LA Plays Itself In The Movies: Midnight Madness (1980)

You know what the problem is with wacky college sex comedies? None of them were ever produced by Disney. Well, except one.

1980’s Midnight Madness was only the second Disney film ever to receive a PG rating (the first was The Black Hole, due to a long-since-deleted scene in which Maximillian Schell gets freaky with one of the robots). The film follows five teams of college students around Los Angeles as they compete in The Great All-Nighter, a citywide scavenger hunt designed and financed by Leon, a reclusive millionaire genius who lives in the Hollywood Tower with two women named Candy and Sunshine, with whom he presumably engages in hot, hot three-ways when he’s not planning and executing huge alternate reality games that span Los Angeles County. The script never really makes it clear.

Despite being part of the rich tradition of oversexed college goof-off films like Animal House, Porky’s, and Judgment at Nuremberg, Midnight Madness is relatively tame. It received its PG rating because it features alcohol consumption, a comedic description of female breasts, and the following frank discussion of human sexuality:

ADAM: Flynch, are you trying to tell me you’re a virgin?
FLYNCH: Oh, no, it’s not that. It’s just, I’ve never had a date.

There’s clearly a joke here, but it doesn’t stick the landing, and how Flynch lost his virginity despite never having had a date is never explained. He does talk a lot about his overprotective mother, so it might be best not to think about this too much and move on to the movie’s relationship with Los Angeles.

Yeah, that's creepy.

When you set a scavenger-hunt movie in Los Angeles, you can’t help but hit all the classics. And Midnight Madness doesn’t disappoint. It hits a pretty broad variety of both real-life and fictional locations, as well as a few spots that just aren’t there anymore.

Hollywood Tower. As noted before, this is where Leon lives with his coterie of Playboy also-rans. Oh, and his neighbor is played by the late John Fiedler, who was also the voice of Piglet in the Winnie-the-Pooh cartoons. So you can see how this is a movie for all ages.

Grauman’s Chinese Theater and The Walk of Fame. After Leon gives the teams their first clue (“See the stars!”), each team develops its own interpretation and goes to a different spot. The teams, by the way, are divided by stereotype: The nerd team! The jock team! The humorless feminist team! The evil rich team! And the generic good guy team, featuring An American Werewolf in London’s David Naughton (and Michael J. Fox in his first role). The nerd team hits the Walk of Fame, with Grauman’s behind them.

This is what maps looked like before Google. And this is what people looked like before soap.

Griffith Park Observatory. According to Midnight Madness, the telescope at Griffith Park Observatory can be used by any punk-ass 13-year-old to spy on women as they undress. I’ve noted in this very space how all scientists are clearly obsessed with sex, so it stands to reason that this is true. So it might be a good idea to start closing your blinds if you live within the observatory’s line of sight, because An American Werewolf in London’s David Naughton won’t always be there to kick the kid off the telescope.

Los Angeles Piano Museum. This is not, technically, a place that exists, though its address is given as “1250 Beverly Boulevard,” which according to Google Maps also does not exist. It’s important to note that the address was deduced by a superintelligent AI computer terminal in the evil team’s van. The evil team is led by Stephen Furst, who also played “Flounder” in Animal House. Furst’s character eventually destroys the computer by hiding a bag of marshmallows inside of it. So you can see how the movie’s creators took some liberties with both geography and computer science.

Pabst Brewery. OK, kids, gather round: Unca Kevin’s gonna tell you a tale that hearkens back to the days of yore. See, back in the 1970s and 1980s, when knee-high tube socks were all the rage and the “M” in “MTV” stood for something, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer was more than just a tired hipster shibboleth; it was a symbol of the American working class. Of course, that’s back when there was a recognizable American working class; today’s American working class is limited entirely to a small population of indentured Chinese garment workers living in a rotting dormitory in the Northern Mariana Islands. Oh, and there used to be a Pabst Brewery in Downtown Los Angeles. They go there in Midnight Madness, which you’ll recall is the subject of this article.

Jock Heaven was eventually bulldozed to make way for Hipster Heaven.

Johnie’s Broiler. About three years ago, this car-culture mecca was illegally demolished after a conflict between its owners and a local preservation group. Before that, though, Johnie’s — a Bob’s Big Boy look-alike that Midnight Madness called “Johnie’s Fat Boy” — starred in lots of movies and TV shows. In Midnight Madness, it served as location for the film’s most taste-challenged scene, wherein Leon offers the following clue: “Look between the two giant melons.” If you guessed that all four teams ordered every cantaloupe, honeydew and casaba in the place before realizing that the clue was hidden inside a necklace-pendant resting between the brobdingnagian gorgonzolas of LA County’s bustiest waitress, well, your prize is that you’re exactly as pathetic as I am. Congratulations.

LAX. Yeah, everyone winds up at LAX to look for the next clue. It’s about as exciting as a trip to LAX can be.

I won't judge you if you save this picture to your desktop. (Yes I will.) No, I won't. (Yes I will.)

The Bonaventure Hotel. Presumably this hotel was picked as location to the film’s climax because its name sounds like “boner venture;” sadly, this joke did not make it into the film, probably because a Disney film in 1980 could not include the word “boner” as a description of a male erection. But the movie ends here, with An American Werewolf in London’s David Naughton defeating Stephen Furst and his band of thugs. The other teams — the nerds, the jocks, the humorless feminists — never make it. Oh, and the prize? I’m pretty sure the prize is a buffet. Seriously. A buffet that Stephen Furst drools into before domestically abusing his girlfriend. You sort of have to see it.

There’s much more to the film, and I highly recommend watching it; it’s goofy, and most of the humor comes from silly, broad stereotypes (Stephen Furst is the butt of an endless succession of fat jokes; the feminist team features an overweight set of twins named Peggy and Lulu; the jocks refer to themselves as the “Meat Machine”), but its pacing is surprisingly good, as teams move quickly from one clue to the next. It’s fun seeing Michael J. Fox at 15 years old, acting almost exactly the same as he did in Family Ties and Back to the Future. It’s even got the debut appearance of a sort-of-pre-Pee-Wee Paul Ruebens as the hapless proprietor of a video arcade.

So: Look between the two giant melons. Therein lies cinematic greatness.

6 thoughts on “LA Plays Itself In The Movies: Midnight Madness (1980)”

  1. “brobdingnagian gorgonzolas” is the best phrase I have ever read to describe breasts in the history of breasts and of ever and of reading and of phrases.

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