Film Clips: Favorite Hair Movies

The prolific documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) has a new film out called Mansome, about men’s current obsession with grooming.

It offers Will Arnett and Jason Bateman, both situated in a day spa, serving as hosts for this exploration of the subject, with topics such as beard growing, body shaving and producing hairpieces, er, covered. Some of the celebrities on hand to lend their opinions are Paul Rudd, Zack Galifinakis, John Waters and the ever-annoying cloying “comic” Adam Carolla. While the film isn’t the end-all on the subject—not much in the way of historical context, which it could use—it’s enjoyable enough to make you appreciate relief pitcher Rollie Fingers and the length guys go to become “mansome” without ever personally suffering through the process of getting private parts waxed.  After all, we all saw Steve Carrell in The 40 Year Old Virgin, right?

Which got us to thinking: What other memorable movies about hair have we encountered in the cinematic past?

It got us to make the following list of great follicle films, as well as subsequent movies we feel are their natural outgrowths. Do you agree or disagree? What other movies involving hair can you suggest?

The Great Dictator (1940): Although it was made before World War II broke out, Charlie Chaplin’s tale of a poor, nameless Jewish barber mistaken for look-a-like dictator Adenoid Hynkel still stands out as one of the boldest films ever made. This is writer-director-producer-star Chaplin’s first film with sound—it actually started filming in 1937, ten years after The Jazz Singer premiered—but made before the world learned the full extent of what Hitler and the Nazis wrought.  Some have complained that mocking Hitler and company in such a matter made light of his demonic actions, but Chaplin’s efforts—he takes on Mussolini and others as well here—seem courageous and bold to us.

Hair Extension: The Dictator (2012). Sacha Baron Cohen, another triple-plus threat, offers a satiric take on Middle Eastern and African despots, and uses Chaplin’s accomplishment as his inspiration—raunchy jokes added, of course (Plus, the plot does pivot on a tonsorial exercise at the hands of John C. Reilly.)

Shampoo (1975): Warren Beatty, another triple-threat, is the creative force behind this adult farce involving George (Beatty), a bed-hopping Beverly Hills hair stylist reportedly based on ex-Streisand beau/hairdresser-to-the-stars-turned Hollywood executive Jon Peters.  George juggles sexual partners (Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, Lee Grant and young Carrie Fisher among them), politics, and business ambitions as Richard Nixon wins the presidency in 1968. Director Hal Ashby and co-writer Robert Towne add sensitivity and brashness to this impressive not-so long goodbye to ‘60s optimism.

Hair Extension: Barbershop (2002). The lineage to Shampoo is the addition of politics and social commentary to the plot—here related in the snappy no-holds-barred banter between the customers of a clip joint on the south side of Chicago and their hair keepers, including Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Eve, Michael Ealy, Troy Garrity and Sean Patrick Thomas.

Good Hair (2009): Chris Rock is the producer and main inquisitor in this funky documentary about the world of African-American women and their hair obsessions. The mix of anecdotes from the likes of Maya Angelou, Nia Long, Kerry Washington and Al Sharpton, footage of a wild hairdressing competition and a trip to a hair products convention—plus fascinating segments on extensions and where they come from (India!)—works   works better than you’d expect.

Hair Extension: That would be Mansome (2012).

Married to the Mob (1988): Jonathan Demme’s mobster mash casts Michelle Pfeiffer as Angela DeMarco, a Long Island mafia wife whose pampered life evaporates when her ambitious husband, “Frankie the Cucumber”(Alec Baldwin), gets taken out. While pursued by dangerous hood Tony the Tiger (Dean Stockwell), stalked by Tony’s jealous wife (Mercedes Ruehl) and tracked by an FBI agent (Matthew Modine) who takes a liking to her, Angela takes a job at a funky Lower East Side beauty parlor owned by reggae singer Sister Carol East and staffed by an elderly gay stylist played by character actor great Charles Napier.

Hair Extension: Don’t Mess With the Zohan (2010). The ethnics have changed—from Pfeiffer Paisano Kitsch to Adam Sandler Israeli—but the setting is still New York in one of Sandler’s best recent films. He portrays an unhappy Mossad agent who fakes his own death to get his dream job—in a New York City salon. He works his way up from floor sweeper to star snipper, while satisfying his clients (and not just with the scissors) along the way.

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001): A colorful colorless movie (shot in color, printed in black-and-white) centering on a diabolical barber. The phenomenal Billy Bob Thornton portrays the Coen Brothers’ chain-smoking haircutter with dreams of opening a dry cleaning shop in Santa Rosa, California in 1949. Of course, his plans to raise the necessary cash by blackmailing the boss (James Gandolfini) of his philandering wife (Frances McDormand) eventually backfire in a big way.

Hair Extension:  Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). Stephen Sondheim’s celebrated musical gets the big screen treatment with mixed results, courtesy of director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp. The color has been washed out and some songs have been dropped (including The Ballad of Sweeney Todd) as we follow the tale of the title character (Depp), the legendary barber of Victorian Britain exacting throat-slitting revenge upon those who helped send him to prison overseas. He’s aided in the macabre enterprise by Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham-Carter), who turns his victims’ body parts into her special meat pies.

The Big Tease (1999): This mirthful affair, scripted by star Craig Ferguson, offers the “Late, Late Show” anchor as Crawford McKenzie, a Glasgow hair stylist picked to go to Los Angeles for the Platinum Scissors competition. But once there—trailed by a filmmaker shooting a documentary on him—McKenzie discovers he’s been simply selected as an audience member. He must prove he’s worthy of being in the contest.  All this and cameos from David Hasselhoff, Drew Carey and Bruce Jenner.

Hair Extension: Blow Dry (2001). The “other” British hairstyling competition movie is this effort highlighted with some dramatic moments, courtesy of the folks who gave you The Full Monty. Set against the backdrop of the British Hairstyling Championships, this follicle-oriented feature focuses on legendary small town barber Phil (Alan Rickman), who comes out of a self-imposed retirement from competition to battle arrogant ex-partner Ray (Bill Nighy) for the coveted Golden Scissors Award. The rest of the top-notch cast includes Natasha Richardson, Rachel Griffiths and Josh Hartnett.

The Rabbit of Seville (1949): Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd tangle against each other in a theater with a barbershop setting. Their antics are staged against the background of Rossini’s opera in this terrific precursor to the subsequent classic Looney Tunes outing What’s Opera, Doc? The rabbit continually gets the upper hand on the pugnacious hunter, embarrassing him to no end in and out of the barber chair. Chuck Jones brilliantly directs Michael Maltese’s script and gets lots of help from composer Carl Stalling in adapting Rossini’s work for the seven-minute animated escapade.

Hare Extension: Nobody can follow Bugs Bunny, even though he ends The Rabbit of Seville with “Eh, next?”