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Film / Who's Harry Crumb?

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"My reputation precedes me. Otherwise I'd be late for all my appointments."

Who's Harry Crumb? is a 1989 comedy-mystery film featuring the late, great John Candy as the title character. Directed by Paul Flaherty, it co-stars Annie Potts, Jeffrey Jones, Shawnee Smith and Tim Thomerson.

Harry Crumb is the latest in a long line of Crumbs, and being a successful detective runs in the Crumb family. His ancestors, who founded the agency Crumb & Crumb, are still famous for their prowess, but that great skill must have skipped a generation - Harry is a Clueless Detective who's been stuck in Tulsa, Oklahoma, doing whatever odd jobs he can find (and fouling them up) and being the only one convinced of his own abilities. And then, Crumb & Crumb's president, Elliot Draison (Jones), calls Harry back to the head office in Los Angeles, for the first time in years.

His mission? To investigate a case of a missing heiress, Jennifer Downing, daughter of wealthy shipping owner P.J. Downing, who's been kidnapped from her mud bath and is being held for ransom at $10,000,000. Harry throws himself into his first big job in years, and even gets a surprising amount of assistance from the heiress' plucky younger sister, Nikki Downing (Smith).

What Harry doesn't know is that this case has some interesting complications - P.J.'s Trophy Wife, Helen Downing (Potts), is a ruthless Gold Digger who's aghast that all the money she's been trying to get from him is about to be given away, and she enlists the help of her man on the side, Vince Barnes (Thomerson) to somehow get to the money first. Meanwhile, Harry is also unaware of Elliot Draison's real motives for hiring a clumsy oaf like him for such a big case...

The film met reasonable box office success, but unenthusiastic reviews. It was Uncle Buck later that year that truly established John Candy as a leading man.

Tropes found in Who's Harry Crumb? include:

  • '80s Hair: When we first meet Nikki Downing, her teased hair is truly spectacular - Taylor Dayne would be proud.
  • Abhorrent Admirer: Helen views Elliot as this, having less to do with his looks or crooked morals than it has to do with him being relatively dirt poor when compared to Downing.
  • Acrofatic: Harry, of course, played by the late John Candy.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Harry attempts to spy on his client's Gold Digger wife and her lover (whom he suspects to be the kidnappers of the client's daughter) by pretending to be a repairman and crawling in the vents, which are big enough to accommodate someone the size of John Candy. Subverted in that he actually can't get a good look inside the room due to the awkward positioning of the airholes, so he resorts to using a camera (and then doesn't bother to look at the pictures to find out that the kidnapper is his boss). When the kidnapper turns up the A/C, Harry is rapidly propelled along the vents to the point that he literally flies out at the end.
  • Ax-Crazy: Jennifer's captor is seriously unhinged, and would love any excuse to zap her with his cattle prod.
  • Book Ends: At the start of the story, Harry has a secretary at his office in Oklahoma who yells whenever he gets a case. By the end, even though he's become president of his family's business, he still has that secretary. Some things never change.
  • Bragging Theme Tune: Over the end credits, performed by The Temptations.
  • Bound and Gagged: Elliott winds up tied to a chair, gagged with duct tape, and then suspended in mid-air so that all he can do is get the chair to swinging. The lipstick mark left on the duct tape right over his mouth adds a bit more humor to the situation.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Harry's black belt in Akido... and the boots to match.
  • Clueless Detective: Harry Crumb is largely this trope. Though he does have some moments of deductive prowess.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Half the movie is Harry Crumb doing this and somehow failing upward.
  • Cut-and-Paste Note: Leads to this exchange:
    Harry Crumb: You can have your lab inspect this note as much as you want but they may never discover what I already know.
    Detective Casey: And what is that, Mr. Crumb?
  • Delusions of Eloquence: One of Harry's worst habits; nearly all his attempts to sound intelligent fail. He even uses Word Of The Day calendars to try and improve his vocabulary, and never seems to get the words right.
  • Drag Queen: In the final scene, Harry gets done up like this to investigate another murder, at a gay bar in San Francisco. He looks pretty polished, and it's implied by the preceding phone conversation and his casual attitude about it that it's hardly his first time doing drag. He throws his feather boa over his shoulder, And the Adventure Continues.
  • Dramatic Irony: Helen and Barnes are trying to keep the money away from the kidnappers long enough to kill Downing and keep it for themselves. Elliot is fighting to get the money as soon as possible so he can win over Helen. It's basically a tug-of-war where every time one side tugs, the other side does like so.
  • Dynamic Entry: Thanks to Nikki's help driving the airplane steps, Harry does this to a plane while it's moving.
  • Gold Digger: Helen, hands down. Not only is she having an affair with Barnes behind Downing's back with the intent to somehow kill her current husband, but she voices to Elliot that she'd only go out with him if her were rich. And when Elliot later calls her that he indeed has the money she's been fighting for, she discreetly leaves Barnes for him.
  • Hear Me the Money: When Crumb comes upon one stack of bills that he says is short by one, Detective Casey rolls her eyes and insists it's insane to think he could know that just by flipping through it. They count out the bills by hand, and sure enough, there's one bill missing.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Vince, from the shower, tries to cheer up Helen after their latest attempt to get the ransom money comes up empty, by singing "I Got You Babe." Oof, let's just say Helen isn't dating Vince for his singing ability.
  • Innocently Insensitive: When Harry brings Elliot evidence of how Helen and Barnes are having an affair, he begins ragging on how.. poorly endowed Barnes is. Little does he know the man in the photo is actually Elliot, and Harry is unwittingly making fun of him to his face.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Nikki is in her late teens, Harry is an adult, yet they share a nice friendship as they both investigate Jennifer's kidnapping.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Played for Laughs. One such child sees Harry standing for dear life on a ceiling fan and, instead of alerting everyone else that he's stuck up there, decides to entertain himself by setting the fan setting to fast. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Lack of Empathy: While plotting to take Downing's money for themselves, Barnes expresses a little concern that if they take all the money, that will leave none in reserve to pay the ransom and save Jennifer from her captors. In contrast, Helen just sees her stepdaughter as just another "egg" to crack to make their "omelet", rather than care that an innocent life is on the line.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Jennifer's captor has too much fun psychologically tormenting her with his cattle prod. It comes as no shock (no pun intended) that towards the end, he ends up tossed against a fuse box and electrocuted.
  • Mistaken for Masturbating: Harry gets soaked by lawn sprinklers and shakes his pants off facing away from the door whilst making noises as Nikki answers the door.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Had Helen and Barnes not stolen the money from Elliot and tried boarding the plane, they wouldn't have fulfilled Harry's suspicion that they were the kidnappers and painted a target on the back of their heads.
    • What's more, had Elliot not kidnapped Jennifer, Helen and Barnes' plans to kill off Downing for his money wouldn't have been delayed.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Harry recognizes that although he and Nikki may be from different walks of life, they both know what it's like to be in someone's shadow. Respectively, Nikki has lived in Jennifer's shadow, whereas Harry has lived in the shadow of his well-renowned ancestors. Played for Laughs when he voices "You know, Nikki, you and I are a lot alike: we're both traveling through life... in a car with no brakes!"
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Roughly after the climax, Harry finds Elliot tied up and begins boasting about how he solved the case, despite Elliot's doubts. Harry thinks Elliot is just a victim of the "kidnappers", Elliot thinks Harry figured out his scheme. Either way, it comes to a head when a de-gagged Elliot confesses he was the mastermind behind the kidnapping.
  • Parents as People: Downing is a decent father and would give anything to have Jennifer back, but at the same time, he neglects that Nikki has value of her own. He gets better towards the end.
  • Precision F-Strike: The pilot of the airplane seen at the climax fulfills the "one f-bomb in a PG-13 movie" quota.
    "What the fuck is that?"
  • Questioning Title?: And Harry more than delivers with the answer.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Bound and Gagged Elliot has the tape ripped off his mouth at the end, and thinking Harry has actually figured out his scheme, he confesses everything in a torrent of rage and frustration after all the hell Harry caused for him throughout the movie. Had he not lashed out like that, Harry would have never figured it out.
  • The Rival: Detective Casey from the LAPD immediately hates Harry from the moment she meets him, and they resent each other for much of the film.
  • Seemingly Profound Fool: Harry, whose reputation makes him sound like an integral part of the established Crumb legacy, when really, he's almost completely inept.
  • Sidekick: Nikki for Harry, of course. Even at his most bumbling, Nikki cares for him and is unfailingly loyal to him.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Elliot puts Harry on the case specifically because he knows Harry is a colossal screwup and is counting on him botching things.
  • The Starscream: Helen's loyalty only goes to the man with the most money. Don't believe it? Then watch the climax, where she warms up to Elliot when he reveals he has the ransom money, but then turns on him when Barnes threatens them at gun point and takes the money.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: As Elliot does his massive tirade on how he was the mastermind of the kidnapping, Harry is visibly stunned to realize his boss was behind all this. He then wisely decides to let Elliot and everyone else think Harry did figure that out rather than be so clueless that Elliot has no idea if he'd kept his mouth shut, he'd have gotten off scot free.
  • Title Drop: Right in the opening scene.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: Vince drains the brake fluid in Downing's classic car but leaves some pressure for level roads. The idea is that, once he goes down on a steep hill, the pressure won't be enough to brake. It might have worked, but Harry asks Downing to take his car for a spin. He's the one who ends up in trouble when going downhill but miraculously survives when the impact with a tree is dampened by the perpetrators' car.
  • Visual Innuendo: Harry goes undercover as a European Masseur (complete with false beard). He infiltrates the spa where a woman was kidnapped and talks to the massage therapist who was present when the crime occurred. She is busy preparing a treatment for another woman who is naked, covered in mud and lying on a table. Harry's beard falls off and lands perfectly on the woman's pubic area.
  • What the Fu Are You Doing?: Harry tries to show off aikido to Eliot in the office, so he does a backflip over the couch. The landing causes Eliot's dinosaur egg to fall, but is luckily caught.
  • Would Rather Suffer: "...but I would rather rot in jail for the rest of my life than listen to one! More! Idiotic! Word!"