There are all kinds of bad movies. Some bad movies are dull, some are annoying, some are unwatchably horrific, but some bad movies are so bad that they become interesting to watch. It is in this last category that I put Rodney Dangerfield’s little-known Mormon cult classic, My 5 Wives.
There’s no question this is a bad movie. It pulls a 0% on the Rotten Tomatoes tomatometer. That’s probably a generous score.
The movie’s concept is that Monte Peterson (played by then 79-year-old Dangerfield) moves to Utah, becomes a polygamist, marries 5 beautiful young wives and is consequently exhausted by the sexual requirements of his marriages. As he explains it:
“I can’t keep up with [my wives]. They think I’m like Don Juan, after one I’m done.”
“I tell you…I’m not a kid any more. It takes me all night to do what I used to do all night.”
“I tell you right now, the condition I’m in. I’m envious of a stiff wind.”
“I mean I’m getting old. Last night they asked me if I wanted some super sex. I took the soup.”
Those and more come bunched up right after each other. If you’re looking for 100 minutes of Rodney Dangerfield saying, “I’ll tell you the best part about having 3 wives…they can’t all have a headache,” this is a movie for you.
However, what kept my attention most was the movie’s bizarre setting, which seems to conflate a fictional Fundamentalist Mormon church in “Redwood Springs, Utah,” with the Amish. Early in the movie, Monte Peterson and his friend Ray wander onto what appears to be the set of Little House on the Prairie. Ray then proceeds to explain the town to Monte, setting up the movie’s premise:
RAY: “It’s against their religion to drink or sell liquor in this community…they don’t smoke either. It’s against their religion.”
MONTE: “What if I gotta go to the bathroom, or is that against their religion? Hey Ray, the table there…” He indicates a table where an old man is celebrating his birthday with four beautiful young women. “What a lucky guy. His daughters all take him out and show him a great time on his birthday.”
RAY: “Those aren’t his daughters. They’re his wives.”
MONTE: “His wives?”
RAY: “He’s a polygamist. Almost all the people in Redwood Springs are. You see, in their religion it’s perfectly acceptable for a man to have all the wives he wants.”
MONTE: “I heard about that, you know?”
RAY: “And in some cases, when a man dies, he can leave all of his possessions, including his wives, to whomever he wants.”
MONTE: “How do the women feel about that?”
RAY: “It’s the way they were brought up. They don’t know any other way.”
MONTE: “Look how young they all are. How come they all got married to an old guy like that?”
RAY: “In their religion, they believe the older you are, the closer you are to God.”
MONTE: “Closer to God, huh? Well that guy could be his room-mate.”
RAY: “The more wives a man has, the more important he is. Even the famous Brigham Young was a polygamist. He had twenty-seven wives.”
MONTE: “I remember the words of Brigham Young. He said, ‘I don’t care how you bring ‘em, but bring ‘em young.’”
The first 3 of Dangerfield’s 5 Mormon wives in pioneer garb.
The references to smoking, drinking, Brigham Young, and Utah make it clear that we are dealing with Mormonism, but the movie never bothers to explain that the church in Redwood Springs is not the same as the mainstream LDS Church. This omission makes the movie especially confusing to anyone familiar with the LDS Church but unfamiliar with fundamentalist Mormons. (Which is not to say that the movie’s makers are anything but confused about fundamentalists either.)
Dangerfield in pioneer garb after his conversion to polygamy.
The Redwood Springs church as portrayed in the movie has a number of unusual doctrines and characteristics. As mentioned above, the church forbids smoking and drinking, and its members dress in 19th century clothing. They mostly use old-time technology (such as horses and buggies) without any firm prohibitions on modern technology (like telephones). Of course, they also embrace polygamy with an emphasis of marrying old churchmen to the town’s eternal supply of gorgeous women in their early 20s. Bizarrely, the wives become attached to property, such that when a husband dies, the man who purchases or inherits his land also is obliged to marry the widows.
The bribed Church Elders judging a pie contest.
The church doesn’t have a prophet. Instead, two elders in the 50s and dressed like ministers lead the church. Both imply that the church subsists on voluntary contributions (rather than fixed tithing) and both are easily bribed. After a brief, unsatisfactory worthiness interview, Dangerfield’s character is able to buy membership in the church with large donations. (He later buys the blue ribbon in the town’s Founders’ Day pie contest for one of his wives who is a terrible cook.) Although the movie’s main villain (the town banker) at first plots to catch Dangerfield smoking or drinking and thereby have him excommunicated, it seems hard to imagine that an additional large contribution wouldn’t cause the elders to ignore any transgression.
In the end, all the plots unravel along with Dangerfield’s marriages when his wives get a taste of the modern world on their joint honeymoon in Las Vegas. Although technically the moral of the story is therefore one of “female empowerment” through education, the portrayal of the process is so misogynistic that it absolutely undercuts this pretense.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch this bizarrely bad movie.
“My 5 Wives” (2000). Artisan Entertainment. 100 minutes. Available on DVD and VHS. The movie is rated R presumably for sexual innuendo and also for a brief scene of Dangerfield and his wives in thong bikinis. My overall rating out of 5 stars: F.