Last night the kids and I watched a couple of scenes from the 1961 film musical, Bye, Bye, Birdie
. That got me thinking about Dick Van Dyke, and one of the funniest, most bitter films I've ever seen, Cold Turkey
. Normal Lear wrote and directed the movie, so you know where it's coming from. This 1971 film starts with a dog pissing on a sign that says "Eagle Rock's Churches Welcome You," and ends with the same dog pissing on a minister (played by Dick Van Dyke) as he lays on the ground shot through with a bullet. (It's funnier than it sounds.)
This is a very edgy role for Van Dyke. But it's not so much against type as it is through type. Dick Van Dyke's character in this film is to Dick Van Dyke's general screen persona what Mary Tyler Moore's character in Ordinary People
(another very good movie) is to her persona in her well-known t.v. shows. In both cases, they draw on the darker potential of their more well-known, comedic personas. Very good stuff.
This reminded me of a second somewhat underrecognized movie that I really like and that also came out in 1971, A New Leaf
. Elaine May wrote the screen play (based on Jack Ritchie's The Green Heart
, which he later retitled A New Leaf
). May also stars in the movie and directed it. Walter Matthau stars in the film as well.
This is one of the most charming movies I've ever seen. While much of the comedy is dark (and hilariously funny), the darkness is not unrelenting, and there is a simply charming turn in the story.
I've heard that the movie studio made Elaine May butcher the movie at the editing stage, making her cut the film by a third. She apparently hated the outcome. I would really love to see the screen play as May wrote it. I've been tempted to see if I could locate her and request a copy of the original screen play. I'm that much of a fan.