The Dick Van Dyke Show, which ran from 1961 to 1966. You can ask my kids, this is still one of the my favorite shows ever on television. But Van Dyke is also known world wide as the singing, dancing, cockney-accented Burt from Mary Poppins. Those of my generation will easily recall that his performance as the wise and fun-loving chimney sweep was sure to be on our TV sets every Thanksgiving night. And it was always a special treat when his equally entertaining Chitty Chitty Bang Bang appeared on TV every now and then. But his successes were not limited to the 1960's. His series Diagnosis: Murder (1993-2001) ran for 178 episodes. And a new generation of fans were treated to his comedic skills in the film Night at the Museum.
But these are merely bookends on an impressive lifetime performance by Dick Van Dyke. According to the movie site IMDB, Van Dyke has appeared in twenty feature films and nearly fifty different television series and movies. He has kept busy over the years, and judging by his appearance at the SAG awards, he's just as spry and nimble as ever.
I was able to catch two of his movies the this week that I captured on DVR from Turner Classic Movies: Some Kind of a Nut, and Cold Turkey. These films, both filmed around 1969 (Nut being released in '69, Turkey released after a brief hold-up in '71), are not as well known as others in his portfolio. Frankly, I'd never even heard of them. But I needed something to watch while I hit the treadmill, so I threw them up on the screen to see if they were any good.
I was pleasantly surprised.Let's look at them in the same order I did:
|Poster Image from Amazon.com|
This satire takes a comedic look at the fears of conformity in society. Van Dyke plays Fred Amidon, a bank teller who grows a beard while on vacation. If you've ever done this, you know that it will draw a strong reaction from most people who just can't get used to change. As expected, everyone wants him to shave it off. Even Fred himself doesn't particularly like it. But as he says, "something just clicked" and that was it. He refused to cave in to everyone's demand. You'd think he'd decided to become a Communist. His rebellion does not go unpunished.
He's fired, his girlfriend's family is aghast. And she's not too happy either. But the more pressure that is put to him, the harder he digs in his heels. Then, one night, after a lot of drinking and hanging out with the counter-culture chick played by the alluring Zorha Lampert, things spin out of control. Before it's over, he's a television celebrity, he's institutionalized, and he manages to regain the respect of his soon to be ex-wife Rachel, played by Angie Dickinson, who is in her prime in 1969.
These types of little comedies were all over the 1960's. They often championed some sort of cause, blew plenty of raspberries at the establishment, and pandered to the counter-culturalists and their love of all things Eastern, Herbal, and peace-loving. Usually, they end up so bizarre and out-of -this-world that the movie is not really watchable by any of us sane people four decades removed from that goofy period. (I'm thinking of James Coburn's psychedelic effort in The President's Analyst, which becomes painful to watch really early in the movie.) But here in Some Kind of a Nut, writer/director Garson Kanin manages to keep the story sensible, even as the wackiness ensues. Kanin comes from a solid writing background, however, having won his spurs writing such well-known classics as Adam's Rib, Pat and Mike, and the original stage version of Born Yesterday. Yes, he can unleash the absurdity, but he knows how to get it back on the leash before it runs away from him.
As with most comedies in the late 60's, there's a good deal of eye-candy with the actresses, led of course by Angie Dickinson, though the larger role of Van Dyke's girlfriend is played by Rosemary Forsyth, once considered to be a rising star. (Nut was filmed after an extensive maternity leave that is blamed for her disappointing career.) Forsyth does the job required of her, but Dickinson firmly takes center stage, despite her smaller role, and Lampert uses her oddball character to steal the show. Now, I'll admit the real failure here is the idea that Amidon is trying to keep his new girlfriend instead of patching things up with Rachel, since Rachel is actually a 38-year-old Angie Dickinson. I mean, really?
Dick Van Dyke is fun to watch in this, since it seems a bit outside of his usual shtick. He's a bit on the edgier side, at least he's edgier than Rob Petrie and Burt, though that doesn't take much. But no matter that he's running around with his new girlfriend while still officially married to Dickinson (they're days away from the divorce being final), Van Dyke can never really erase his image as a Boy Scout. It is just in his DNA. But that's what makes this film work. You never dislike Fred Amidon. And if another comedic name from that time had taken the role, say maybe Dean Martin, Elliot Gould, Jack Lemmon, George Segal, or Alan Arkin, Amidon would have come off more or less as a creep who just needs to shave his beard and be done with it. After all, beards do have a tendency to add a sinister quality to men. But Van Dyke keeps his happy-go-lucky spirit despite the depressing turn his life takes.
And of course, we're treated to his superb, physical style during a lengthy scene in which Amidon is drunk and falling all over himself as well as climbing along rooftops.
When all is said and done, and all the foolishness is pushed aside, this is a satisfying movie with characters you can care about and a happy ending that actually makes sense.
Some Kind of a Nut can be seen on Amazon's Instant Video. I have not been able to find it anywhere else, including Netflix.
I'll cover the second movie Cold Turkey in Part Two of this post.
Below you can see Some Kind of Nut free on Amazon if you are a Prime Member, or watch it for only a few dollars.