THE COMIC (1969)

THE COMIC DVD box coverTHE COMIC (1969)

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s a vaudevillian arriving in Hollywood to act in silent film comedies, Billy Bright (Dick Van Dyke) thinks he knows everything about comedy performance. Movies are a different medium so Billy has a lot to learn. He’s a quick study with talent and before long he’s a star in comedy shorts and even features. But Billy has some major flaws. He’s a womanizer who is also rushing headlong into alcoholism. He woos and marries co-star Mary Gibson (Michele Lee) and has a son with her. But as famous film star he manages to bed almost every attractive woman who catches his eye. When sound movies take over the industry Billy stubbornly refuses work in them because he believes sound films are not truly artistic.

Within a few years Billy is forgotten by the Hollywood film industry but he self-righteously believes he has made no mistakes in his career or in his personal life. His only steadfast friend through decades of unemployment is “Cockeye” (Mickey Rooney), his comic sidekick in the silent films. Billy’s life is tragic in that he never acknowledges his flaws, admits his mistakes, or apologizes for his behavior.

Viewers familiar with The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966) expecting a light-hearted tribute to silent comedies from Van Dyke and director Reiner could well be disappointed in The Comic. But research shows that many of the silent comedy stars had major personal problems and this probing tragedy examines a fictionalized account over several decades. Van Dyke gives a wonderful performance in recreations of silent comedy routines. He also convincingly portrays Billy’s in his increasing isolation through the years.

There are two excellent scenes in which mistaken identity (often rich fodder for comedy) ends up tragically in Billy’s hands. A framing device with Billy’s voice-over narrating much of the movie recalls the dark quality of a similar device in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950). In addition to Mickey Rooney (a  child star in silent comedy star himself as Mickey McGuire), the excellent supporting cast includes Cornel Wilde as a producer, Gavin MacLeod as Billy’s first director and Carl Reiner as Billy’s frustrated agent. Sharp-eyed movie fans will spot Fritz Feld and Mantan Moreland in unbilled cameos.

EXTRAS: There are no extras. This is a MOD (Manufactured on Demand DVD-R) with chapter stops every ten minutes (no chapter menus or titles).

DIR: Carl Reiner. PROD & SCR: Carl Reiner, Aaron Ruben. CIN: W. Wallace Kelly. ED: Adrienne Fazan. SCORE: Jack Elliott. CAST: Dick Van Dyke, Michele Lee, Mickey Rooney, Cornel Wilde, Gavin MacLeod, Carl Reiner. Genre: Drama. Color. Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1. Running Time: 95 minutes. Columbia Pictures. DVD distributor: Sony Pictures (www.sonypictures.com/movies/discanddigital).