THE COMIC (aka: BILLY BRIGHT)
(director/writer: Carl Reiner; screenwriter: Aaron Ruben; cinematographer: W. Wallace Kelley; editor: Adrienne Fazan; music: Jack Elliott; cast: Dick Van Dyke (Billy Bright), Michele Lee (Mary Gibson), Mickey Rooney (Cockeye), Cornel Wilde (Frank Powers), Nina Wayne (Sybil), Pert Kelton (Mama), Steve Allen (himself), Barbara Heller (Ginger), Ed Peck (Edwin G. Englehardt), Jeannine Riley (Lorraine), Gavin MacLeod (1st Director), Jay Novello (Miguel), Craig Huebing (doctor), Paulene Myers (Phoebe), Fritz Feld (Armand), Jerome Cowan (Lawrence), Isabel Sanford (woman), Jeff Donnell (nurse), Carl Reiner (Al Schilling); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Carl Reiner/Aaron Ruben; Sony Pictures Choice Collection; 1969)
“It’s the kind of pic that you wanted to be better than it turned out, nevertheless even if it lets you down there’s enough that’s fascinating to keep you tuned in.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A seriocomedy that plainly tells about the movie career of silent comic Buster Keaton through its fictitiously named protagonist Billy Bright (Dick Van Dyke). The fallen star is played with the necessary manic fervor needed by TV sitcom star Dick Van Dyke. It’s framed as a trip down memory lane pic, with the film’s hero, the self-destructive alcoholic and philandering silent comedian Billy Bright, narrating after death and freely giving us his impressions of Hollywood life from repose in his mortuary casket. The snappy comments include ones on his failed marriage to actress Mary Gibson (Michele Lee), his extra-marital affairs and in his old age the almost mistaken marriage to gold-digger Lorraine (Jeannine Riley). The film also features a number of montages on fake silent films, trying to show how movies were made back in the day.
Writer-director Carl Reiner (“The Jerk”/”Enter Laughing”/”Where’s Poppa”) co-wrote the behind-the-scenes look at the comedian’s rise and fall with Aaron Ruben. They have come up with an uneven work that stings when on the money with its slick insider’s take on a cynical Hollywood that too often forgets its greats when they age, but goes south when so much of it comes up lackluster as an undeveloped story filmed as if it were a TV sitcom. Though it’s generally agreed by most critics that Van Dyke put his heart and soul into the characterization of the troubled comedian and his performance got the comedian’s desperation just right; and, Mickey Rooney, playing the comic’s sidekick old trouper Cockeye, was stellar in creating a character of interest that was thinly written and shouldn’t have turned out that well without such great acting.
The biopic was a commercial flop, but should interest film buffs and Buster Keaton fans. It’s the kind of pic that you wanted to be better than it turned out, nevertheless even if it lets you down there’s enough that’s fascinating to keep you tuned in.
REVIEWED ON 8/1/2014 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/