When Self-Righteous Indignation Trumps A Little Research, Circa 1985


“The film takes place in Palm Springs, during spring break, when a bunch of fraternity boys from Iowa descend on the town. Why Palm Springs and not Fort Lauderdale? Because Palm Springs is closer to Hollywood, and therefore a cheaper place to make a movie, that’s why. So the movie glosses over the fact that Palm Springs is the most boring town in America for anyone who does not play golf and/or know Bob Hope or Betty Ford.”

-Roger Ebert, angrily reviewing Fraternity Vacation, April 15th, 1985


I always remembered the movies that left Ebert the most enraged, especially if they were pictures I’d already seen and enjoyed for one reason or another, so when I read a recent article about the Palm Springs Riot of 1986, Ebert’s snarky put-down of Fraternity Vacation‘s immediately sprung to mind.

Turns out the movie’s shooting locale perhaps involved a bit more than simple consideration of the film’s budget. Rowdy Spring Breakers had been flocking to Palm Springs long before the 1985 arrival of the film Ebert seemed so eager to disparage:


“Before the 1986 riot, Palm Springs had been a spring break destination for decades, like a Daytona Beach or Cancun for college kids on the West Coast. The city offered few options for entertainment, but that didn’t matter. Spring-breakers came to the desert to see and be seen, so they spent most of their time cruising down Palm Canyon Drive in convertibles or wandering the sidewalks in bathing suits and bikinis.”

As a former avid reader of Ebert film reviews many, many years ago (I purchased three of his books, pre-internet), I was always amused whenever he flew off the handle over motion pictures he was horribly offended by.

Slasher movies, raunchy Teen Sex comedies, B-grade Vigilante-Revenge flicks, various Cannon potboilers, they were all frequent fliers on Ebert’s annual shit-lists, often cited for showcasing reprehensible, immoral behavior for entertainment value.

Eventually, I came to see Ebert (and his TV partner, Gene Siskel, along with so many other pre-internet print and TV film critics) as an amazingly humorless and boring scold, a cranky old nerd who’d fit right in with the finger-wagging prudes populating the then-dreaded Religious Right.

His zero-star review of The Hitcher, one of my favorite films of 1986, was the first Ebert review where his opinion began losing credibility with me, the review littered as it was with words and phrases such as:

“…particularly sick…”, “…a deep sickness at the screenplay stage…”, “…disgusting…”, “…this movie is diseased and corrupt…”, “…it is reprehensible.”


Back then, I expected this kind of outraged hyperbole from a Jerry Falwell or a Pat Robertson, but why in the hell, I began to wonder, should I pay any attention to film criticism from someone so easily offended and uptight?

Movies like Fraternity Vacation, any Friday The 13th movie, The Exterminator, Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson Cannon fodder, Porky’s, etc, were obviously not made to appeal to the cinematic sensibilities of Roger Ebert.

How awful it’s got to be, I remember thinking, to earn your living watching movies you wouldn’t pay your own hard-earned money to watch, movies which, you know, walking into the theater, that you’re going to hate?




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