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The Many Faces Of Alan Smithee

An homage to the most prolific director who never lived

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Hollywood’s jack-of-all-genres, director Alan Smithee has an oeuvre that stretches from comedy to drama to horror movies to Westerns. If you’ve never heard of him, it could be because he doesn’t exist. Alan (sometimes Allen or Allan) Smithee is the fake name widely used by real directors who, for creative or contractual reasons, don’t want to take the credit — or the blame — for certain movies. (The Shrimp on the Barbie, a current video release with Cheech Marin and Emma Samms, is the latest example.) Here is an appropriately mixed bag of the ersatz auteur’s films on video.

Death of a Gunfighter Smithee made a fairly promising debut with this downbeat Western. Richard Widmark stars as a determined gunslinging lawman whose brand of frontier justice has outlived its usefulness in a no-longer-wild West. But though there’s too much talk and not enough action on the way to the final shoot-out, Smithee fills the air with a growing sense of foreboding. Not since this effort has he shown such style or control. (The real Smithee: Don Siegel.) B

City in Fear Set in a contemporary Los Angeles that’s being terrorized by a serial killer, this made-for-TV movie takes an often provocative look at how media hype — and the insatiable public appetite for it — can exacerbate an already explosive situation. With its incisive script and impressive cast (including the late David Janssen in his final role and Mickey Rourke in one of his first), this drama keeps threatening to turn into something special. But unfortunately, with Smithee stubbornly sticking to the prime-time-television stylebook, it finally has to settle for being good of its kind. (The real Smithee: Jud Taylor.) B-

Stitches One of Smithee’s real hack jobs. As top-billed Parker Stevenson leads his fellow med school cutups through the usual pranks, this moronic comedy goes out of its way to offend women, gays, senior citizens, punk rockers, Chinese exchange students, and of course doctors. If it weren’t so laughably lame, it wouldn’t be funny at all. (The real Smithee: Rod Holcomb.) F

Let’s Get Harry Smithee’s best cast gets wasted on a routine macho mission. Heading the casualty list: Robert Duvall, as a hardened mercenary leading a bunch of gung ho amateurs (among them Gary Busey and Michael Schoeffling) into the jungle to rescue buddy Mark Harmon. Traces of substance keep surfacing here, suggesting that a more ambitious movie was left on the cutting-room floor. (The real Smithee: Stuart Rosenberg.) C

Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home Smithee tries teen comedy, and actually shows a flair for it. Alas, he has only middling material to work with in this story of a senator’s son (Jon Cryer) who’s looking to win the love of his politically preoccupied parents (Lynn Redgrave, Nicholas Pryor). Cryer’s attention-getting antics are mildly amusing, but the movie’s best feature is Redgrave’s hilarious turn as a pompous Washington wife. (The real Smithee: Paul Aaron.) C

Ghost Fever Sherman Hemsley stars as a hapless detective serving an eviction notice on a comically haunted house. It’s even more stupid than it sounds. And, like many Smithee films, this one suffers lapses in continuity that indicate heavy recutting. If anyone but Smithee had been at the helm, he’d never work in this town again. (The real Smithee: Lee Madden.) F