Little Cigars might be one of the more awful titles I’ve heard (it sounds like what you’d shovel out of the cat box), but the movie itself is pretty entertaining. I went into this one blind, knowing only that it featured blonde babe Angel Tompkins (star of a lot of 60s and 70s TV, not to mention the movies Prime Cut, The Teacher and Walking Tall Part II) hanging around with a group of midgets. As you might imagine, with a premise like that I was expecting something exploitative and trashy, and despite my particular bent, that’s not always what I’m in the market for.
The movie opens with a bang as Cleo (Tompkins) is in bed with her mob boss boyfriend, who enjoys burning her with his cigar. She takes it away from him and burns his twonkus with it, then forces him at gunpoint to ride an exercise bike as she flees the scene. Cleo hits the road, eventually stopping in a small town. While hanging out in an empty pizza joint, she asks Archie, the owner, why it’s so dead. He says it’s because of the place across the street. When Cleo asks what they’ve got that he doesn’t, Archie replies “Better food.” Not one to miss an opportunity, Cleo unbuttons her shirt, offering to use her talents to boost Archie’s business. Cut to: Archie’s pizza joint, packed to the rafters with horny guys, all coming on to Cleo.
Now, stop me if you’ve heard this one: two midgets walk into a pizza joint… yeah, yeah, sorry — anyway, these two little fellows arrive just as one of the customers gets a little too grabby with Cleo, and the midgets rough the guy up. Afterwards, they tell the grateful Cleo that she should come check out their act later.
Intrigued, Cleo heads out to where Slick Bender’s Little Cigars — an extremely lame traveling vaudeville act featuring five midgets, two of whom were Cleo’s saviors — are putting on a show for the locals. The Cigars pass their hats among the small crowd but come up pretty short (so to speak).
Pulling a large curtain across the stage, Slick puts on a shadow show with a couple of the other Cigars while the remaining two sneak out into the parking lot and rob the spectators’ cars — including lifting a gun from Cleo’s glove compartment. Cleo sees them performing their dirty deeds but doesn’t say anything, until she discovers she’s been robbed, too. After the Cigars finish their show, Cleo confronts them, wanting her gun back. She winds up sharing a bottle of hooch with a couple of the guys, but this upsets Slick, who says “You got nothing better to do than get drunk with a bunch of squirts?” When Cleo protests, Slick continues: “Every now and then, a chick like you comes around and thinks she’s Snow White and wants to fool around with the little people.” Cleo sneers at Slick, saying “Don’t flatter yourself, Grumpy.”
The next day, Slick comes to see Cleo at the pizza joint. He wants her to join the Cigars, but she’s not interested. At one point she refers to Slick as a dwarf, and he snaps “Don’t ever call a midget a dwarf.” “What’s the difference?” Cleo asks. “A broken arm,” Slick says.
The plot is driven ever-forward as a couple of goons show up in the pizza joint, wanting to take Cleo back to her old boyfriend so she can pay for her misdeeds. She throws a pot of coffee in the face of one of them and shoots the other in the arm, then hightails it outta there. After stopping by the local Earl Scheib outlet for a shitty paint job on her wheels, Cleo goes back to Slick and the Cigars, joining the crew. She plays Slick’s squeeze during a scam the guys pull, selling phony vitamin-enhanced candy bars to the rubes while they pick a pocket or two.
Later, when one of the midgets inappropriately yanks Cleo’s robe open to expose her undies, Slick walks in and barks “Is that the name of the game today — teasin’ midgets?” Cleo gets fed up with the crabby bastard and splits.
The other guys lament Cleo’s departure and have a big laundry fight, which is a little freaky and goes on far too long for my comfort level. Slick heads out to look for Cleo, finding her in a dive bar sucking on some dude’s fingers. Slick flips out and goes full-Ralphie on the dude, doing a pretty good job of kicking the guy’s ass. Cleo pulls a gun and Slick cleans out the register, then they both take off — winding up in a motel, where we find them post-coitus.
Now a happy couple, Cleo and Slick hatch a plan to start pulling “real capers” using the short stature of the Cigars as an advantage. A couple of the other guys are hesitant, but eventually all the Cigars are on board and the midget crime spree begins. Their first job involves Cleo pulling a car into an auto shop just before closing, saying she’ll leave it there overnight so they can take a look at it. As the shop closes up, the Cigars leap from the trunk and rob the owner. Several other midget-themed crimes follow and Cleo and the boys are flush with success.
As with all these stories, the gang decides to pull one last big-money caper and call it quits, but that sort of thing never works out and trouble ensues, which leads us to a bittersweet ending (and an uncredited cameo by Frank Bonner, future Herb Tarlek of WKRP In Cincinnati, as a bellhop).
I was actually surprised at what a solid little (don’t mind me) movie Little Cigars is — it’s a fairly straightforward crime flick with impressive performances from everyone involved. In fact, after it was over, I found myself wishing the Coen Brothers would remake the thing. It’s kind of like Time Bandits with a hot blonde instead of time travel, and much like that film, Little Cigars also makes me wish these diminutive actors were given more straight roles, because they really deliver. Worth checking out if you’re not expecting too much (and, word to the production value-conscious: no, Angel Tompkins does not get naked).
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