Picture: B- Sound: C+ Extras: C- Film: B+
After starring in several Mel Brooks
comedies and being a fixture on the talk-show/variety-show circuit since the
1960s, chubby comedic actor Dom DeLuise finally earned enough clout
to star above the title in two big-studio comedies at the end of
the 1970s (Hot Stuff and Fatso) after
becoming the unofficial sidekick of then No. 1 box-office star Burt
Reynolds. After hilariously stealing the show in the Reynolds-directed The
End (1978), DeLuise himself decided to take a turn as a
star/director on Hot Stuff (1979), and the results
were very amusing.
Hot Stuff was a better comedy than most gave it credit for, and next up for
DeLuise was another project of a star pulling the double duty of acting and directing.
In this case it was Anne Bancroft directing for the first (and only) time, and
the movie was called Fatso. Produced by Brooksfilms, the
production company owned by Bancroft's husband, Mel Brooks, Fatso
is a comical variation of 1955's Marty, the great film
starring Ernest Borgnine as an overweight, middle-age Italian-American bachelor
who belatedly finds love. But while Marty was a gentle
drama about loneliness, Fatso is an often-boisterous comedy
that focuses a lot more on the compulsive overeating of its main character, Dom
DiNapoli (DeLuise), who could easily pass for a cousin of Borgnine's Marty.
Ever since he was a baby, Dom DiNapoli
loved to eat. Whenever he was upset as a child, his Italian mother used
food as the panacea to whatever ailed him. Dom's favorite cousin was Sal
because Sal always "had something good on him to eat." Sal
grows up to be even larger than Dom, and Fatso begins
with cousin Sal's untimely death at 39 due to obesity.
Dom runs a New York City card shop with
his high-strung sister, Antoinette (Bancroft), and lives upstairs of Antoinette
and her family with his also single younger brother, Frankie Jr. (Ron Carey,
best remembered as Levitt on Barney Miller). The
death of Sal causes Antoinette to start worrying about Dom's weight. Soon
she persuades her brother to go on a strict diet, but that's easier said
than done for a man whose very passion is delicious, high-calorie
food. Before long, Frankie Jr. is locking the refrigerator and kitchen
cabinets with chains, Dom joins a support group of fellow overweight dieters
named Chubby Checkers, and tempers continually flare in the DiNapoli
household as poor Dom tries to resist temptation. After a couple of
uproarious lapses, Dom's only ray of hope comes in the form of a
pretty blonde of Polish and Italian ancestry named Lydia (Candice Azzara),
who works down the street. Dom discovers when he's around Lydia suddenly
his mind isn't always on food.
Fatso is an underrated, hilarious comedy with a lot of heart.
What makes it work is that writer-director Bancroft fills her movie with
seemingly authentic characters who are refreshingly alive with big
emotions. Bancroft, herself an Italian-American, seems to know this world
well, an old-fashioned community of good food, Church bazaars and no
mincing of words where being a Catholic meant something.
My only quibble with the film,
though, is also something I remember mentioning after leaving the theater when
I saw this as a kid: Dom DeLuise really isn't fat enough
in Fatso to the point where he's dangerously
overweight. When Fatso was filmed DeLuise was simply
a chubby guy who could have afforded to lose about 30 pounds, but
he would get much heavier in subsequent years and really turn
into the obese person the title implies.
Fatso is another title from the 20th Century Fox catalog that Anchor
Bay is distributing on DVD. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
transfer has pretty good picture quality for a
non-remastered title that's 26 years old, and the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound is
merely acceptable. When Fatso was first announced for
DVD release over a year ago, an audio commentary with Anne Bancroft was listed
among the extras. Sadly, Bancroft passed away before the first
DVD release date in 2005, and Fatso didn't become
available for another year. There's no Bancroft commentary after all
on the new DVD. The only extras included are the original
theatrical trailer and Anchor Bay's always much-appreciated miniature
reproduction of the original theatrical poster inside the DVD case.