“WEIRD ONES” Presents:
RUBIN AND ED (1991)
Movie Review by L. L. Soares
Back when David Letterman had a show that aired at 12:30 at night on NBC called Late Night with David Letterman (this is before his CBS “Late Show”), actor Crispin Glover went on the show one night and almost hit Dave with a karate kick. Crispin was dressed in tight pants, had long hair, and wore huge platform shoes. This kick led to Glover being kicked off the show, but he came back the next night to explain that he wasn’t really a psychopath, he was simply playing a character from his latest movie. That character was Rubin Farr from the 1991 flick, RUBIN AND ED, which he was promoting at the time.
I remember that show (back then I used to tape Letterman’s show at night and watch it the next day after work), and Glover was definitely a highlight of Dave’s run on NBC. On his second night, when Crispin “apologized,” they showed a clip of the film, showing Rubin hallucinating that his beloved cat, Simon, was water skiing. The scene ends with Rubin saying, “My cat can eat a whole watermelon.”
For years, that was the only part of RUBIN AND ED that I had ever seen. It is a movie that is notoriously hard to find and has been out of print for decades. The only way I was able to see it was to find an old VHS copy on Ebay. But I wish someone would re-release this on DVD. It’s exceedingly strange, and Crispin fans will definitely get a “kick” out of it.
The story begins with Ed Tuttle (Howard Hesseman, who played DJ “Johnny Fever” on the original WKRP in Cincinnati from 1978 – 1982), a down-on-his-luck schmo, attending a seminar by a motivational speaker named Mr. Busta (Michael Greene). The message is the “Power of Positive Real Estate.” Ed then goes out on the street, trying to get other people to go to the seminar. Now that he’s on Mr. Busta’s payroll, and even gets to use the company car, Ed calls his ex-wife, Rula (Karen Black) and tries to convince her that he’s finally successful (his lack of cash is why she left), but she doesn’t buy it. In her book, it’s once a loser, always a loser, and she’s not interested in giving Ed a second chance.
Enter Rubin Farr (Glover), an oddball with long hair, tight clothes and very big shoes. He lives in a big brick motel owned by his mother (Anna Louise-Daniels) where he just stays in his room all day, playing Mahler on his turntable and squeaking a rubber mouse that used to belong to his cat, Simon. Rubin’s mother pulls the plug on his record player, saying that he won’t get it back until he goes outside and makes a friend. Just one friend. If he can get this friend to come over the house for dinner (so Mom can see he or she exists), then he can have his music back.
Rubin reluctantly goes out into the world, where he bumps into Ed handing out flyers and trying to get people to attend the motivational seminar. Everyone ignores him and walks past, except for Rubin, who gives Ed odd answers to his questions, but seems like a possible customer. Rubin says he’ll go to the seminar if Ed comes and picks him up at his mother’s motel. Ed, eager to finally make a “sale,” says yes and they arrange to meet at Rubin’s room at 6pm.
When Ed gets there, Rubin won’t leave at first (he wants to wait for his mother to get home, so she can see his “friend”), but then Ed finds something odd when he looks in the refrigerator for ice. He finds a dead cat, frozen solid in the freezer. At first Rubin freaks out (“Don’t you dare touch my cat!”) but then realizes that, since Ed has a car, he can give him a ride out to the desert, where he wants to bury his cat. Ed, desperate to show his boss he’s made at least one prospective sale, agrees.
Rubin gets to the car first, gets behind the wheel, and drives. When they get close to the seminar place (Ed is giving him directions), Rubin drives past it and just keeps going, for hours, until they reach the desert.
They keep going until the car breaks down. Then Rubin, who is carrying around his frozen cat Simon in a cooler, can’t decide where he wants to bury his pet. Every time he starts digging a hole in the sand, he changes his mind. Ed, meanwhile, is losing patience as he follows Rubin around the desert. And, since this is the time before cell phones, and they’re in the middle of nowhere, there is a chance they could end up dead.
They both have moments where they hallucinate in the desert (Ed hallucinates about his ex-wife—she’s all he seems to think about, aside from the motivational seminars—imagining her wanting him back. Rubin sees a swimsuit model from his calendar at home (Brittney Lewis), and of course, his cat. In one scene—the one they showed back on Late Night with David Letterman— a hallucination shows Rubin floating on the ocean in a rubber tire watching Simon water-ski (the motor boat is driven by the swimsuit model). There’s also a funny part where Rubin ends up in a cave, and when he hears his voice echo, he thinks it’s the “Echo People” talking to him.
Will they ever get out of the desert? Will Rubin ever find a spot good enough to buy his cat? Will Ed ever get Rubin to attend one of the motivational seminars? Well, you have to see RUBIN AND ED to find out – if you can find a copy.
Some of the movie is funny in the way that will make you laugh. But just as much of it, if not more, is funny strange. I’m not really sure who this movie was made for (it certainly wasn’t a hit back in 1991), it’s too strange to appeal to mainstream audiences, but it will definitely appeal to fans of Glover. It’s just the kind of weirdness you’d expect him to be in. With his long, stringy hair and strange clothes, Rubin is a classic Glover character. Hesseman is also good as Ed, with his giant toupee. I always wondered why Hesseman wasn’t a bigger star, and I guess because he appeared in movies like this one.
Director Trent Harris is also known for another odd cult movie called THE BEAVER TRILOGY (2000). It’s made up of three short films. The first one (from 1979) is a straight-on documentary piece about a kid Harris meets from Beaver, Utah, who does impersonations. The kid, who calls himself “Groovin’ Gary,” begs Harris to come to his hometown talent show and see him perform. He says that one of his impersonations is of Olivia Newton-John. Intrigued, Harris brings his film crew to the talent show, where they watch in horror as Gary comes out onstage in full Olivia drag and performs for an audience of conservative, small-town people. Harris was so enthralled by this kid that he remade the story in a fictional version —sticking pretty closely to the first movie, the short documentary—except this time starring a young Sean Penn as “Groovin’ Larry.” Penn does a good job impersonating the kid. In the third short film that makes up THE BEAVER TRILOGY, Crispin Glover plays “Larry,” and we once again go through the same story, except this time it is called “The Orkly Kid”(from 1985) and has more of a story to it, including a backstory and some insight into “Larry’s” life outside of the documentary footage. Strange, but strangely fascinating, THE BEAVER TRILOGY is worth checking out as well (and is just as difficult to find).
Whether RUBIN AND ED is worth hunting down depends on how much of a fan of Crispin Glover and/or strange cinema you are. But this one really should be saved from obscurity. It’s an oddball classic.
© Copyright 2012 by L. L. Soares