Under the Rainbow (1981)

under the rainbow

“There is always room under the rainbow.”

The Scoop:  1981, rated PG, starring Chevy Chase, Carrie Fisher, Billy Barty

Tagline:  A giant comedy – don’t sell it short!

Summary Capsule:  An amazing mix of The Wizard of Oz, pre-WWII intrigue, attempted assassinations of European royalty, secret agents, Hollywood, slapstick, silliness, and utter chaos!


Joel’s rating: 3 out of 5 pearls in the river.

Joel’s review: Wow.  Just wow!  Where to begin?

Part of why I joined the Mutants is because I love odd movies, and many of those become cult films just for that fact.  This movie is a conundrum for me.  I love it to death, but I can see why others wouldn’t.  It is a comedy, but not nearly as outright funny as it should have been considering the talent and some of the situations depicted in the movie.  In fact, it is the opposite of some movies like National Lampoon’s Animal House.  Animal House shouldn’t be as funny as it is, but many of the actors seem to be so into their roles that the end result is better than the script suggests.  Think about some of the classic John Belushi scenes and ask yourself if they would have been nearly as funny if someone else did them?  For Under the Rainbow, you look at the talented ensemble cast and wonder what the heck happened?

I’m going to Spoiler the heck out of this because it is a 30 year old movie and the fun isn’t in the surprises of the plot.  In 1938 Rollo Sweet (played by Cork Hubbert) is a little person with big dreams of Hollywood stardom. Nazi agent Otto Kriegling (played by Billy Barty with a Hitler moustache) who also happens to be a little person is sent to Hollywood to meet with a Japanese agent (played by Mako) to give him a map of American West Coast military defenses.  They are to meet in a certain hotel which just so happens to be where the little people in the filming of The Wizard of Oz and where a troupe of Japanese tourists are staying.  So, yeah, trying to find a dwarf and a Japanese gentleman becomes much more difficult.  Chevy Chase plays Bruce Thorpe, a secret service man protecting a visiting foreign dignitary and his wife (a Duke and Duchess), and there is an assassin trying to kill the dignitary.  Annie Clark (played by Carrie Fisher) is the ’Special Talent Coordinator’ assigned by the studio to take care of all the little people.  Oh, and the hotel manager has left on a trip, leaving his inexperienced nephew Henry Hudson (played by Adam Arkin) in charge of the place.   A mix-up puts the map into the hands of someone else instead of the Japanese agent, Rollo finds out about the scheme, and each of the various plots and sub-plots start stumbling over each other.  And watch for the SURPRISE ENDING!  It probably influenced M. Night Shyamalan!

I’m not sure what they were smoking (there are five names listed as screenplay writers), but I personally am happy for it!

I don’t want to make the movie sound worse than it is (or worse than I think it is).  Under the Rainbow is not devoid of humor at all.  Right from the start we see the short Nazi ‘Zig Heil’ Hitler right in the package, and who doesn’t want to see that?  But at the same time, it seem like it should be so much more.  Chevy Chase in 1981 was in the prime of his comedic brilliance (after Caddyshack, before Vacation).  Carrie Fisher, not the greatest actress, was still hot off of Star Wars: The Empire Strike Back.  Billy Barty is probably the funniest and best acting little person ever, far outshining many average sized actors in sheer ability.  Add in character actors like Adam Arkin, Eve Arden, Mako, Joseph Mayer, Robert Donner…this movie should be absolute comedic gold!  But while it has funny moments, it never rises to the heights that it should.  It becomes more of a sideshow than a comedy classic.

In my mind, some of the blame has to fall on the director of the film.  In some scenes you can where the funny should be but isn’t.  When you have a whole group of funny actors and actresses who are not as funny as usual, it can’t be just them.  However, sadly when I watch Under the Rainbow, I get the feeling that Chevy really didn’t want to be there.  He just isn’t the same Chevy Chase that made some of his other films such big hits.  Billy Barty and Robert Donner, who plays the assassin, seem to really get into their roles and have fun, but the rest just seem to be there just saying their lines.

And maybe, just maybe, some of the reason that this film never was that successful is that it is incredibly politically incorrect.  Somehow the Japanese get very little stereotyping, but the little folks have every short joke in the book and they are shown partying like a bunch of hooligans by the end of the film.  Honestly, this movie as filmed could not be made today.

But there are a lot of gags in the film and your average viewer should find some of them at least a ‘little’ funny (Sorry, sorry!).  There are plenty of running gags, like what happens one by one to the Japanese tourists, or the Duchess’ dog Strudel who keeps having unfortunate things happen and keeps getting replaced by the Duke with new dogs (the Duchess won’t wear her glasses, you see).  This sub-plot isn’t so funny but I find one of the ‘Strudel deaths’ hilarious.  You have little people in sword fights, you have Carrie Fisher stripped to bra and undies several years before Return of the Jedi, you have an assassin with the worst luck ever, and you have 150 little folks chasing their Nazi counterpart through the film studio (All this chase scene needed was Godzilla, Santa Claus, and Twisted Sister).  There are some genuinely funny puns and lines of dialogue to be found.  Nothing in the film is taken seriously and it is full of silliness, slapstick comedy, and confused chaos.

There is even some interesting product placement, which I sometimes find annoying but here it just adds to my enjoyment (Mmmm, Hills Brothers).  Be prepared, some of the comedy is dark, nothing too shocking or graphic, but several side characters are murdered in the film.

So yeah, while I will never tell someone it is a great movie, it is one of my guilty pleasures.  It might not be the greatest of comedies, but it isn’t boring and it was extremely ambitions (maybe too ambitious for the crew involved!).  If you are sensitive to political incorrectness, you probably won’t enjoy this.  If you like really oddball, silly movies, you will probably find something here you like and I suggest it to you wholeheartedly.

"You definitely do NOT represent the Lollipop Guild!"
“You definitely do NOT represent the Lollipop Guild!”


  •   Part of the inspiration for Under the Rainbow comes from rumors that the little people did party hard and tear apart the hotel they stayed at during filming of The Wizard of Oz.  Those rumors do not seem to be true, but were used as basis of this film.
  • Under the Rainbow was filmed at the same hotel that had been used to house the little actors during the filming of The Wizard of Oz, although the hotel was no longer in service in 1981.
  • The Nazi is dragged by his fellow little people off to the day’s filming and reappears later in the costume of one of the Lollipop Guild from The Wizard of Oz.
  • Billy Barty as the midget Nazi clone of Hitler just might be a prototype for Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movies.
  • Some of the elder little people in this film actually were in the Wizard of Oz as well; they were brought back to Hollywood just to make appearances in this movie.
  • Near the end, the little Nazi just jumps into a car and starts to drive, paying no attention that his feet could never reach the pedals even back then!
  • Under the Rainbow was made for 20 million dollars, looks like it should have cost far less, and failed miserably to make its money back in American theaters.  In contrast, Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark cost 18 million to make!  Again, difference in directors I think.
  • Little woman Zelda Rubenstein had her very first movie role here, playing a Munchkin actress named Iris.  She is better known as Tangina the psychic in the Poltergeist films.

Groovy Quotes:

“There’s no dream too big and no dreamer too small.”

“The pearl is in the river.”

(the Duke talking to Thorpe about how many Strudel dogs the Duchess has had) “One committed suicide.  Very sad.”

Little person ventriloquist to Otto:  “You must be from Dussel-Dwarf!”

Otto:  “If you don’t give me the map, my fun will be cutting you into little pieces one by one by one.”  (cuts Annie’s dress off, leaving her in undies)  “Not bad!”

Otto: “Looks like you’re going to have to go through Otto Kreigling, the master swordsman”

Rollo:  “I got news for you, Buster.  You’re gonna have to go through Rollo Sweet!”

Otto:  “I plan to.”

Thorpe:  “I’m just thinking of your safety if you want to stay here.”

Annie:  “I’d rather stay with you…and your gun.”

Hudson:  “You are bad little people. You deserve to be short!”

Hudson (Adlan Arkin):  “Perfect!  A midget posse.  That’s what was missing.”

Clark Gable, as ‘midget posse’ storms across the set of Gone With the Wind:  “Hey, Victor.  I think you should leave this scene in the picture!”

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • 1941
  • Foul Play

One comment

  1. Under the Rainbow is on my list of movies to see someday. I remember seeing an interview with Carrie Fischer (Dinner for Five and Peter Dinklage was one of the other guests), where she was discussing this in the context of working with little people. She said that she liked them, but didn’t really remember much about making the movie (because she was on drugs) except looking around one day and being surrounded by dwarfs while in her underwear. So that might explain Carrie Fischer’s phoning it in quality.

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