Follow TV Tropes


Film / Scavenger Hunt (1979)

Go To

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 American comedy film directed by Michael Schultz, starring (among others) Richard Benjamin, James Coco, Scatman Crothers, Ruth Gordon, Cloris Leachman, Cleavon Little, Roddy McDowall, Robert Morley, Richard Mulligan, and Tony Randall.

The plot involves, well, a Scavenger Hunt for all sorts of outrageous items arranged by late game inventor Milton Parker (Vincent Price), the grand prize being his estate and the $200 million contained in his will.

There are five teams playing for the prize, all of whom were connected to Milton in one way or another. They include:

  • His greedy sister Mildred (Leachman), her conniving attorney Stuart Selsome (Benjamin), and her dim-witted Manchild son Georgie.
  • His kind-hearted nephews Jeff and Kenny Stevens, who invite Mildred's step-daughter Lisa on their team when Mildred forbids her from playing.
  • His widowed son-in-law Henry Motley and his four rambunctious children.
  • His servants, consisting of chauffeur Jackson (Little), French chef Henri (Coco), French maid Babbette, and valet Jenkins (McDowall).
  • Marvin Dummitz (Mulligan), a dim-witted taxi driver who helped Milton gain full control of his company by getting his business partner lost. He later joins up with Sam (Crothers), a security guard at a bridal shop who apprehends him as he's trying to swipe a wedding gown until he hears about the situation and the reward.

Hilarity quickly ensues as the different teams try to nab all 100 items (or as many as they're able to nab) on their lists, all with a fortune on the line.

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

"This trope is a contest":

  • Air-Vent Passageway: Marvin breaks into the bridal boutique by crawling through an air vent.
  • All Bikers are Hells Angels: The "Piece Corps" are a gang of bikers that Stuart runs afoul of when he attempts to steal a foxtail off one of their bikes. Their leader, Scum, orders him beaten to death. After his beating, Stuart still manages to pocket the foxtail, but the bikers promptly beat him again when he accidentally knocks over their motorcycles.
  • Alliterative Name: Stuart Selsome, which is appropriate for such a Smug Snake.
  • Amoral Attorney: Mildred’s lawyer Stuart is a greedy man who encourages her to dramatically cry and fake sympathy at the will reading, and is quick to sabotage the other teams and seize their items.
    • Averted with Charles Bernstein, Milton’s lawyer and the executor of his estate, who is scrupulous in his duties and contemptuously/bemusedly tells Stuart how hard it is for him to believe they're in the same profession.
  • Badass Biker: Scum, the leader of the Piece Corps, who Stuart makes the mistake of crossing.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Jenkins, Jackson, and Henri manage to steal a toilet from a fancy hotel's bathroom by pretending to be mechanics who are taking it to the shop for repairs.
  • Big Brother Bully: Georgie is a jerk to his step-sister Lisa, and it's largely due to this that she bails on him and his mother to join the Stevens' team.
  • Big Fun: A fat person is one of the items on the list, granting 50 bonus points to any teams who bring one back. Three of them end up being brought back:
    • Duane, who Jeff, Kenny, and Lisa originally choose, is a slovenly Big Eater and a bit of a Fat Idiot, and they persuade him to come with them by bribing him with fast food, while lying that the bonus points are for getting someone dressed exactly like him (guessing that he'd be offended by the real reason).
    • They later replace Duane with Kay, a cheery fat woman they spot at a bus stop, where they dump Duane. After they leave, the servants find Duane, who offers to come with them back to the estate.
    • Leon, the fat person Marvin brings in, is openly excited about being a point-setting item for a scavenger hunt, amused by the whole thing, and doesn't even mind being tied across the hood of Marvin's taxi, feeling like the winning float at the Rose Parade.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Milton's family consists of his son-in-law and four rambunctious grandchildren, his greedy sister Mildred, her Manchild son Georgie and long-suffering stepdaughter Lisa, and nephews Jeff and Kenny Stevens.
  • Brainless Beauty: Babbette, Milton's French Maid, who does not know what a microscope is.
  • Brandishment Bluff: Jenkins holds up the cashier of a supermarket so his fellow servants can steal the cash register by jabbing a carrot in his back and claiming it's a gun.
  • Brown Bag Mask: Jenkins, Jackson, and Henri pull paper bags over their heads as they rob the grocery store. Henri forgets to cut eye holes in his, 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 has a brief appearance as Lars, a gym instructor Henry runs into while trying to get a medicine ball.
  • Car Meets House: During the car chase, Jackson misses a turn that the other vehicles make and instead drives his limo through the glass window of a showroom, and comes out the window on the other side to rejoin the chase.
  • Chase Scene: Mildred's team, the Stevens brothers, the police, and the servants are involved in one near the end of the film, set to a disco version of "The Nutcracker Suite".
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Marvin partners up with a bridal store security guard named Sam in order to get more items on his list, specifically a suit of armor from the museum. In the end, Sam is inside the suit when it's stolen by Mildred, Georgie, and Stuart, and because there's no rule against an item moving itself into another team's pen, he’s able to move it into the Stevens' pile to give them the win.
  • Companion Cube: Under Babbette's decision, and because it was the first item they obtained, the servants decide to keep the hotel toilet for the rest of the hunt as a mascot/good luck charm, the maid herself even naming it "Mont Clair". They are extremely upset when Mildred, Georgie, and Stuart steal it, and when it falls out the car and smashes, Babbette screams "They killed Mont Clair!".
  • Cool Old Lady: Kenny happens to be good friends with Arvila, a tough-as-nails woman who looks to be at least seventy. He, Jeff, Lisa, and Kay visit her house for a bulletproof vest, which is an item on the list. It's during their visit that she is revealed to have a collection of brass knuckles, tear gas, chains, and other weapons, and she even met Kenny when she saved him from being mugged.
  • Destination Defenestration: This happens accidentally when gym instructor Lars throws a medicine ball at Henry, who catches it. The impact propels him out the second floor window of the gym.
  • The Ditz: Marvin, who's only in the will at all because he got lost driving Milton's business partner to a meeting to renew some contracts, which gave Milton full control of the company. As further proof of his stupidity, he arguably does the worst out of everyone in the hunt, though it's partially justified since until meets Sam, he's the only player on a team of one.
  • Elevator Failure: Mildred, Georgie, and Stuart's plan to steal the safe from Stuart's office comes undone when the elevator breaks down right when they load it in. Mildred, Georgie, and Stuart are left dumbstruck as a janitor walks up and attaches an "OUT OF ORDER" sign.
    Stuart: Out of order? What do you mean, out of order? This is ridiculous! It can't be out of order! It was working just a second ago!
    Janitor: I'm sorry, but it's not working now.
    Stuart: But it was working! Just a second ago!!!
    Janitor: Well Einstein, look at me. A second ago, I wasn't standing here talking to a moron.
    • They try it again when the elevator is finally fixed, only for the exact same thing to happen twice, complete with the janitor putting the sign back up.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: As everyone observes how far ahead Mildred’s team is, Jenkins muses that items are allowed to be given, so his team and the others offer their own items to the Stevens to help them win.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The movie starts in the late morning, with the reading of Milton's will, and it ends just after 5 P.M., when the points from the Scavenger Hunt are tallied. The total time elapsed is probably less than six hours.
  • French Cuisine Is Haughty: Milton's personal chef is a somewhat haughty (although not to French Jerk levels) Frenchman named Henri.
  • French Maid: Milton's maid Babbette, who dresses in the requisite French Maid Outfit, and combines the trope with Brainless Beauty.
  • French Maid Outfit: Babbette is an actual French Maid who wears the typical outfit as her uniform. This is not too surprising, given that the one scene we see of her late employer indicates that he was something of a Dirty Old Man.
  • Game Between Heirs: Game inventor Milton Parker dies, and leaves his fortune to the person or team that wins 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 them ally at the end.
  • Inconvenient Parachute Deployment: Henry and his kids are driving along a rural road when their parachute (one of the items on the list), housed in the back of their station wagon, deploys through the open rear window. This causes the car to swerve out of control and winds up stranding them with a flat tire.
  • It's Probably Nothing: Sam's reaction when her hears Marvin breaking into the bridal boutique he's guarding via the air vent. It's only when the cabbie tries to sneak past him disguised as a mannequin that he decides to investigate.
  • Laughing Gas: Kenny, Jeff, Lisa, and Kay all start giggling and gradually laughing uncontrollably when the tank of laughing gas they nabbed (which is one of the items on the list) is accidentally opened inside the van. The cop who stops them is convinced that they're high on something, but he gets gassed himself and voluntarily gives them his uniform, another item on the list.
  • Loophole Abuse: The teams aren’t allowed to buy anything, but Stuart calls several of his employees and gives them the list so they can buy the stuff for him and his team.
    • At the end, Sam, wearing the suit of armor from the museum, staggers out of Mildred’s pile and into the Stevens'. This ultimately helps them win, 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 Parker Brothers. Both are game companies, perfect for a game inventor.
  • Mistaken for Racist: Stuart, when he asks the African-American Jackson if "you people" (meaning the staff) have anything to eat. When he notes the phrasing, he hurriedly apologizes.
  • Motorcycle Dominoes: After being thrown out of the biker bar, Stuart pauses to gloat over the fact that none of the bikers noticed him pocketing the foxtail. As he does so, he knocks over one of the motorcycles, triggering a destructive chain reaction. Seconds later, the bikers are chasing him again.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Kenny and Jeff take a policeman's uniform, not for a disguise, but because it's on the list. It helps that the officer is hit by a dose of laughing gas, rendering him passive enough to let them take it. Near the end, he sobers up and chases them all the way back to Milton's estate to get it back.
  • Mummy: Marvin tries disguising himself as one in the museum so Sam, the guard from the bridal shop who has subsequently teamed up with him, can steal a suit of armor while he's distracting everyone. It doesn't work out the way they planned, but it helps the Stevens' brothers win in the end.
  • Nobody Here but Us Statues: Marvin attempts to steal a wedding dress by posing as a mannequin and sneaking out of the boutique. It doesn't work, but it gains him a new partner.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Marvin Dummitz, and the story of how Milton's business partner had the misfortune of hailing his cab on the day of an important meeting, never making it to said meeting and giving Howard full control of the company, 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 from the locked science lab.
  • Oh, Crap!: The servants get stuck in a science lab while trying to take a microscope. They stand on each other's shoulders to activate the fire sprinklers via Jenkins' lighter, but they 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.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Milton Parker's death kicks off the eponymous scavenger hunt amongst his heirs and acquaintances to win his inheritance.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Played for Laughs. Stuart steals a set of false teeth from an old Native American man, who then proceeds to track his Cadillac throughout the city. He finally catches up with him, Mildred, and Georgie at the very end of the movie, spending the credits chasing them.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: One of the items on the list is a beehive. Henry goes to get one from a field, but he predictably gets stung all over.
  • Scavenger Hunt: It's right there in the title. The items listed include a Bulletproof Vest, a pair of false teeth, a toilet, a live ostrich, a tank of laughing gas, a microscope, a cash register, a policeman's uniform, a fat person, a wedding dress, the head of a Jack-in-the-Box drive-thru speaker, a beanie chopper, a suit of armor, a foxtail, a safe, a teddy bear, a beehive, a life preserver, a parachute, a medicine ball, the grille of a Rolls-Royce, a crate of bananas, and all sorts of other random and improbable items.
  • Shout-Out: When Stuart meets Henry's children, 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, Charles takes a gun off one the police officers who showed up and fires it into the air to get silence.
  • Speech Impediment: The zookeeper from the San Diego Zoo who is perplexed by how the ostriches keep being stolen (due to them being on the list) has a heavy lisp.
  • Staged Pedestrian Accident: Marvin sees a Con Man pulling the scam in a car park to rob an old lady of her jewlery, and decides that it's the perfect way to obtain a Rolls-Royce grille. He makes multiple attempts to be hit by the woman driving the Rolls, all of which fail, resulting in him being run over by a succession of different cars.
  • Stealing from the Hotel: Jackson, Jenkins, and Henri steal a toilet from a posh hotel by claiming to be repairmen taking it to the shop. It later falls out of their limo and smashes on the road.
  • Tuckerization: The name "Milton Parker" is a combination of Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers.
  • Video Will: Milton leaves behind a recorded will on a cassette tape, through which he could not resist the urge to taunt his heirs one last time.
  • We Win, Because You Didn't: At the end, the servants observe how far ahead of everyone else Mildred, Stuart, and Georgie are, and they decide to give Lisa and the Stevens brothers everything in their pile in the hopes of letting them catch up and having someone else win, which prompts the other teams to quickly follow suit. This is rewarded by the Stevens brothers and Lisa sharing their newly-won money with them, the other teams, and everyone who helped them along the way.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The nurse who plays a game with Milton when he dies is never seen again, not even during the reading of the will.
  • Where's the Kaboom? / Never Mess with Granny: A grenade falls off the Bulletproof Vest Kenny and Jeff get from Arvila. It turns out to be a dud that she is revealed to use as a paperweight, keeping the real ones with the Howitzer.