Synopsis by Mark Deming
Carl Reiner directed and co-wrote this comedy-drama which tells the tale of a silent screen comedian whose talent doesn't quite outstrip his knack for self-sabotage. Billy Bright (Dick Van Dyke) narrates the story from his coffin, as he looks back on his life and career during his shabby funeral. In the early 1920s, vaudeville comic Bright goes to California to break into the movies, making a splash as he steals the show in his first short subject; he also steals Mary Gibson (Michele Lee), the leading lady, away from his director, Frank Powers (Cornel Wilde). Billy soon becomes one of the top funnymen in Hollywood after a series of successful two-reelers, and launches his own production company the same day he weds Gibson. But as Bright's star rises, his worst qualities come to the surface; he becomes an arrogant alcoholic who can't stay faithful to his wife, and while his first feature film, Forget Me Not, is a major success, his career quickly goes into a tailspin, and with the arrival of the talkies Bright is a has-been. In the 1960s, with a revival of interest in silent films, Bright is able to make a few bucks appearing in television commercials, but it doesn't take much success for his bad habits to take hold again. Reiner and Van Dyke drew inspiration from the onscreen work and off-screen lives of several silent-era funnymen for the character of Billy Bright, most notably Stan Laurel, Harry Langdon and Buster Keaton; the film also features a fine supporting performance from Mickey Rooney as Billy's faithful friend and sidekick, Cockeye.
filmmaker, alcoholism, behind-the-scenes, career, comeback, comedian, ego, golddigger, on-the-prowl, stars [celebrities]