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AMERICAN REMAKE 1: SNAVELY / CHATEAU SNAVELY

 

American remakes of Fawlty Towers are almost legendary. Everyone knows about “Amanda’s” the 1980’s version featuring Bea Arthur that didn’t actually feature a “Basil” character, and many of us have seen “Payne” from the turn of the century – but one version has been all but lost to the mists of time – For one evening in 1978, Harvey Korman was Henry Snavely…

  

Often referred to as “Chateau Snaveley”, on screen the programme is simply titled “Snavely”. I actually think the chateau title might have been a better choice as it sounds more like the name of a hotel. I’m not sure what to think of “Snavely” as a title – it sounds more like a Dickensian book-keeper. The exterior of the building is only seen here – there is no location shooting, as (much like Fawlty Towers) the action takes place within the hotel.

Unlike “Amanda’s”, all major characters are in place in this episode: There is a Basil (Henry Snavely, played by Harvey Korman), a Sybil (Gladys Snavely, played by Betty White), a Manuel (Pedro, played by Frank LaLoggia), and a Polly (Connie, played by Deborah Zon). As you can see, the episode itself is strongly based on “The Hotel Inspectors” and it does feature two male guests – who are both mistaken for inspectors during the course of the show. All good so far!

Betty White does a fine job as Gladys. She is humorous, plays the character well and strikes a nice balance between disapproval and affection towards her husband. I think, of the main characters, she is the most effective. Unlike the original version, there is a strong suggestion that Gladys likes the attention of the male guests – and that she possibly has a relationship with  “Rog” – the owner of a nearby hotel. Husband Henry comments on her flirtatious nature. There is actually a very funny moment involving the unseen Rog, when Betty appears to get a line wrong…

She calls Henry “Roger” – Harvey Korman appears to ad-lib a line about having “Roger” on the brain. It is perhaps the funniest moment of the episode.

 

Henry’s character retains the condescending attitude towards his guests that is displayed by Basil  – in this case towards the “annoying guest” character, but I don’t think the guest stars are given the space (or material) to shine.

Throughout the episode there are visual gags that work well. Harvey Korman is a master at this – placing his tie into a filing cabinet drawer, accidentally hitting his finger with a hammer, getting tangled behind the reception desk etc. He is definitely trying to squeeze out as many laughs as he can…

 

Scenes between Gladys and Henry also work quite well. They characters seem to get on much better than their British counterparts – but is this a good thing?

 

 

Upon learning that his guest may be an inspector, Henry’s attitude changes.

 

My impression is that Henry merely wants a good review, whereas Basil sees it as an opportunity to climb the social ladder and relieve himself of the riff-raff guests.

 

 

The American version of the “Major” character, a (Retired) Police Chief is given much more prominence in this script. Unfortunately there is a joke that falls extremely flat today, which basically boils down to a complaint of rape which was actually made against him, by a prostitute, when he attempted to test her sobriety with an “unorthodox” instrument. It is not needed and uncomfortable to watch.

 

 

Similarly the Polly character – in this case “Connie” is also not served well. Whereas Polly is often the most competent character – in this episode, Connie is portrayed as being not particularly intelligent.

 

One of my favourite scenes in “The Hotel Inspectors” is where Basil and Polly confuse the Bernard Cribbins character by looking at each other when speaking to someone else. It isn’t included here.

 

 

Henry’s assumption that the annoying guest is an inspector is proved to be false. He is a hardware salesman. Henry’s attention is drawn to a different guest, who happens to have an interest in wine. Unlike the British version, where there is some snobbery over the Aloxe-Corton 65, a joke about it being corked, a visual gag with the corkscrew and a misunderstanding over Bordeaux / Claret, here Henry only has a “house wine” to offer his guest. It feels less well crafted as a script.

 

 

Henry attempts to silence his annoying guest, who has decided to complain about being served the wrong food. In the remake, the attack seems much less realistic than in Fawlty Towers, and therefore less humorous. As in the original it ends with the guest passing out… which is where we come to a strange choice –

 

The inclusion of the “fire alarm test” from “The Germans” episode…                                                                     

 

 

It is complete with the alarm key in the safe, the burglar alarm, the false start and the annoying guests. Maybe the idea was “double the storyline / double the laughs”- but I always feel the strength of Fawlty Towers is in the gradual build-up of the tension / panic / anger / fear / frustration (etc.) felt by Basil in the episodes. They are perfectly formed mini-plays. To cram ‘more’ in means sacrificing the quality.

 

 

Andrew Sachs is better at this scene. It’s the same premise as the British version – a fire in the kitchen…That’s not to say Frank LaLoggia (as an Albanian refugee / waiter ) is bad – I really like his take on the character – even if he is given significantly less to do across the whole episode.  I suppose that much like “Amanda’s” being a vehicle for Bea Arthur, this episode is a vehicle for Harvey Korman.

 

 

Yes – the “locked in the kitchen” gag is there. It’s essentially the same, complete with smoke effect and collapsing waiter. As I watched this I was reminded of the line from Morecambe and Wise - “I’m playing all the right notes – but not necessarily in the right order”.

 

Almost everything about the episode is rooted in the source material, but somehow it just doesn’t gel in quite the same way.

 

 

 

In Britain we have custard pies. In America they have fire extinguishers. The episode returns to material from “The Hotel Inspectors” just in time for Henry to abuse his guests just a little more…

 

 

…before the inspectors arrive. In Fawlty Towers the horror on Basil’s face says it all. whereas Henry Snavely is just a little bit upset. Gladys suggests he hang his “mountain goat” (the moose substitute) as a way of cheering himself up.

 

I always imagine Basil descending into a bout of self-loathing and a furious Sybil having a strop before going off to Audrey’s – but maybe that’s just me…

 

 

 

And there you have it. In some ways Snavely is a “greatest hits” of Series 1 that somehow doesn’t quite hit the mark.

 

The credits do mention that the episode is based on Fawlty Towers by John Cleese and Connie Booth. It very clearly is – maybe much more so than either “Amanda’s” or “Payne”.

 

It just feel that it doesn’t really work compared to the original.

 

I am reliably informed that Fawlty Towers was being screened regularly in America at the time that this was shown – and that really is the issue as far as I can see it. If you’ve got the original, why bother with a copy?

 

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