Monday, May 9, 2016

Picks from Chip: Scotland, Pa

Films: Scotland, Pa
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

This is the fifth in a series of twelve movies suggested by Chip Lary.

I’ve decided to keep doing Chip’s list of suggested films. I think he’d want me to and I think it’s just one way to honor the man. I’ll continue to review one of his suggestions on the second Monday of each month until the end of the year. This month, I had some interesting issues with NetFlix and decided that I’d better do something that I could get via another route. Scotland, Pa was available at a local library, so that made the choice an easy one. Chip knew I like Macbeth and since this is basically Macbeth focused around a fast-food restaurant, it seems like a natural fit.

I’m not kidding when I say that this is more or less Macbeth but modernized. Joe McBeth (James Le Gros) is in his 30s and married to Pat (Maura Tierney). The two are classic slackers in that early-70s post-hippie style. They both work at a slowly-failing fast-food place called Duncan’s owned by Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn). Joe gets skipped for a promotion in favor of Douglas McKenna (Josh Pais), who has been stealing money from the restaurant. When Joe points this out to Norm, Douglas is fired and Joe is promoted to assistant manager. Pat, who is suddenly ambitious, wants more for the two of them. This coincides with a meeting joe has with a trio of hippies who tell him that he’ll be working in a restaurant that serves food similar to a drive-up bank.

Their opportunity happens when Norm tells the pair about his new idea—he wants to turn the restaurant into a drive-thru, which is an entirely new idea. That way, people don’t have to even leave their cars to get food. Seeing the idea for the genius that it is, Joe and Pat conspire to break in and rob the safe (they need the combination) and use the idea themselves. They get the combination, but through a freak accident, Norm goes face-down in the deep fat fryer and Pat gets splashed on the hand with boiling oil. Neither of Norm’s sons, Malcolm (Tom Guiry) and Donald (Geoff Dunsworth) are interested in carrying on the restaurant, so Joe and Pat buy it and implement the drive-thru idea to their immediate financial gain.

Trouble shows up with the arrival of Lieutenant McDuff (Christopher Walken) who has been sent to investigate the murder. The first suspect is a local homeless man who was seen with Norm Duncan’s jewelry (planted on him by Pat). Suspicion then shifts to Malcolm Duncan, who didn’t get along with his father. Unfortunately for Joe and Pat, Malcolm saw them driving toward the restaurant on the night of the murder. Worse for them, Joe’s friend Anthony “Banko” Banconi can’t corroborate their alibi, since they left the party they were at early. It looks like Banko will have to go as well.

Just as in the source material, the mental and emotional worlds of Joe and Pat McBeth start to crumble. Pat is convinced that the burn marks are still on her hand and that everyone is constantly staring at them even though her hand is completely unscathed. Joe starts seeing the ghost of Banko and having phone conversations when no one else is on the line. He also gets visions of the three hippies; he is convinced that they are guiding him, when it’s uch clearer that they are playing their own game.

There’s a lot in Scotland, Pa that works and works well. Some of the humor is very funny indeed, and a good chunk of the humor comes from how closely the film sticks to the basic plot set up by the original play. There are some significant differences, of course. The prophecy from the play that Macbeth will only fall when Dunsinane Wood marches on him is completely gone. The film also pitches the “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech completely. This is sad, since it’s a true highlight of the original.

But much of the humor does work. Some of it gets silly, but that’s kind of the point. Any good drama can be made into a good spoof not by doing the opposite of the source material. The trick is to create something that works with the original story but is skewed just enough to make it work in a different way as well. Scotland, Pa is smart enough to be completely recognizable as Macbeth, but modernized.

It’s fun, but it wore out its welcome a little more quickly than I’d have liked.

Incidentally, the memorial for Chip is on May 21. I’ve set up a GoFundMe page to send flowers, with anything beyond the price of the flowers and delivery going to the Maine branch of the American Heart Association. I’ll throw in at the end (GoFundMe takes a small piece of donations) and make sure that they get there in time. If you’re interested, the page is here:

Why to watch Scotland, Pa: Macbeth is great.
Why not to watch: It doesn’t work entirely the way that Macbeth does.


  1. Nice gesture setting up the gofundme. I just donated $25 towards the flowers.

    1. I'm planning on putting in $25 at the end. Thanks.

  2. Never even heard of this, but it sounds a bit on the quirky side. That could be good. Wait... Christopher Walken is in this? Wow.

    Keeping up this series is a great gesture as I am sure Chip wouldn't have it any other way.

    1. It only seems right to keep doing these.

      This is fun, even if it runs a little longer than it should. It's a great idea for updating Shakespeare.

  3. This was an interesting reworking of the play, the committed performances of the actors certainly helped put it over. It was scattershot in places but also clever in its updating.

    There's another take that updated the material in the 50's to a gangster setting called Joe MacBeth with Paul Douglas in the lead and Ruth Roman as his viperish wife. Again not perfect but an intriguing attempt to look at the material in a contemporary way.

    1. I find this sort of reworking of Shakespeare interesting. Using the original language in a modern setting rarely works for me, but using the elements of the story matched closely with updated dialogue is always an interesting exercise.

  4. I saw this a few years ago. I thought it was fun and quirky, too. But I can see it running out its welcome, if I didn't feel that way myself (I don't recall). I just remember I liked it.

    1. It may be that I'm too close to the source material. It is, after all, my favorite of Billy the Shake's plays.