An issue of Daily Variety early this week included a full-page advertisement that started with some typical lines: "Dear Mr. Spielberg: We recently had the opportunity to view the film 'Goonies' and from all indications it appears you have another success to your credit. Congratulations."
In other words, it looked just like lots of Variety ads, thank-yous of the sort Spielberg frequently receives. But this one was different -- after the respectful opening it attacked "Goonies." At least three Italian American groups -- the Sons of Italy order of the Commission for Social Justice, the Coalition of Italo-American Associations and the Italian American Media Institute -- object to the chief villains in the film, a clumsy, cartoonish family of hoodlums called the Fratelli Gang.
"For some strange reason," the ad said, "someone decided out of left field to give these thugs an Italian name. In fact, to reinforce the identity of these villains, they speak Italian and even sing Italian opera . . . What possible motive could the writer or director have for making these outlaws Italian, in an adventure movie about dead pirates, buried treasure, and Spanish galleons? It adds absolutely nothing to the script and actually detracts from the story. And it does this in a movie aimed at young people, a group whose attitudes and perceptions are most impressionable."
The ad didn't let other movie makers off the hook, either. "It is no secret that Italian Americans have been the victims of negative stereotyping in the media for almost 100 years," it said. "From 'Little Caesar' to 'The Godfather' to 'Prizzi's Honor,' they have been portrayed in film as either gangsters or buffoons. 'Goonies' successfully managed to combine both negative stereotypes into one."
As for Spielberg, he's apparently not going to answer any of the charges -- a spokesman for the director says he has no response . . .
Hollywood loves superlatives, loves movies that are the biggest, the best and especially the most profitable. And while "Back to the Future" opened last Wednesday with an admirable $14.9 million take in its first five days, that's just not enough for some people. Sure, those are terrific figures, but they give the film only the third-best opening of the summer, behind "Rambo" and "A View to a Kill." So in a nice bit of semantic juggling, everybody's now referring to "Back to the Future" as the film with the summer's biggest "nonsequel opening" . . . "Pale Rider" dropped by nearly 25 percent in its second weekend, but it still did enough business to stay ahead of "Rambo" and finish in second place . . .
"Cocoon" took a smaller drop of 14 percent, finished just behind "Rambo" and boosted its total take past the $30 million mark -- still well short of what it needs to turn a profit, but a solid sign for Ron Howard, who leaves today for the set of his next movie, "Gung Ho." The chief location is an auto assembly plant supposedly situated in the Midwest but run by new Japanese owners. Howard couldn't find an appropriate facility in the United States, so he and his cast are heading for Buenos Aires. After about three weeks, they'll head for more familiar territory, Pittsburgh . . .
A couple of films took more serious nose dives when faced with the new batch of Independence Day releases: "St. Elmo's Fire" dropped by more than a third to trail John Boorman's reasonably strong "The Emerald Forest," while "Fletch" and to a lesser degree "The Goonies" showed signs of fading. But the biggest casualties were "Poltergeist" director Tobe Hooper's "Lifeforce" and Disney's "Return to Oz," both of which lost about half their business over the previous weekend . . .
The competition gets rougher this weekend, with the openings of "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome," "Silverado" and "Explorers." But the last film isn't picking up the best advance word: It's directed by Joe Dante ("Gremlins"), and more than a few early viewers have been heard to mutter that just as Hooper's disappointing "Lifeforce" showed that producer Steven Spielberg must have been the real director of "Poltergeist," so "Explorers" indicates that Spielberg must have had a heavy hand in "Gremlins."