Like a fevered nightmare or a bad bag of White Castle, the 1975 Elliot Gould vehicle Whiffs was something I thought (hoped?) that I would never see again. I saw it first when I was twelve at the late, lamented Arlington Theater. I did not quite understand it then. Why were Gould and co-star Jennifer O’Neal spraying that stuff from an aerosol can into each other’s faces? What were Gould and O’Neal doing in that Med-Evac truck at the end of the movie? I did not know these answers; I was a good Catholic boy. Now that I’m a big grown-up, I thought it was time to figure it out.
Finding that his monthly disability check will not pay his bills, Frapper hooks up with old friend/fellow chemical test subject Chops Mulligan (Harry Guardino) and crop-dusting pilot Dusty (Godfrey Cambridge) to stage a daring robbery. Frapper’s former CO, Colonel Lockyer (Eddie Albert) gets wind of the plot and tries to foil him. Nervous laughter about the effects of poison gas ensues.
A maiden effort from Brut Productions (a movie studio financed with the astounding profits from, believe it or not, Brut cologne—one of the 1970s’ most popular poisonous gasses), Whiffs is certainly one of the most amateurish films I have ever seen. This is surprising, as director Ted Post was a journeyman but efficient director, who also helmed Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Magnum Force (1973), Go Tell The Spartans (1978), and thousands of episodes of series television. Here his work looks like it was done on the cheap… and fast. Perhaps Post had no talent for comedy; Whiffs is the only comedy on his long resume. The film’s many attempts at physical comedy are poorly staged, poorly framed, and come off as awkward and tedious instead of fun and hilarious.
Whiffs features Elliot Gould five years past M*A*S*H; Eddie Albert only a year past The Longest Yard, the film that made him a reliable villain and symbol of THE MAN (Albert played five villains in 1975 alone!); Jennifer O’Neal four years past Summer of ’42; Harry Guardino four years past Dirty Harry; and Godfrey Cambridge five years past Watermelon Man. Reliable character actors like Richard Masur, Howard Hesseman, and Philip Roth are also wasted in small roles. Whiffs should have been advertised as “The Movie Big Stars Make When Their Best Work is Behind Them!”
Looking back, considering Whiffs’s obsession with its hero overcoming his own impotence, I am surprised that they sold this book to a 12 year-old. Did I even know what impotence was?