Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Comic

The Comic(1969)
Directed by
Carl Reiner
Written by Carl Reiner and Aaron Reuben
Starring Dick van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Michele Lee
IMDB Entry

The Comic starts out with a funeral.  Sparsely attended, the organ plays a sad tune that speeds up to reveal it's a version of "Yes, We Have No Bananas."* And, at during the service, the minister gets a pie in the face.  And that intriguing beginning is one of the many great mometns of Carl Reiner's and Dick van Dyke's loving comedy drama about silent film comedy.

Reiner was a giant in early TV with Your Show of Shows, and van Dyke was the star of his own very successful TV who (which Reiner created and produced).  Van Dyck said he discussed the idea for The Comic with Reiner when he wanted to do a Stan Laurel imitation and discovered that Laurel no longer owned the rights to his own image.  It got Reiner thinking about the silent comedy days, and The Comic was the result.

The film is the fictional biography of Billy Bright (van Dyck), who became a silent film superstar, only to throw everything away.  With the help of his friend and agent Cockeye (Mickey Rooney), he builds a career, and, due to his drinking and womanizing, throws everything away.

Van Dyke is terrific in the role.  It was a smart move to make Billy a very flawed man.** Of course, every comic wants to do pathos, and there is a lot of that.***  But Billy is deeply flawed.  He throws away the love of his life (Michele Lee) with his need to womanize, turns arrogant with his fame, and ends up a lost and lonely man who only wanted to make people laugh.  Rooney provides expert support as the one person who understand him and isn't driven away.

The film made no splash at the box office.  Van Dyke's movie career was stalling before then, with a hit in Mary Poppins**** while he was still on TV, but several flops after that started hurting.  His next film after this was Cold Turkey, which was well regarded but little seen, and Van Dyke gave up on movie stardom to go back to TV.

Reiner directed some TV and helped Steve Martin's film career get started.  But he didn't seem to want to try anything as ambitious as this again.

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*Also used at a funeral in Ingmar Bergman's comedy, Let's Not Talk About All These Women.

**His story has elements of the lives of Stan Laurel and Buster Keaton, but the character is not much like either overall.

***<spoiler>The final scene, where Billy wakes up in the middle of the night to catch one of his old films, is especially touching -- not Chaplin level, but one of the most affecting of all those attempts.

****Everyone sneers at his bad cockney accent, but I think his role as Bert is the most delightful part of the movie; he was a much more interesting character to me than Mary.

1 comment:

Hal Horn said...

Just re-watched this again this week (getTV aired it yesterday morning) and appreciate new aspects of it each time. Not entirely successful, but very interesting.