The Comic (1969)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Film a Clef, Showbiz Comedy, Showbiz Drama  |   Release Date - Nov 19, 1969 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 95 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Dan Friedman

Branching out from his television success with Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner crafted the story of Billy Bright, a brilliant silent-film comedian whose talent was overshadowed only by his ego and his thirst for alcohol. Billy's remembrances of his glorious past from his bottom-of-the-rung existence is the central plot of The Comic. Combining elements of Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the underrated Harry Langdon, and Stan Laurel, Billy is given life by the aforementioned Van Dyke in a very personal performance. Given his own troubles with alcohol, Van Dyke is perhaps the most natural choice for the role. He and Reiner re-create the silent-film era with remarkable accuracy and authenticity, and surrounding the story of Billy's life are many faux clips from his film career. It's a somewhat clich├ęd tale of a man who made a living being funny not being able to enjoy himself in the way that his audience could. Michele Lee plays the love interest and Mickey Rooney is along for the ride as an old sidekick, but the film really belongs to Dick Van Dyke. His ability to morph his body into a rubber band, plus his slight facial resemblance to Stan Laurel allow for a complete suspension of disbelief. However, despite it's title and the slapstick sequences, this film is very much not a comedy. It can be almost painful watching Billy sink into depths that can't possibly get much worse until they do. This descent is ultimately exemplified in a notorious (for 1969) scene in which Billy struggles to get himself out of his chair while morbidly watching some of his old films on television, and goes to use the bathroom, complete with sound effects. It's the capping statement on the character, but fortunately the film holds up better.