New on Blu: WHO’S HARRY CRUMB? Review

WHO’S HARRY CRUMB? wasn’t exactly the burning question on the lips of curious moviegoers in 1989, and for good reason. The main problem was that the answer wasn’t all that inspiring: “Why, Harry Crumb is the same bumbling detective character you’ve already seen in a dozen comedies, but now he’s played by former SCTV cast member John Candy!” One of a handful of Canadian co-productions thrown together at the end of the tax-shelter era, WHO’S HARRY CRUMB? sees Candy team up with director Paul Flaherty (brother of former SCTV co-star Joe Flaherty) for a passable effort that nevertheless helped launch Candy’s star south of the border when it was given a wide release by Columbia.

Unlike some of his fellow Second City alumni, Candy was rarely given leading roles in films until the 1990s, and even then only managed top billing in a handful of movies before his untimely death in 1994. Instead, the Toronto-born actor was usually relegated to supporting characters or ensemble pieces, often alongside his former TV co-stars. That began to change with the release of WHO’S HARRY CRUMB? and, a few months later, the blockbuster success of UNCLE BUCK (1989). This one-two punch lead to bigger lead roles in films over the next few years including ONLY THE LONELY (1991), DELIRIOUS (1991) and COOL RUNNINGS (1993). Now available for the first time on Blu-ray from Mill Creek, WHO’S HARRY CRUMB? has some issues, but still features some enjoyable moments and a peek at Candy before he broke into the big time.

The main issue with a film like WHO’S HARRY CRUMB? is that it isn’t particularly original. With its focus on pratfalls and disguises (including some regrettable racist caricatures that don’t read well today) the film builds off of already established characters like Inspector Clouseau in the PINK PANTHER franchise, Frank Drebin in the NAKED GUN series, the small screen’s gun-happy SLEDGE HAMMER! and, most notably, Chevy Chase’s titular character in FLETCH (1985), among countless others. But even then, WHO’S HARRY CRUMB? is more plot-focused than some of those other entries, preferring to reel in Candy’s antics and alter-ego characters so that it can spend more time following two separate criminal groups trying to outsmart each other to get their hands on the personal fortune of a rich businessman.

In the film, the Crumb & Crumb detective agency is famous for their crime-solving founders, but few of their talents have passed on to their grandson, Harry Crumb (Candy). The new scheming agency president Eliot Draisen (Jeffrey Jones) assigns Harry to a high-profile kidnapping case to track down the whereabouts of the daughter of millionaire P.J. Downing (Barry Corbin). Enlisting the help of the missing girl’s sister (Shawnee Smith), Harry investigates Downing’s young trophy wife (Annie Potts) and her tennis pro lover (Tim Thomerson), and clashes with a police detective (Valri Bromfield) only to discover that Draisen may not want the case solved after all.

The cast is better than you might expect and appears game for this kind of broad comedic material, but the characters they’re given to play are one-note and well-worn. Aside from clumsy detective, the films is full of banal roles like the evil executive, gold-digging stepmother and tough-as-nails female cop. The nicest surprise in the film are a series of scene-stealing cameos by James Belushi as an annoyed bus passenger, Wesley Mann as a terminally bored butler, and Joe Flaherty as a boxing-obsessed security guard that Harry must slip past.

Further, the character of Harry is somewhat confusing–at first Candy plays him as a clumsy private eye who’s totally out of his depth, but then he occasionally comes up with surprising insights. For instance, Harry’s uncannily able to tell that a stack of bills to pay the kidnapper’s ransom is one short simply by fanning it, and later is the only one to hear the muffled cries of someone locked in an airport storage room. Harry’s actual level of competence seems to be always in flux. For what it’s worth, Candy appears to be enjoying himself and has some physical comedy involving a priceless pterodactyl egg on Draisen’s desk and a handful of memorable lines (“You find that crazy typewriter, and you have your kidnapper!” he says, looking at a ransom note of letters cut out of magazines). His various disguises are less inspiring–a Turkish hairdresser and Indian air conditioner repairman trade mostly on gratuitous ethnic humour, while a turn as a jockey at the horse races seems mostly drawn from an old SCTV sketch, “Angel Cortez, FBI Jockey.”

It’s no Canadian comedy classic, and doesn’t rank among Candy’s better roles, but despite some reservations, WHO’S HARRY CRUMB? remains a decent enough time-waster almost 30 years later. Helping this go down a bit easier, Mill Creek’s brand new Blu-ray of the film features a fine and bright-looking HD transfer that brings to life the film’s rich colour palette. There aren’t any extras included here to speak of, but it does come in a nice VHS-style slip case, complete with weathered-looking cardboard sleeve with a circular “comedy” sticker that certainly brings back memories of seeing the box art on the shelf at the video store. WHO’S HARRY CRUMB? is a throwback to simpler times and is certain to prompt more than a few nostalgic purchases of this occasionally fun (if overly clich├ęd) ’80s comedy.