At the sub-Vaudevillian freak show that was the recent Republican debate, freak-in-the-lead Donald Trump was introduced as a “businessman.” That is technically accurate. As Trump has established to a nauseating degree over the past thirty years, his “art” is the art of the deal and he sees himself as the greatest businessman ever to business it up, business-style, with the money and the broads and the power and whatnot.
From where I and the rest of the jeering gallery sat, however, it would be less respectful, but perhaps more accurate, to introduce Donald Trump as a crazy-haired TV clown, since that is the role he has historically played in popular culture. Trump is enormous fun to laugh at, which is why the debate was as entertaining to watch as it was devoid of plausible, non-pathetic, non-deluded contenders.
The thing that’s remarkable about Trump’s presidential campaign is that when running for office, he has not even attempted to cultivate a new gravitas and seriousness. Trump hasn’t hired a bunch of political advisors in an attempt to remake himself in the public image as a politician with smart, thoughtful ideas on how to fix our country. No, Trump is pretty much running for President as a crazy-haired TV clown. The same abrasive moron who clucked about his dissatisfaction with fat broads and Rosie O’Donnell on social media and television is the same guy debating other, ostensibly more serious candidates at officially recognized Presidential debates.
Trump is like a guy who decides to run for president of an ultra-orthodox synagogue using the same tactics he employed to run for fraternity president, and can’t figure out why the Hasidic community he’s appealing to seems so turned off by beer bong toga parties and bikini car washes.
In his capacity as a crazy-haired TV clown, Trump has logged plenty of appearances on television and in movies, generally in cameos as himself where he functions as a sort of walking punchline/campy-pop-culture reference. In 1996 alone, Trump scored cameos in two separate Whoopi Goldberg vehicles (The Associate and Eddie).
The IMDB lists 19 acting credits for Trump, as well 186 appearances as himself, but perhaps no appearance is more embarrassing, or more exquisitely Trumptastic in its tone-deaf awfulness, than our next President’s cinematic debut as (who else?) savvy businessman Donald Trump in the John Derek-directed 1990 abomination Ghosts Can’t Do It (not to be confused with 1987’s more affirmatively titled Ghosts Can Do It, which perplexingly enough, is a different film altogether).
The film marked the final collaboration of actor turned writer-director John Derek, whose career as a filmmaker was made when he started writing and directing wife Bo Derek’s films, and Bo Derek, whose career as a movie star was conclusively destroyed when she started letting her talentless husband direct her abysmal vehicles.
The Dereks were apparently so disheartened by the mocking laughter that greeted their very serious erotic masterworks Tarzan: The Ape Man and Bolero that they decided that they would defy expectations and make a movie that was supposed to be funny, at which point their collaboration was greeted not by laughter of any sort, but rather by the grim silence of the grave.
By that point, Mr. Derek was intimately acquainted with the ghostly silence of the grave, as he himself was deceased when the film received the worst reviews of a collaboration that never resulted in anything other than scathingly negative reviews. Needless to say, critics did not go easy on this dead man and his latest abomination. A good example of the kind of the reviews the film received can be gleaned from the first sentence of AllMovie’s vitriolic pan: “The final cinematic abomination from the late John Derek and his legendary non-actress wife Bo Derek turns out to be their worst collaboration ever, beating out even Bolero for sheer incomprehensible awfulness and ranking as one of the silliest monstrosities ever committed to film.”
“One of the silliest monstrosities ever committed to film,” beyond making for a great blurb, is actually pretty lenient. Ghosts Can’t Do It is indeed a boondoggle of epic proportions, a leaden sex comedy paced like a funeral dirge about a sexy young widow (Bo Derek, of course) obsessed with finding a new body to house the soul of her late husband (two-time Academy Award winner Anthony Quinn, picking up a paycheck), who committed suicide upon learning that due to a heart condition, he cannot make sweet, sweet love to his bride.
Like all of John Derek’s films, the movie was designed as a showcase for his wife’s luminous erotic charms, but Bo, who was so sexy and appealing in 10, and so terrible in everything else, comes off like a lobotomized sex doll who just barely came to life and talks in a vaguely narcotized monotone, her affect off, her eyes glassy and vacant.
Bo Derek is primarily concerned with finding a new vessel for ghost-boning, but her husband was also a businessman, and so she must carry on his legacy by doing business deals in a business-like fashion with businessmen who are not dead. This brings us to the matter of Donald Trump’s cinematic debut.
The film’s plot calls upon the lusty and post-living Quinn to act as something of a business-world Cyrano de Bergerac, who tells Bo the magical business words that will allow her to not only succeed, but dominate in the arena, despite tragically being born with a vagina instead of a penis.
Sure enough, Trump’s big scene begins with Quinn imploring Bo, “Don’t forget to be all the woman that you are! Boggle their brains!” The implication is that to be all the women that you are is to use your ripe sexuality and flirtatiousness to your advantage, to be sorta business-like, but mostly feminine in the most conventional, societally-condoned way.
Of course, being a woman, especially an attractive one, means that Bo cannot be counted upon to utter her own thoughts and ideas, so Quinn hedges his bets by making sure that she says only what he tells her to say. As a properly submissive widow, she is unambiguously excited. Parroting a ghost’s words liberates her from the terrible burden of having to think her own thoughts and say her own words, something that would probably give this pretty li’l darling a debilitating migraine.
Sure enough, as soon as she sits down at the negotiating table with Trump (who was as close to handsome at that point as he ever would be) and a weirdly mannequin-looking man who is ostensibly an associate of Trump, Bo asserts that business and money are man’s concerns when she robotically intones, “Well gentleman, I hope I was clear, and not too vacant-headed, because from the look of this room, it isn’t woman’s work we’re doing here, is it?”
Trump smiles approvingly at Bo’s android-like approximation of human speech with a leer that says, “That’s right! Scrubbing toilets and slobbing my knob are women’s work! Talking about business stuff is for men! Manly men with penises and stuff! Men like me, The Donald.”
Just when you think the dialogue could not get any more naturalistic or organic, Trump’s associate prissily proclaims, “It has been decided that there is no point that can be argued. The point is based as it is stated. It’s not ambiguous. There’s no room for any rhetoric. You must yield!”
Now I am no businessman, just a guy who lives in his in-laws’ basement, but those sound less like words any actual businessman would use in our world, or even in any related multiverse, than something Vincent Adultman would say to try to impersonate one on BoJack Horseman.
With her dead husband’s counsel, Bo Derek angrily confronts the snippy associate, which clearly impresses Trump, whose bedroom eyes and poorly concealed ogling indicate he likes a dame with a little sass, especially if she’s got a dynamite pair of get-away sticks, and is easy on the old eyeballs.
Clearly feeling left out of all this business talk, Trump counters, “Why does that have a bearing on the point of issue?” At this point charged looks morph into outright flirting, gross, gross, Trumptastic flirting. When Bo tells Trump & his sidekick to “put away their knives” because they “haven’t got one sharp enough to carve out a spot,” Trump purrs threateningly, yet smoothly, “Be assured, Mrs. Scott, that in this room, there are knives sharp enough to cut you to the bone and hearts cold enough to eat yours for hors d’oeuvres.”
This may be the single greatest mixed metaphor in the history of film. Is Trump saying he posses a heart so cold it eats other hearts, both as appetizers and main entrees? Is Trump copping to owning a cannibalistic heart with a Cronenbergian apparatus that allows it to devour other, lesser hearts? I mean, I get the knives metaphor, but the heart-eating-heart conceit defies comprehension.
Derek then utters the single least true line in film when she flirtatiously tells Trump, “You’re too pretty to be bad,” to which Trump approvingly coos, “You noticed.” With the benefit of hindsight, it is now apparent that Trump isn’t pretty, pretty at all, let alone too pretty to be bad. Trump is ugly on the inside and out, and bad not meaning good, but bad meaning creepy and racist and awful and deplorable and pretty much just the worst.
The other crazy thing about Trump’s appearance in Ghosts Can’t Do It is that it is entirely keeping with Trump’s sensibility. The leering sexism, the fetishization of business and negotiating, the tacky, Warholian conception of celebrity, the trashiness and the tackiness – they’re all weirdly on brand and on message. For any other Presidential candidate, having appeared in a universally mocked comedy about ghost sex would be an enduring embarrassment, but Trump never would have signed on unless he was utterly devoid of shame, a characteristic that defines him as much as a politician as it does in his more important job as crazy-haired TV clown.