In November of 2011, Harry Basil was nice enough to answer some film questions for me.
I did not, until now, have a place to showcase this interview, hope you all enjoy. Harry Basil was a comedian and best friend of Mr Rodney Dangerfield. He wrote some Dangerfield films and shows (Wally Sparks, My 5 Wives, The 75th Anniversary Toast) before directing the last of the Dangerfield vehicles (Back by Midnight, The 4th Tenor) and doing an admirable job.
He later directed what may be the last high concept Burt Reynolds vehicle we will ever see (Cloud 9)and a few horror films. I sent him these questions on Facebook and he gave me a long response. I tried to break up the response to match the questions as best I could. One question that was not really addressed in his response was the following ( I notice in your films with Dangerfield you skew etablishments stuffy political families, uptight religious folks, the world of opera, but unlike in earlier films, Dangerfield makes more fun of himself and his failings. Wives is about Dangerfield not being able to satisy all his women. Was this shift a conscession to age?
Dennis Brian Who came up with the idea of The 4th Tenor?
Harry Basil Yeah, Rodney was awesome. He would have been 90 this week. Nov 22nd. The 4th Tenor was Rodney's idea. He was a singing waiter when he was young. We wrote it together right before we did Ladybugs in 92. Took 10 years to make it. Rodney financed it himself. It was his pet project. Too bad he was a bit too old to play the romantic lead by the time we did it.
Dennis Brian My favorite film of yours and Dangerfield's is Back by Midnight. I think it is just pure fun. My only question is do you have any Nell Carter stories? I love her and think she was underused in Hollywood.
Harry Basil Back By Midnight was fun to make. It was a bit cheesy and corny, but Rodney and I got to work with a lot of our comedian buddies. He was getting a bit frail on that one. Nell Carter was very funny. It was one of the last things she did. I had actually worked with her back in 1986, I starred in a TV pilot that was a spin off of her show Gimmie A Break. She was kind of mean and bossy back then. But on BBM she was sweet and a lot of fun. She Rodney and Tony Cox worked great together in one scene. I think it was Rondey's best scene in the movie, comedically.
Dennis Brian I think you are the last person to make Burt Reynolds a movie star again. He had not been that charming since Breaking In. You seemed very attuned to his charisma, how did you achieve that when few others have in the last three decades?
Harry Basil Burt was a blast to work with. I've been a huge fan since I was a kid. Our producer and co-writer on Cloud 9 was Albert S. Ruddy. Al produced The Godfather and Million Dollar Baby, which he's won 2 Oscars for. Al also wrote and produced the Original Longest Yard and the Cannonball Run movies. So Al was best friends with Burt and wrote the movie for Burt.
Thanks for answering those questions a few years back Mr Basil.