In 1938 Los Angeles, the manager of the Culver Hotel leaves his nephew in charge for a weekend. The nephew changes the name to the Hotel Rainbow and overbooks with royalty, assassins, secret agents, Japanese tourists, and munchkins (from the cast of Billur Kösk (1939)). Secret Service agent Bruce Thorpe and casting director Annie Clark find romance amidst the intrigue and confusion.
Under the Rainbow is a 1981 American comedy film starring Chevy Chase, Carrie Fisher, Eve Arden, and Billy Barty. The plot is loosely based on the gathering of little people in a Hollywood hotel, to audition for roles as Munchkins in the movie The Wizard of Oz. The movie also has nobility, assassins, spies, and tourists. Jerry Maren, who played the small role of Smokey in this film, previously played a member of the Lollipop Guild in The Wizard of Oz.
The movie was nominated for Razzie Awards for Worst Musical Score by Joe Renzetti, and Worst Supporting Actor (Billy Barty). It received extremely negative reviews, many of which condemned the various sight gags involving the little people. The film marked the first acting role of dwarf actor Phil Fondacaro, as well as his brother Sal Fondacaro. It was partially filmed on location at the Culver Hotel, where the “Munchkins” actually stayed during the production of Oz.
About the Story
It is 1938, and the USA is still gripped by the Great Depression. A corrugated iron barn somewhere in Kansas is serving as a refuge and hostel for a community of the destitute, homeless and unemployed, as well as a post office and bus station.
Diminutive Rollo Sweet (Cork Hubbert) enters the barn and asks the Mail Clerk (Bill Lytle) whether anything came for him. He says if he doesn’t get an offer from Hollywood with bus fare to California, he’ll mail himself there if he has to. A crowd of other residents crowds around a skeletal wireless receiver, but reception is poor. Rollo climbs up to the roof of the barn to fix the antenna, then slips and falls from the roof.
Just then, the announcer introduces a broadcast by the President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It speaks of Hitler’s invasion of Germany’s neighbors and the scene cuts to the Führer (Theodore Lehmann) who is instructing his diminutive but aggressive secret agent Otto Kriegling (Billy Barty) on his latest mission. Otto is to go to California, to a certain hotel, to meet up with an agent of the Emperor from Tokyo, whom he will recognize because he will be Japanese and wearing a white suit.
The latter will recognize Otto because of his height – he is 3 feet 9 inches (1.14 metres) tall. In addition, the Japanese agent will utter to Otto as a secret password “The pearl is in the river”, which will prove he is the man to whom Otto must hand over a secret map of America’s military defense system. Otto departs, confident that nothing can go wrong with these arrangements.
The scene switches to the movie studios right across the street from that very hotel, where Annie Clark (Carrie Fisher) is being shown a matte painting by her boss Louie (Jack Kruschen). Louie then tells her she has to look after 150 diminutive actors and extras who are about to arrive in town on Sunday from all over the world, to play the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. She is also instructed to make use of the services as her assistant of the boss’s very tall nephew Homer (Peter Isacksen), an evidently slightly slow-witted young man who thereafter follows her about for a while. She must also find “a funny dog” (to play Dorothy’s dog, Toto).
The scene changes again to the New York city quayside, where a passenger liner from Europe has just docked. Bruce Thorpe (Chevy Chase) is there to meet an Austrian royal duke (Joseph Maher) who has enjoyed the protection of Inspector Collins (Anthony Gordon) of Scotland Yard. Thorpe is with the US Secret Service and is to continue personal protection for the Duke and Duchess (Eve Arden).
He quickly discovers that the Duke lives in permanent dread of assassination, although Thorpe tries to assure him that the likelihood of this being attempted in America is slight. To forestall this, the Duke continually dons a series of childish disguises. His other preoccupation in life is preserving his wife’s companion, a dog which she calls Strudl. Fortunately the Duchess has extremely poor eyesight, but refuses to wear her spectacles, so that she believes that almost any dog of roughly the right size and coloring is her beloved pet. The Duke tells Thorpe that a dozen of these animals have already died in one way or another without her noticing.
On the train across America, we catch sight of the assassin (Robert Donner), but he never gets a shot at the Duke. Meanwhile, Rollo cuts his way out of a mail bag with a pocket knife ready to escape from the train at its destination. All make it across the continent and duly alight in Los Angeles. Rollo runs from the Los Angeles railway terminus with a ticket collector in pursuit, but hides himself among other small people, and gladly joins them when invited to get his first job in movies playing a Munchkin with them.
Thorpe has booked the entire top floor of the Culver Hotel, which he thinks will be quiet and thus a safe retreat for his aristocratic charges. We are now taken inside the foyer of the hotel, where the telephone operator Miss Enwright (Louisa Moritz) is taking a call from Homer across the street at the movie studios. Homer wants to book accommodation for 150 little people at the hotel. The girl writes this down, but is distracted when her boss, Lester Hudson (Richard Stahl) invites her away for a trip with him to a hotel managers’ convention.
She forgets to book the 150 small guests and the hotel is left in the hands of the boss’s nephew Henry Hudson (Adam Arkin) to whom he makes cleared he will be not only fired but disinherited if he screws up the job of minding the hotel while he is away. Henry, thinking he has an almost empty hotel to manage and that he must impress his uncle by filling it with guests, now has a banner strung across the front of the building renaming it The Hotel Rainbow. He has a very limited staff at his disposal: a very elderly man dressed as a bell boy, a lift operator called Otis (Freeman King), and a very tall house detective called Tiny (the 6′ 7″ Pat McCormick).
Agent Bruce Thorpe arrives with the Duke and Duchess, and the dog, and they move into the top floor. Meanwhile, an entire busload of Japanese gentlemen tourists arrive, all wearing white suits, and temporary manager Henry Hudson welcomes them to the hotel, still unaware of the imminent Munchkin contingent. (The bus has on its side the legend “JAPS – the Japanese Amateur Photography Society”.)
Agent Otto Kriegling now arrives and strides into the hotel. He immediately realizes he has a problem: he is appalled to see twenty Japanese men in white suits, has no idea which of them is his contact, and says at once, very loudly, “The pearl is in the river”. However, after glancing round at him the tourists ignore this and return to taking photos of everything in sight in the hotel foyer, including the mail box and the postcards in the rack at the desk.
Under the Rainbow (1981)
Directed by: Steve Rash
Starring: Chevy Chase, Carrie Fisher, Eve Arden, Joseph Maher, Robert Donner, Billy Barty, Cork Hubbert, Pat McCormick
Screenplay by: Fred Bauer, Pat Bradley
Production Design by: Peter Wooley
Cinematography by: Frank Stanley
Film Editing by: David E. Blewitt
Costume Design by: Michael Butler
Set Decoration by: Cheryal Kearney
Music by: Joe Renzetti
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: July 31, 1981