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Film / A Fine Mess

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Aileen: This is a Cadillac without doors!
Phil: So what? It's a Cadillac.

A Fine Mess is a 1986 comedy film directed by Blake Edwards and starring Ted Danson, Howie Mandel, Maria Conchita Alonso and Paul Sorvino.

The plot centers around small-time con artist and aspiring actor Spence Holden (Danson) and his best friend, frustrated waiter Dennis Powell (Mandel) who stumble upon a horse doping plot and the gangsters involved, turning the movie into an extended chase, leading to them accidentally buying a piano at an auction. Claudia Pazzo (Alonso) offers them $8,000 for it (though they paid $10,000), since she claimed that she had wanted to buy it herself but "this crazy racehorse" caused her to get "held up in traffic." Later that night, Spence calls her up and asks if it would be possible to deliver the piano to her house tomorrow, and that he'd really like to see her again. She says she'll be over in 20 minutes. (See below under Naked in Mink.) Unfortunately, she's married to Tony Pazzo (Sorvino), the local mob boss whose idiot flunkies, Maurice 'Binky' Drundza (Stuart Margolin) and Wayne 'Turnip' Parragella (Richard Mulligan), are the ones responsible for doping the horses in the first place. Dennis hates his job as a rollerskating waiter and his boss and wants to open an Indian food restaurant called Gandhi's, which would specialize in curry, although he's never actually tried it before. He also strikes up a relationship with the lady from the auction, Ellen Frankenthaler (Jennifer Edwards.)

The film's poor box office showing was reinforced when Sorvino and Alonso both appeared on the May 18, 1998 episode of Vibe to promote separate projects. When Alonso came out for her interview, she rushed over to Sorvino, saying, "My husband, my husband," and then had to explain why she was saying that.

A Fine Mess of Tropes:

  • Accidental Bid at an Auction: Despite Spence's explanation that Dennis was only "smelling his armpit."
  • The Alleged Car: It's a stolen Cadillac without doors.
  • The Casanova: Spence, leading to the Running Gag below.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down & Modesty Bedsheet: After Binky and Turnip have shown up at his apartment (since their car crashed into Spence's brother-in-law and his sister who were driving The Alleged Car above and he gave them Spence's address) and burst in on Claudia (wearing a towel on her way out of the bathroom, who then chased them screaming out the door), Spence wrapped the sheets around himself and tried to catch up with her, and called out her name, leading to an example of the Running Gag below.
  • Chase Scene: Quite a lot of the movie.
  • Closet Shuffle: Claudia tries to hide Spence under her bed and he and Dennis in the sauna.
  • Contrived Coincidence: What fuels the movie.
  • Covers Always Lie: Most posters of the movie (including the one above) depict an irate Spence holding a gun to a screaming and flailing Dennis(in drag). While it did relate to a scene from the movie, it was actually just a brief diversionary tactic used to get away from the police and had nothing really to do with the plot.
    Cop 1: "Is that a woman?"
    Cop 2: (exasperated) "No, that's Powell...."
  • Diamonds in the Buff: Claudia is seen wearing earrings while taking a bubble bath and talking with Spence on the phone.
  • Drugs Are Bad: The doped racehorse, Sweet Sue, dies from the drugs.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: "Binky" and "Turnip"
  • Expy: Spence Holden is not too far removed from Sam Malone, who Danson was playing at the same time on Cheers.
  • Fake Rabies: Dennis pulls this at the horse track.
  • Fingore: No blood, but Binky does get his fingers caught in the door of the car when he and Turnip arrive at Spence's apartment building.
  • Fire-Breathing Diner: Dennis's first experience eating curry at a restaurant with Ellen has him downing drinks, eating leaves out of the flowers on the table, running to other customers' tables to drink whatever they have until he finally just starts SCREAMING!
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: Claudia takes off her nightgown in the sauna, where she is hiding Spence and Dennis, and walks out naked to distract Tony.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Claudia Pazzo. The only times we see her properly dressed are her first appearance at the apartment when she offers to buy the piano, and at the end when she and Spence are filming a movie.
  • Naked in Mink: Claudia arrives at Spence's apartment wearing a white fur coat. Spence asks, "May I take your coat?" and Claudia answers, "Sure," shedding the coat and walking into Spence's bedroom wearing only panties.
  • Nipple and Dimed: We see the top of Claudia's breasts and the side of her right breast on top of Spence but nothing more.
  • No Escape but Down: Spence jumps out of a second floor window in the Pazzos' home to land on the truck.
  • Oh, Crap!: Dennis figuring out who Tony Pazzo really is.
  • Only Sane Man: Dennis, despite his odd personality, is generally the more rational one between Spence and himself.
  • Pretty in Mink: Claudia, being the wife of a big time gangster, has a white fox fur coat and a black fox coat.
  • Pursued Protagonist: Spence and Dennis
  • Running Gag: Spence getting slapped in the face when he can't remember women's names.
  • Scenery Censor: When Claudia walks out of the sauna naked, the back wall of the sauna happens to be the exact height needed to cover Claudia's butt when she drops her nightgown and even after she walks forward out of the sauna to distract Tony.
  • Sesquipedalian Smith: Inverted with Ellen Frankenthaler.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The title is taken from Laurel and Hardy's Catchphrase, "That's another fine mess you've gotten us into," and the piano delivery is a direct reference to The Music Box.
    • Dennis tells Ellen that his dream is to open an Indian food restaurant called Gandhi's.
    • As Tony is limping around his house looking for Claudia, who is hiding in the sauna with Spence and Dennis, he says, "Someday they're going to do my life story, The Singing Godfather."
  • Start My Own: We see that Dennis got his Happy Ending and he and Ellen have opened an Indian food restaurant called Gandhi's.
  • Title Drop: The closing narration thanks all the characters who "made such a fine mess."
  • Toplessness from the Back: Provides the page photo.
  • Unfortunate Names: Dennis' boss is named Mr. Wardell Flecken, a shortened version of Fleckenshicker. Dennis asks, "Is that like Shickenflucker?"