Short Circuited: Golddigger (1993)

With a history that includes Martin Scorsese, Middle Eastern conflict, fake Renoirs, and the FBI, Dave pieces together the story of a truly terrible kids’ film...

“OK, so you just wasted a year of your life. Now what are you going to do?”

That was the verdict Martin Scorsese delivered to Mark Harry Richardson following ninety long, stony-faced minutes in a screening room enduring the worst family film of the ‘90s. [1]

Richardson was in his last year of film school at New York University and had been fortunate enough to attend a series of workshops given by the Taxi Driver (1976) director while the legend was editing The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). The picture Richardson had just shown Scorsese was his directorial debut – or, rather his co-directorial debut – GOLDDIGGER. And contrary to what the title suggests, it’s not a Lifetime Channel expose about an Anna Nicole Smith-style marriage to a barely alive billionaire. It is, in fact, a family flick about a seven-foot robot whose destiny is to prevent a Muslim holy war between the Sunnis and Shias.

Yup, Golddigger is an oddity alright – but then so is its creator, convicted fraudster Jack Shaoul…

Born in Iran in the 1940s, Shaoul arrived in the land of the free by 1965. He studied engineering, electronics, and joined the air force for eighteen months. Shaoul’s big break (and, arguably, downfall) was setting up his own antique store in 1974. Located on Broadway, near Union Square, Shaoul established himself as a key player in NYC’s relic trade, but he was a crook too. In 1991 and 1992, the FBI seized Tiffany and non-Tiffany items from Shaoul’s shop in an ongoing investigation. In 1993, he was found guilty of mail fraud after filing a bogus insurance claim on a work of art. Shaoul served forty months behind bars, and his rap sheet extended right up to 2013, when he was successfully sued by a fellow dealer for selling a fake Renoir painting for $1.1million. Shaoul was ordered to pay back the purchase price plus interest. [2]

Nevertheless, it was in the far less litigious surroundings of the late ‘80s when Richardson began to toy with the idea of working with Shaoul, following a chance encounter with his assistant, Eddie, in the Gotham Bar and Grill. Billed as “the guy who works for a fella with a ton of money and has a desire to make movies”, Richardson rightly saw this as an opportunity to schmooze and set up a meeting with Shaoul. It was a predictably tumultuous introduction, but Richardson had a pet project, ‘Live Bait’, at the back of his mind – and if he could somehow turn chaos into creativity, then perhaps Golddigger would be the springboard to Hollywood.

It wasn’t.

Much of the blame has to be pinned on Shaoul’s script and the awkwardly autobiographical nature of it. It tells the story of an antiques guy called Jack (bewilderingly played by Joe Pantoliano, employing a thick Middle Eastern accent presumably to convince casting agents it’s not really him) who’s crooked nemesis (oh, the irony) has acquired the precious Golden Lion of Burma; a sacred gold helmet whose theft could lead to great instability.

“Fool! Do you think I will allow peace to break out in the Middle East?” booms John Rhys-Davies during the film’s finale, further cementing how perplexed a young audience must have been in the unlikely event they ever watched this howler. Golddigger is a vanity vehicle plain and simple; an insufferable wank peppered with eerie echoes of reality like the Chinese whorehouse located above one of his buildings, and cloying dialogue from Jack’s son, Alex (named after Shaoul’s real son), such as, “I think you’re the best Dad a son can ask for”.

Technically, things are all over the place. Voices are dubbed without consistency, scenes are slapped together with all the care of a bad patchwork quilt, and the actual robot himself sounds like Harvey Fierstein under the influence of Class A drugs. On his blog, Richardson states that the metal monstrosity was voiced by Tony Randall, but I’d question that and apportion it to the guy listed on the credits, Don Peoples. As far as the bloke in the suit is concerned – well, that’s anyone’s guess. Four actors are named on IMDb, including award-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley (Doubt) – though the biggest clue is the sight of a still with the head-scratching caption, “Ari Taub is called in to play the Robot… The last person who played the Robot was hospitalized.”

A modest success at the 1992 American Film Market, Shaoul and Richardson fielded several nice offers from a variety of companies. Sadly, Shaoul declined them, holding out for a $4million payday from Disney instead. Of course, it didn’t happen – and after a lengthy search for distribution, Golddigger surfaced on U.S. video in March ‘94 via A-Pix as ‘Robot in the Family’.

Also known as ‘A Robot Named Golddigger’.

Joe Pantoliano, John Rhys-Davies, Danny Gerard, Amy Wright, Peter Maloney ● Dir. Jack Shaoul, Mark Harry Richardson ● Wri. Jack Shaoul

[1] Insurance Fraud, Murder, The FBI, Iranian Terrorists, Martin Scorsese and the Funny Behind-the-Scenes Adventures on the Making of an NYU Student’s First Feature Film! by Mark Harry Richardson, Personal Blog.
[2] Antiques Dealer Ordered to Pay $1.1 Million Over Sale of Fake Renoir, Art Law Blog, Grossman LLP: Attorneys at Law, 6th April 2017.

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