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Film / Scavenger Hunt (1979)

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Mildred Carruthers: Why, that worm! What's he trying to prove? Georgie and I are his legitimate heirs (bangs fist on desk). Why should we have to play some dumb game just to get what's rightfully ours? I'm going to contest this will!
Charles Bernstein: That's the point, Mrs. Carruthers. This will is a contest.

Scavenger Hunt is a 1979 comedy film directed by Michael Schultz and starring, among others, Richard Benjamin, James Coco, Ruth Gordon, Cloris Leachman, Roddy McDowall, Richard Mulligan, and Tony Randall.

The plot centers around, well, Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Specifically, a Scavenger Hunt arranged by the late game inventor Milton Parker (Vincent Price) for the $200 million in his will. There are five teams consisting of Mr. Parker's servants led by cook Henri (Coco) and valet Jenkins (McDowall), his greedy widowed sister Mildred (Leachman) with her dumb son Georgie and their Amoral Attorney Selsome (Benjamin), son-in-law Henry Motley (Randall) and his four kids, nephews Kenny and Jeff Stevens, and cab driver Marvin Dummitz (Mulligan). Hilarity Ensues.

The film is often considered to be unfunny for its premise, although some appreciate the cast.


"This trope is a contest":

  • Air-Vent Passageway: Dummitz breaks into the bridal boutique by crawling in through an air vent.
  • All Bikers Are Hell's Angels: The Piece Corps are a gang of outlaw bikers Selsome runs afoul of when he attempts to steal a fox tail off one of their bikes. Their leader Scum orders him beaten to death.
  • Alliterative Name: Stuart Selsome, which is appropriate because he's a Smug Snake.
  • Amoral Attorney: Mildred’s lawyer Stewart Sellsome is a greedy man who encourages her to cry and fake sympathy at the will reading and is quick to try and sabotage the other teams and seize other unfair advantages. Averted with Milton’s lawyer, and the executor of his estate, Charles Bernstein, who is scrupulous in his duties and contemptuously/bemusedly tells Sellsome that it’s hard for him to believe they're in the same profession.
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  • Badass Biker: Scum, the leader of the biker gang who Selsome makes the mistake of crossing.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: The servants manage to steal a toilet from a fancy hotel this way.
  • Big Brother Bully: Georgie seems like a jerk to his stepsister Lisa, who is quick to bail on him and his mother and join the Stevens team.
  • Big Fun: One of the rules is "50 bonus points for the team with the heaviest person." The man Jeff, Kenny and Lisa find is a bit of a Fat Idiot and slob who they get to come by lying that the bonus points are for someone dressed exactly like him (sensing he'd be offended by the real reason. The guy Dummitz brings is openly excited about being a point-getter for a scavenger hunt, is amused by the whole thing and doesn't even mind arriving tied across the hood of Dummitz's taxi.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Parker’s family consists of his son-in-law and four rambunctious grandchildren, his greedy sister Mildred, her Manchild son and long-suffering stepdaughter, and two relatively normal nephews the Stevens brothers (its unclear if their parent is a deceased third sibling or Mildred from one of her past marriages, although either way they don’t like her that much).
  • Brainless Beauty: Babbette the French Maid, who does not know what a microscope is.
  • Brandishment Bluff: Jenkins holds up a shopkeeper by jabbing a carrot in his back and claiming its a gun.
  • Brown Bag Mask: Jenkins, Jackson and Henri pull paper bags over their heads when they rob the grocery store. Henri forgets to cut any eye holes in his, however, and this goes so badly that he insists the clerk not look as he tries to find an alternative (settling on pantyhose).
  • The Cameo: Arnold Schwarzenegger appears for a couple minutes as a gym instructor Mr. Motley runs into.
  • Car Meets House: During the car chase, Jackson misses a turn the other vehicles make and instead drives the limo through the glass window of a showroom, and then out the window on the other side to rejoin the chase.
  • Chase Scene: Of the car-chase variety.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Dummitz partners with a museum security guard in order to get at some of the items on the list. The man is inside their suit of armor when it gets stolen by Mildred, Georgie and Sellsome, and because he’s in the suit of armor he’s able to move it into the Stevens pile.
  • Companion Cube: Because it was the first item they obtained, the servants keep the toilet with them for the rest of the hunt as a mascot/good luck charm; naming it 'Mont Clair'. They are extremely upset when Mildred, Georgie and Selsome steal it, and when it falls out the car and smashes, Babbette screams "They killed Mont Clair!".
  • Cool Old Lady: A self-defense obsessed woman named Arvilla who looks to be at least seventy is visited by the Stevens brothers and Lisa for some of the items from her collection of brass knuckles, tear gas, chains and such, and it’s revealed she met Kenny saving him form a mugging.
  • Destination Defenestration: Happens accidentally when Lars (Arnold Schwarzenegger) throws a medicine ball to Henry, who catches it. The impact propels him backwards out the second floor window off the gym.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Mildred, Georgie and Selsome are in an elevator and a janitor walks over and attaches an "OUT OF ORDER" sign.
    Selsome: "Out of order? What do you mean 'out of order'? It was working just a second ago!"
    Janitor: "I'm sorry but it's not working now."
    Selsome: "But it was working, just a second ago."
    Janitor: "And a second ago I wasn't standing here talking to a moron."
  • The Ditz: Dummitz, whose in the will because he made Milton richer by getting lost driving his business partner to a meeting to renew some contracts (giving Milton full control of the company), and arguably does the worst in the hunt.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: As everyone observes how far ahead Mildred’s team is, Jenkins the butler muses that while items are allowed to be given, and offers his teams to another team.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The movie starts in the late morning with the reading of the will, and ends just after 5 pm when the points from the Scavenger Hunt are tallied. Total time elapsed is probably not more than six hours.
  • French Cuisine Is Haughty: Parker’s chef is a somewhat haughty (although not to French Jerk levels) Frenchman named Henri.
  • French Maid: Babbette, who dresses in the requisite French Maid Outfit, and combines this trope with Brainless Beauty.
  • French Maid Outfit: Babbette is an actual French Maid who wears the outfit as her uniform. This is not too surprising given that the little we see of her late employer Mr. Parker indicates that he was something of a Dirty Old Man.
  • Game Between Heirs: Milton Parker dies and leaves his fortune to the person or group of people that win his scavenger hunt. There is no motivation to make them become a family, although throughout the hunt the Stevens brothers bond with Lisa, his son-in-law and grandchildren get closer and Both of those groups ally at the end.
  • Inconvenient Parachute Deployment: Henry and his kids are driving along a rural road when the parachute (one of the items in the Scavenger Hunt) in the back of the station wagon deploys through the open rear window. This causes the car to slue out of control and winds up stranding them with a flat tyre.
  • Intoxication Ensues: Kenny, Jeff, Lisa and Kay all start giggling, and then laughing uncontrollably when the cylinder of laughing gas (which is one of the items in the scavenger hunt) is accidentally opened inside the van. The cop who stops them is convinced they are on something, but then gets gassed himself and voluntarily gives them his uniform.
  • It's Probably Nothing: This is Sam's reaction when her hears Dummitz breaking into the bridal boutique via the air vent. It is only when Dummitz tries to sneak past him disguised as a mannequin that he decides he should investigate.
  • Loophole Abuse: The various teams aren’t allowed to buy anything, but Sellsome calls several of his employees and gives them the scavenger hunt list so they can buy the stuff and then give it to him. Then, at the end the security guard in the suit of armor staggers out of Mildred’s pile and into the Stevens, because while the rules prevent members of an opposing team from moving their items, there’s no rule against an “item” moving itself.
  • Meaningful Name: Doubles as a Shout-Out; Milton Parker is likely named after Milton Bradley and the Parker Brothers — both are game companies, perfect for a game inventor.
  • Mistaken for Racist: Sellsome, when he asks Jackson the African-American limo driver if “you people” (meaning the staff) have anything to eat.
  • Motorcycle Dominoes: After being thrown out of the biker bar, Selsome pauses to gloat over the fact that none of the bikers noticed him pocketing the fox tail. As he does so, he knocks over one of the bikes: triggering a domino chain reaction. Seconds later, the bikers are chasing him again.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Not for disguise, but Kenny and Jeff's team do take a policeman's uniform.
  • Mummy: Marvin tries disguising himself as one so Sam (Scatman Crothers), the guard from the bridal shop who has subsequently teamed up with Marvin, can steal a suit of armor. It doesn't work out the way they planned.
  • Nobody Here but Us Statues: Dummitz attempts to steal a wedding dress by posing as a mannequin and sneaking out of the boutique.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The character Marvin Dummitz and the story of how Mr. Parker's business partner had the misfortune of hailing Dummitz's cab on the day of an important meeting, and never making it to the meeting, is a parody of the real-life story of Melvin Dummar and Howard Hughes, which was later told straight in Melvin and Howard.
  • Oblivious Janitor Cut: A janitor wearing headphones fails to hear the servants screaming at the top of their lungs in the locked lab.
  • Oh, Crap!: The servants get stuck in a lab while trying to take a microscope. They stand on each other's shoulders and accidentally light the sprinkler on fire.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Parker’s only child, the mother of his four grandkids, has been dead for some time. How long is unclear, but her youngest child looks to be between four and six.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Played for Laughs. Selsome steals a set of false teeth of an old Indian, who then proceeds to track his Cadillac across the paved streets of the city.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: Henry goes to get a beehive out of a field, and, of course, gets stung.
  • Scavenger Hunt: Well, duh. It's right there in the title. The items include a Bulletproof Vest, False Teeth, a toilet, an ostrich, laughing gas, a policeman's uniform, a fat person, and more random, improbable items.
  • Shout-Out: When Sellsome sees Milton’s grandchildren he quips “The Bad News Bears break parole.”
  • "Shut Up!" Gunshot: When the teams dissolve into a noisy argument at the end of the hunt, Bernstein takes a gun off one the police officers and fires it into the air to get silence.
  • Speech Impediment: The zookeeper who is perplexed by how his ostriches keep being stolen (due to being on the scavenger list) has a heavy lisp.
  • Staged Pedestrian Accident: Dummitz sees a Con Man pulling this scam in a car park, and decides it would be the perfect way to obtain a Rolls-Royce grille. He then makes multiple attempts to be hit by the Rolls, all of which fail, but which result in him being run over by a succession of different cars!
  • Stealing from the Hotel: How the servants get a toilet. It later falls out and smashes on the road.
  • Tuckerization: The name "Milton Parker" is a combination of Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers.
  • Video Will: Milton Parker leaves behind an audio will; recorded on a cassette tape. It seems he could not resist the urge to taunt his heirs one last time.
  • We Win, Because You Didn't: At the end The servants team observe at how far ahead of everyone else Mildred, Sellsome and George are, and decide to give the Stevens and Lisa everything in their pile in the hopes of letting them catch up and having someone else win. All of the other teams quickly follow suit. This is rewarded by the Stevens brothers and Lisa sharing the prize with them.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The nurse who is with Milton when he dies is never seen again and isn’t included in the will.
  • Where's the Kaboom?: A grenade falls off the Bulletproof Vest Kenny and Jeff get from Arvila (Ruth Gordon.) It turns out to be a dud.