the urge to buy half a loaf of bread and there we have our star-crossed lovers. Just so things don’t get too sappy too fast, there’s some fat-guy humor when suddenly Huey is left alone with a giant jar of gumballs. He pours a bunch down his shirt and fills his mouth with them. When the storekeeper returns and sees this, Huey takes a whipping with a belt while Benji is making his way to first base with Tammy.



The plot, like a lot of teen films, relies on the fact that nobody goes out with the person they really want to go out with. Frankly, Benji and Tammy screw up a perfectly good system of repressed urges among their pals by being That Couple. Ready? Martha, the nerdy girl with the pigtails, goes out with Huey. But Martha really wants Benji and dates Huey to be close to him. Martha, according to the Nerd Girl Is Actually Very Hot Rule, shoulders the larger part of the nudity load in this movie. She does this when Tammy resists Benji’s play for second base and runs crying from a party. Benji is drunk and frustrated and Martha strips and makes a play for him, but he doesn’t want her and leaves. This is the most important event in the movie, because a) Martha’s transformation is pretty great and b) it is the Great Misunderstood Act of the movie.



You have seen the Great Misunderstood Act many times. It’s the bedrock of Roman Comedy, for Christ’s sake; it’s actually ancient. Something happens that looks kinda bad on the surface, or it can’t be easily explained by a fictional character. Example not from this movie: “Well, yeah, we were alone and she was naked. Wait that sounds bad. Wait, no, it was fine, because I was so drunk I doubt I could have gotten it…why are you crying?”



So Martha’s been rebuffed, but she remains hopeful. Bobby is going out with Shelly, but Bobby’s after every girl, and he’d like a shot at Tammy. Bobby’s a pretty serious tail-chaser; he agrees at one point to set up a girl they all call Bazooms for a gangbang—their word. Because of plot-y stuff, Benji and Tammy are broken up so he figures what the hell. Huey comes along because you don’t do something ridiculous and misogynistic without your go-to comedy machine. The plan is this: Bobby will have sex with Bazooms at her place, while Huey hides under the bed and Benji hides in the closet. The plan is for Bobby to hop off and slide Huey right on top of her without missing a stroke. At least they dubbed the word in as “plan”. I have my doubts. This instantly fails and Bazooms’ reaction is quite understandable, but it is creepily played off as Comedic Objection, as if it were equivalent to Margaret Dumont protesting when Groucho Marx kisses her hand up to the elbow. A lot of strangely bad behavior is played off this way; either the actresses didn’t get the memo to play it more broadly or this was the idea the whole time.



Bobby and Shelly break up because Bobby is trying to make every girl in the movie. Bobby slaps Shelly in front of everyone at the malt shop and both Huey and Benji object. Bobby, who saw Martha take off her clothes and make a go at Benji earlier, decides to tell everyone in the place that Benji and Martha had sex. Tammy breaks up with Benji and Huey breaks up with Martha and Huey hates Benji, all in one fell swoop. Bobby’s no average jackass. He even beats up Benji.



Benji, it should be noted, endures his share of humiliations in this movie. The weirdest and frankly most off-putting one is when Huey tells him the cure for blue-balls is to sit in a bathtub for an hour with a big piece of ice on your nuts. So he goes home and finds his folks are having friends over. He sidles over to the refrigerator and pulls out a hunk of ice the size of a couple of cinderblocks. He manages to get it to the bathroom only to find three game fish swimming in the tub. For a second I thought it was a shot at non-sequitur humor, but then I remembered George C Scott’s monologue from EXORCIST III about how his wife was keeping a live fish in their bathtub so they could have it as fresh as possible. So what does Benji do? He tosses out the fish, drains the tub and sits with a giant block of ice on his nuts. I wonder if that happened to Golan or Globus.



So after Bobby pulls his dastardly maneuver and wrecks everybody’s relationships, he scoops up Tammy and takes her to the prom. Benji goes stag and tries to look all cool and okay-being-alone by smoking and brooding while an insane amount of dancing happens around him. Shelly sidles up to him and says she’s getting out of this town, and would he like to come along. Shelly looks a lot like Carla Gugino, so Benji says sure. They dance and get into a PDA War with Bobby and Tammy, each couple trying to outdo the other. Bobby and Tammy go all-in by leaving to go have sex. But it’s just a ruse; at least, to Tammy it is. Huey overhears Tammy tell Bobby that she’s still in love with Benji. But Huey decides not to tell Benji as revenge for Martha.



Next morning, Benji goes to meet up with Shelly and leave town. Enter Huey, who just can’t enjoy revenge like a man. Because here’s the thing: the night before, Benji apologized to Huey and Tammy, and explained that he didn’t have sex with Martha. Martha ended up back with Huey for no good reason other than he seemed sad and Martha’s needs are of no further interest to the movie. So Huey took some cold-blooded revenge by telling Benji that Tammy and Bobby had sex at prom. But guilt got to him and he tells Benji the truth. True love prevails, right?



Yes, of course it does. When Tammy won’t listen to his pleas, Benji smashes out a car window and honks the horn until she appears at her balcony. He then threatens suicide, which he indeed attempts, by jumping off a building. But to his surprise, he merely lands on a balcony; but the shock is enough to guilt Tammy into running to, I dunno, look at his shattered body. But omigosh you’re alive! Okay, I love you, the end. The infinite series complete, Zeno’s Arrow lands and the credits roll.



Stayed awake for the whole thing because everybody you wanted to see naked does indeed turn up that way and because it was killing me that I couldn’t remember where I’d seen Bobby before (answer: in SCHINDLER’S LIST. He was the guy who got cognac and shirts and stuff for Schindler.). Six wide awake eyes for this one. (One eye equals 15 minutes of runtime.)



John Ira Thomas writes graphic novels for Candle Light Press. He’s going to go watch LIFEFORCE now. “Here I go…”


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