#3. Laurence Olivier in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow began life as a teaser trailer produced by a guy in his living room, which impressed movie producers so much they gave him a giant stack of money to make a feature length film that ended up looking like a blurry $80 million Xbox game.
"Captain, open the bay doors and dump this money into the Atlantic. Make sure it's on fire first."
The movie's plot revolves almost entirely around the main characters discovering the identity of the mysterious Dr. Totenkopf, whose name is mentioned approximately every 30 seconds, usually in hushed dread-laced tones.
So after over 90 minutes of build-up we finally come face to face with Dr. Totenkopf, who ends up being Zordon from the Power Rangers as played by... a long-dead Laurence Olivier.
"Sadly, nobody in the theater knows who the hell I am."
The conversation they have with him is bizarre and stilted, which is to be expected when you try to write dialogue for an actor that matches old archival footage they had laying around.
They just manipulated old BBC footage of Olivier when he was young, then used a lot of glitches in the "hologram" to cover the rough spots. Why? Who knows?
We get that the film was supposed to mimic the look of old-time serials, but why they felt like this required them to resurrect a man 15 years in his grave (when the rest of the film starred recognizable, modern actors) is a mystery that will likely never be solved. Meanwhile, Hollywood promptly deposited the director back into his living room after the monumental failure of Sky Captain, and he hasn't made another movie since.
#2. The Three Stooges
In 1959, Shemp Howard, aka The Fourth Stooge after Larry, Moe and Curly, died after having a massive stroke. Hollywood, being exactly as respectful of the dead 50 years ago as they are now, saw fit to hold the remaining Stooges to their original contract. That required them to deliver four more shorts featuring Shemp--or Shemp's corpse--by the end of that year.
So Larry and Moe did the best they could, and inadvertently created some of the saddest pieces of slapstick comedy in human history.
Even worse than the stuff they shot with Curly's severed head.
Right away, you can see Moe and Larry spend a lot of time scratching their heads wondering where the hell Shemp is, usually after finding some lame note or something setting up his conspicuous absence. When Shemp finally makes it on screen, they've patched together the little bit of recent material they had with some older stuff from the archives. The difference between old and new footage is obvious and tragic--Shemp was in dramatically poor health towards the end of his life, so he bounces back and forth between "hatchet-faced" and "nightmare beast" on a scene to scene basis.
When they had to shoot new Shemp scenes, they used the infamous "Fake Shemp," a stand-in actor named Joe Palma. For the most part, Palma was only shown from the back (even though the back of his skull didn't look much like Shemp either), which came off as particularly awkward in an act built entirely around physical comedy.
Things get really jarring in scenes where Shemp is the focal point of attention, which the Stooges fumble through by clumsily hiding Palma's face while still trying to keep him in the center of the gags.
So essentially, the real life Stooges were even more inept than their celluloid counterparts. We would find that funny if we weren't so depressed by the whole thing.
#1. Peter Sellers in Trail of the Pink Panther
Trail of the Pink Panther makes the above-referenced Three Stooges shorts look freaking seamless in comparison.
This was the last movie in the long-running series to star Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, and he had been dead for over two years when the movie came out. And, where at least in the Bruce Lee example they were pulling clips from a single movie he was in fact trying to make, Trail of the Pink Panther is a Frankensteinian creation built out of shit they found on the cutting room floor from across Sellers's career.
The result is characters miraculously changing age from scene to scene and frequently driving cars, using phones and sporting fashions sometimes two decades out of date.
This is totally 1982 and not 1962 in any way.
At one point, Clouseau has to fly to England for no good reason other than to make use of a deleted scene filmed in England from one of the previous films that the producers wanted to use. One problem: They had no pre-existing footage of Clouseau on a plane. That's fine, the producers just had to make some using bona fide movie magic!
Yes, they had Clouseau wrap himself up in bandages and a cast for the plane ride, a move the film makes almost no effort whatsoever to explain. The few glimpses you do get of the guy behind the bandages looks more like Saddam Hussein than Peter Sellers.
When the scene ends, Clouseau's cast and most of his bandages magically vanish as the director cuts back to old footage. After about 45 more minutes of this crap, the film's editor apparently shot himself in the face out of sheer embarrassment, and so Clouseau "dies" off screen in a plane crash and the rest of the movie becomes a straight-up clip show.
In the midst of replaying favorite moments from the past Pink Panther films, the second half of Trail of the Pink Panther somehow manages to forget that it's supposed to be a comedy and instead centers around a plucky lady reporter trying to locate the missing Clouseau. Predictably, her pluck proves to be no match for Sellers being stone fucking dead, and the movie just ends with Clouseau never found. No resolution at all.
By the way, an entire additional movie, Curse of the Pink Panther, continued the "Search for Clouseau" storyline, and when the inspector is finally found he's played by Roger Moore with a bucket on his head.
Not pictured: comedy, dignity.
Sellers's widow actually filed a lawsuit against the film's producers, claiming that the movie was a cheap insult to her husband's memory, and she wound up winning a $1.5 million settlement. So essentially, Trail of the Pink Panther was so shitty that those responsible had to be brought to justice.
Nathan Birch also writes the dead celebrity-free webcomic Zoology.
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