A crushing disappointment made with bone-headed ineptitude, "Izzy and Moe" reunites Jackie Gleason and Art Carney on TV tonight. The film, at 9 on Channel 9, would best be avoided by longtime fans of "The Honeymooners," on which the two actors were felicitously teamed, and by anyone who does not wish to go to bed cursing.
As two aging ex-vaudevillians who take jobs as prohibition agents in 1920, Gleason and Carney ought to be having a high old time, but writer Robert Boris takes the low old road, and director Jackie Cooper is up a lazy river without a prayer. When the two agents disguise themselves as second-honeymooners so as to scotch the hooch traffic at a resort, with Carney in geriatric drag, Cooper doesn't even have the common comic sense to let us see his walk.
The script wastes its first 10 minutes explaining to us how the two fellows get into booze-busting. We don't care or need to know. Even the opening credits loiter and dawdle. Cooper earned his director's credentials, such as they are, on stock sitcoms, which most supermarket bag boys could direct with no trouble; even if Boris' script had been a regular riot, instead of a listless botch, Cooper probably could have drained the life out of it.
All the camera setups are stale, and every scene suffers from hyperenervation. When the two grand stars dance for joy down the middle of the street, Cooper goes to an overhead shot so you can't even get a good look at them. Jackie Cooper isn't a director; he's an embalmer.
There are other obvious culprits. Producer Robert Halmi Sr. seems a specialist at luring venerable actors to a gloomy doom. Last season he produced "Terrible Joe Moran," the unworthy vehicle used to lure James Cagney back before the cameras. Halmi's other films have included "Svengali," in which Peter O'Toole made a fool of himself opposite Jodie Foster, and "China Rose," a ludicrous embarrassment that had George C. Scott romancing Ali MacGraw -- Great Stone Face meetum Wooden Indian. The fewer films Halmi produces, the more pleasant the rest of this century will be.
Also wasted in tonight's production is Zohra Lampert, a warmly enigmatic actress saddled with the under-written, actually unwritten, part of Izzy's wife. Cynthia Harris plays the proprietor of the world's most brightly lit speak-easy, and Jesse Doran has the thankless role of Dutch, a mobster. Actually, all the roles in "Izzy and Moe" are thankless, starting with the titular ones.
Gleason is credited with writing original music, but the soundtrack consists mainly of ruddy chestnuts like "It Had to Be You." The very first tune heard happens to be the swell Dixieland rouser to which Gleason used to roar across the stage on his old variety show after shouting an irresistible "and away we go!" It's called "That's A-Plenty," but as the theme song for "Izzy and Moe" it should have been retitled "That's A-Plenty Lousy Movie."