“Take My Wives… Please”

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.’”

First Three Wives
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 as a fundamentalist Mormon
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.

Church Elders Judge Pie Contest
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.

Comments

  1. Great review — makes me wonder if it’s time to revive Steve’s “cinemasochist” series . . .

  2. Wow.

    I’ll have to ask my buddy in SC if he’s seen this particular bomb.

    Everytime I think I’ve seen the worst that hollywood has to offer, I stand corrected.

    Hollywood’s poor taste knows no bounds, it seems. It’s not that the movie is offensive, its just that it’s silly.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    I never saw that one, but I remember when it came out and was curious about it. Thanks for the review.

    (Rodney was actually married to a Mormon woman at the time IRL.)

  4. Joe Geisner says:

    John writes: 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.

    You found him. That’s me, one sick puppy. I actually laughed watching this movie. I guess the entire structure of these movies doesn’t bother me because I’m used to Dodge City and west Texas looking exactly like my northern California area. Movies like this cause me no pain because I can look past all the “truth” problems and take them for the lowest form of entertainment. Maybe I also dreamed that the celestial kingdom has multiple wives who look like the wives in the movie and someone as ugly as myself has a chance! Hey, if Rodney can, so can I.

    As Kevin points out Rodney’s wife during his final years was Mormon. He met her in a store on Rodeo Dr. in Beverly Hills. Who would have guessed?

  5. Aaron Brown says:

    If I’m not above paying full price to see “Sorority Boys” in the theatre, I guess watching this isn’t beneath me either. I’ll have to give it a go.

    AB

  6. Steve Evans says:

    I love Rodney Dangerfield. Great review John.

  7. John Hamer says:

    Kaimi (#1): Sadly, watching Mormon-themed movies is almost always an exercise in cinemasochism. Revive away!

    Ben O (#2): the bar is so very low. It’s like when we walked out of Star Trek: Nemesis. For a second I was thinking, “man, that dog was the worst Star Trek movie” and then I remembered Star Trek V. In Hollywood there’s always something even closer to absolute zero.

    Interesting, Kevin (#3). I wonder what his wife thought of this portrayal of Mormonism?

    Joe (#4), I’m not saying I didn’t laugh at this thing, I’m just saying that it was bad. “I took the soup.” Ha!

    You go, AB (#5)! (I have to say that I like Barry Watson better as a guy.)

  8. Those one liners are actually kind of funny in a Henny Youngman kind of way.

    I think it’s pretty unlikely that anyone would expect anything like realism from such a dumb comedy. Big Love undoubtedly does a lot more damage by presenting a world that people think might be a reasonable facsimile of reality.

  9. I own the French version of the film, Mes cinq chéries. I think it’s funnier than the original.

    The movie’s website:

    My 5 Wives

  10. StillConfused says:

    I saw the movie and thought it was really funny. Tongue-in-cheek. Rodney Dangerfield style. If you like his work, you will like this. If you are looking for intellectual stimulation… Rodney Dangerfield is not the way to go.

  11. John (#7): It’s like when we walked out of Star Trek: Nemesis. For a second I was thinking, “man, that dog was the worst Star Trek movie” and then I remembered Star Trek V.

    Um, even Star Trek V was better than Nemesis.

  12. The Right Trousers says:

    “Um, even Star Trek V was better than Nemesis.”

    Was not.

    But it would have been if they’d left in the rock monster.

  13. Rock Monsters pretty much make any movie better.

    My 5 Wives would have been awesome if Mr. Dangerfield had fought a mutant rock monster for the finale.

    Casablanca? Ten times better if Rick had a rock monster as his bouncer.

    Citizen Kane? Rosebud should have been his pet rock monster.

    ;-)

  14. John Hamer says:

    It’s hard for me to even contemplate the searing pain that is my memory of Star Trek V, much less to dwell there long enough to list examples of why it was the worst… Star… Trek… movie… ever.

    But I’ll give you the one reason that currently tops my list. Earlier this summer we went to Yosemite during the peak of waterfall season and the weather was gorgeous. Everything was perfect — everything, except the fact that I couldn’t put Star Trek V out of my head. The soundtrack in my skull was the music from the opening credits where the aging Kirk is free-climbing El Capitan while being distracted by Spock in rocket boots……arggghhhh.

    Kiiirrrrrrrrkkkkkkkkkkkk!

  15. John Hamer says:

    In response to My 5 Wives’ defenders. I like Rodney Dangerfield; he’s a funny guy. I actually think the concept of this movie has a lot of potential for hilarity. The problem is that as soon as Dangerfield’s married his fifth wife, the exploration of the main concept is out the door.

    They immediately goto Vegas and unhilarity ensues. Suddenly we have a completely gratuitous counterfeiting subplot which lands Dangerfield in jail. At this point his wives have become a commando team and there’s no further exploration of the potential humor of having Dangerfield and 5 wives in domestic circumstances.

    I think the Vegas/mobster subplot could have been reasonably worked in as a general contrast between Mormon Utah and Mobster Nevada, but as it was, it’s just one more thing in the mish-mash, like the ski chase at the end.

    So, yes, Dangerfield is funny here, but I think he could have been a lot funnier.

  16. #12 & #13 – I kept waiting for a Galaxy Quest reference. My disappointment was crushing and almost turned me inside-out.

  17. Joe Geisner says:

    John,

    You are absolutely correct. The entire Vegas thing was wrong. The humor really was in the domestic stuff. Like I said I was fantasizing about the wives and me in the celestial kingdom. Oh how one’s mind can wonder.

  18. 16-By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged!

  19. I saw the movie and absolutely loved it, mostly for the jokes and the all-over Rodney feeling of fun. He was the best. As for the unreality of which religion they were mocking, this was filmed before Big Love and maybe they were afraid of offending the main stream LDS-ers like Rodney’s wife. He probably got the idea from her background (or his own fantasies) and just played with it. I liked some of the other cast as well, but it was really a treat seeing Rodney and the thong scene is one I will never forget. And the “what is it, a pumpkin?” comment about Rodney’s butt was hilarious. I liked the big fat guy too whoever he was. Really a fun escape of a movie in a lot of ways.

  20. The Right Trousers says:

    #16, #18: By mentioning Galaxy Quest explicitly, you two ruined the comedic tension we were building. I’m afraid we’ll have to reconsider your roles as the plucky comic relief.

    Rickman was fantastic. “By Grabthar’s hammer… what a savings.” If I hadn’t been laughing so hard I would have died of empathetic despair. A great movie masquerading as a bad one… genius.

  21. –The movie is rated R presumably for sexual innuendo and also for a brief scene of Dangerfield and his wives in thong bikinis.–

    Nothing you could say could convince me to watch a movie with Rodney Dangerfield in a thong bikini.

  22. #21 no-man
    ditto

  23. It’s just the back view of Rodney in the thong and it is too funny to describe

  24. I thought the movie was funny and I didn’t mind that it was full of confusion, early Mormon history is full of confusion if you ask me.

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