Friday, June 20, 2008

Never A Dull Moment (1968)

Dick Van Dyke stars in this, his third and last film made for Disney. The first was Mary Poppins, considered a classic despite Van Dyke’s performance. Second came Lt. Robin Crusoe, USN, which was perceived as an underperformer by Disney brass, but was actually just a sign of things to come for the studio’s product over the next decade. Finally, came Never a Dull Moment. Disney tapped Jerry Paris, who was mostly known around Hollywood as a TV director, to be the director of this feature. He had recently won an Emmy for Best Directing of a Comedy Series for (surprise, surprise) The Dick Van Dyke Show, and it was thought to get the best performance out of Van Dyke it might be best to put him under the direction of someone he trusted. The screenwriter was AJ Carothers, an old friend of Walt Disney’s. Carothers respected Disney so much that he openly admitted that he considered Walt his 2nd father. All in all he worked at Disney under contract for 7 years, knocking out mostly forgotten fare such as The Happiest Millionaire and Emil and the Detectives, and later delivered an eulogy at Disney’s funeral.

Van Dyke plays an actor named Jack Albany who is relegated to playing the mob henchman in episodes of police TV shows, who is mistaken for a hired killer working for a crime syndicate. Edward G. Robinson plays Leo Joseph Smooth, the head of this crime family. Smooth has decided that while his career has been lucrative, he has never pulled off the one big crime that would make him memorable to the public, so he plans on stealing “Field of Sunflowers”, a 40-foot-long triptych painting that is currently on display at the Manhattan Museum of Art.

Most of the problems with the film can be traced to Van Dyke’s performance. I believe whoever was responsible for casting him in this movie must have seen his famous trip in the opening to The Dick Van Dyke Show and thought, “Brilliant! That is exactly what we need for this movie!” The movie plays like some kind of weird concoction of a film, where someone wanted to make a slapstick comedy, without actually having any physical comedy in it. There are only a handful of gags in the movie, and it is telling that the trailer for it replays them all twice. Also, you can almost feel the pressure that marketing must have been feeling at the time as they keep pushing that Dick Van Dyke “gives the comedy performance of a lifetime!”

Perhaps the biggest positive that the film has going for it is the cast of hoods that work for Smooth. Slim Pickens plays Cowboy Schaeffer, one of the crew that doesn’t really have a whole lot of character development invested in him, but what the hell, it’s Slim Pickens and I’m happy to see him pop up in anything. Jack Elam eventually shows up as the real Ace Williams, the killer that Van Dyke is mistaken for. However, the biggest surprise to come out of this movie is the performance of Henry Silva. Silva plays Frank Boley, Smooth’s right hand man, who doesn’t just look like a young Jack Palance circa Shane, but plays the part as if he was auditioning for a Leone spaghetti western.

This DVD was released in June of 2004, one of a slew of barebones discs that Disney was releasing from their vaults at the time. It is presented in its original aspect ratio of widescreen 1.75:1, with only the theatrical trailer as a bonus feature. The transfer is nice, if a bit soft, almost as if it were slightly out of focus.

This movie didn’t quite mark the end of the film careers of those involved, but it was the end of a chapter in their professional lives. Dick Van Dyke went back to television shortly after this, starring in The New Dick Van Dyke Show, and guest-starring on numerous other shows. Jerry Paris directed 101 episodes of Happy Days before directing the comedy classics Police Academy 2 and Police Academy 3. AJ Carothers worked in Hollywood as a writer for hire for years after leaving Disney before coming up with the story for the Michael J. Fox vehicle, The Secret Of My Success, and making a mini-comeback in the late 80s.

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