Sunday, August 9, 2020

Protocol: A Review


This review is part of the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon sponsored by Journeys in Classic Film. Today's star is Goldie Hawn.

When I first saw Protocol, I thought it was one of the funniest albeit silliest films I had seen. However, now with hindsight, had I missed the sharp satire of Washington politics Protocol may have had under the almost screwball nature of the lead's zany actions? Perhaps that is giving Protocol too much credit, but beneath its outlandish plot and wacky main character, you can gleam it saying something about the importance of public involvement in politics.

Ditzy and lovable cocktail waitress Sunny Davis (Goldie Hawn) is oblivious to anything and everything outside her world until she stops an assassination on the Emir of Ohtar. Finding herself in the "harsh but warm light of media attention", Sunny charms America with her openness and guileless nature.

The Administration and the Emir strike a deal: in exchange for a military base on Ohtar, the government will literally give him Sunny. She is hired to the Protocol Section of the State Department as cover for the nefarious deal. Sunny, being Sunny, manages to make a mess of every assignment she's given, though she also shows that she's not the dumb blonde the conspirators think she is by reading up on official rules and more importantly The Declaration of Independence.

Once in Ohtar, she discovers she was essentially traded for the base. The impending wedding causes two scandals: a revolution in Ohtar and a Congressional investigation. Ultimately, Sunny accepts responsibility for being a dupe as she understands her lack of intellectual curiosity and political involvement got her into this mess. However, Washington better watch out, for Sunny has just been elected to Congress.

Protocol (1984)Protocol has a mix of sweetness and cynicism, a bubbly exterior that masks a very harsh vision of what government would do to get what it wants (in this case, white slavery for a military base). In its tale though, we see that screenwriter Buck Henry also spoke on the importance of civic involvement.

Sunny was not an uncaring woman, far from it. She was sweet, endearing and genuinely loving. However, despite living in Washington she never bothered to pay attention to anything outside herself. For example, she would change the channel with any news reports but get wrapped up in a soap opera. Sunny would blissfully and unquestionably accept and believe anything she was told, but it wasn't until she literally read up on government that she started becoming aware of things. Sunny started learning how government decisions affected her and more importantly that if she did nothing or went along with it, she had only herself to blame.

In the climatic speech Hawn says "I'm responsible," accepting that she was sold a bill of goods and rather than look at it she deferred to "the experts". Earlier, she told her love interest, Middle East Desk Chief Michael Ransome (Chris Sarandon) that the problem with professionals was that "they don't always care". She was referring to cleaners, but the subtext is clear: at times those who in theory know more become convinced of their infallibility, leading to disastrous results.

Goldie Hawn with Richard Romanus in Protocol (1984) | Goldie hawn ...
Again, this may be a bit too highbrow for something as lowbrow as Protocol, for the film is filled with various gags and silly moments. The montage of Sunny constantly screwing up even the most banal assignment is a case in point: she shows up to a garden party in shorts with a Frisbee, innocently saying, "You said it was a barbecue". The most outlandish is when, after being told to show the Emir "a really good time", she takes him and his entourage to the nightclub where she worked.

At Lou's Safari Club, where the waitresses wear themed costumes like zebras and an emu, the party inevitably turns chaotic. You have the Arab party, a Japanese birthday party, Sunny's gay friends and some biker friends of hers...and that's before the staid State Department officials arrive to try and stop the ensuing scandal. Sequences like these show Protocol to be a bit of a romp.

The humor is all over the place, but in a good way. You have the wild Safari Club party but also moments of almost gentle humor. In an effort to win Sunny over, the Administration sends someone who fits the description of someone generally popular with nothing to do. Enter the Vice President to small-town Oregon. There is a certain wit when the Vice President offers Sunny a job at "Protocol", as director Herbert Ross has triumphant trumpets play at the mention of "Protocol".

Goldie Hawn in Protocol 1984 TV trailer - YouTubeProtocol really hangs on Goldie Hawn, who also produced the film. She is bubbly and perky as Sunny, a woman who could genuinely believe Ransome called himself a "middle-aged desk clerk" versus "Middle East Desk Chief". She makes Sunny an endearing figure, which gives her few dramatic moments more heft.

While the rest of the cast did well in their broad roles, Andre Gregory is of particular note. As Nawaf Al Kabir, the Emir's spiritual advisor, Gregory shifts from a deep man of faith to a more comical character, cavorting with call girls and generally looking foolish. I think he was meant to be buffoonish in his addled manner (for example, being unaware how his waxing rhapsodic about Sunny's loins would anger the Emir), but now I think his performance would not be looked upon kindly.

To be fair, Protocol is not meant to be serious and everyone save Richard Romanus' Emir plays it as broad farce.

Protocol is charming and sweet, like Sunny Davis herself. Perhaps I'm a bit prejudiced in my like for Protocol as it was one of my late mother's favorite films. However, Protocol is a lark with a nice message about not neglecting our duties as citizens or ceding control of them to "experts" who go unchecked. This message, couched in a silly farce, is one worth remembering and applying today in these troubled times.


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