Enter Carl Reiner

Last month, Carl Reiner turned 90 years old. A show business veteran, to say the least, Reiner began on stage in the late 1940s, became an Emmy-nominated member of Sid Caesar’s TV sketch series Your Show of Shows in the 1950s, produced and wrote The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s, then turned to directing comedy films in the 1980s. The breadth of his career, in which he collaborated with everyone from Sid Caesar to Mel Brooks to Dick Van Dyke to Steve Martin, is truly remarkable.  While I admire the whole of Reiner’s career, right up to his appearances in Steven Soderbergh’s Oceans series, I became a fan because of two films:  The Thrill of It All (1963) and Enter Laughing (1967). Both offer examples of Reiner’s specialty—spoofing the conventions and archetypes of various modes of popular entertainment.

Starring Doris Day and James Garner, The Thrill of It All is one of Day’s romantic comedies from the 1960s, and it will be part of TCM’s salute to Doris Day as Star of the Month. Beginning on April 2 and ending April 6, TCM will be showing 28 of Day’s films, with The Thrill of It All scheduled for Thursday evening. Reiner wrote the screenplay for The Thrill of It All, based on a story he conceived with legendary TV writer Larry Gelbart—an example of Reiner’s talent for picking the right collaborators. In this domestically based comedy, Doris Day plays stay-at-home mom Beverly Boyer, who is wife to successful obstetrician Dr. Gerald Boyer. Because of her “regular housewife” honesty, Beverly is hired as the spokesperson for Happy Soap, a detergent and hand soap company that sponsors a popular television drama. In addition to being the face of Happy Soap for print ads, Beverly goes to the studio a couple times a week to appear during the commercial break of the live drama to tout the virtues of Happy products. The television industry is shown through the point of view of Beverly, who is depicted as a rational person in the real world, just like us. Like Beverly, we see the producers, ad executives, writers, etc. from an outsider’s perspective. The artifice, pretense, and manipulative nature of the entertainment and advertising industries seem alien and slightly ridiculous to us. Adopting this strategy allows Reiner to affectionately poke fun at the familiar conventions of television storytelling—just  enough to spoof but not skewer them.

BEVERLY BOYER IS ASKED TO SHOW HOW MUCH SHE LOVES HER BAR OF HAPPY SOAP, A SPOOF OF ADVERTISING IMAGES. NOTE THE SOFT FOCUS TO 'ROMANTICIZE' THE MOOD.

Scenes from three episodes of the television drama sponsored by Happy Soap are scattered throughout The Thrill of It All. Reiner appears as the main character in all three episodes, and the joke is that the scene is essentially the same from week to week but the genre is changed. Whether a western, a costume drama, or a WWII story, each episode features Carl Reiner as the villain who tries to manhandle his leading lady in order to coax something from her. The dialogue is virtually the same, and the scene concludes with the offended leading lady throwing a drink in Reiner’s face. When Beverly innocently notes that the episode seems similar to the previous week’s show, the producer acknowledges the formulaic nature of television but assures her that it is “much too subtle for the public to detect.”The scene cuts to Beverly’s young children watching the episode at home, remarking to their father that the same thing happens every week, and predicting that the woman is about to throw a drink in the man’s face.

GERALD BOYER, PLAYED BY JAMES GARNER, DOESN'T LIKE HIS WIFE'S NEW CAREER.

Contemporary bloggers and reviewers tend to ignore this part of the storyline and focus on the relationship between Beverly and Gerald, who embody traditional gender roles. As the archetypal stay-at-home wife and mother, Beverly often bears the brunt of ridicule or criticism from these hindsight reviewers: She is just too content in her idealized middle-class home and too devoted to her idealized middle-class family. Today’s young bloggers and reviewers tend to assume that because a film is old, then it must embody old-fashioned ideas and values of the past—as though all past eras are uniform in their attitudes and understanding of cultural ideology. However, I liked to think that the spoof of the world of television and advertising serves as a clue to a certain self-awareness on the parts of Reiner and Gelbart. Perhaps they were subtly poking fun at the conventional male and female archetypes of romantic comedy. I doubt if they intended to criticize patriarchal ideology, but The Thrill of It All seems to acknowledge that romantic comedies—like television programming—is the stuff of formula and fantasy.

REINER THE OLD PRO IN 'OCEANS 11'

The Thrill of It All was released while Reiner was producing and writing The Dick Van Dyke Show. Van Dyke’s character, Rob Petrie, is a writer for a television variety series starring Alan Brady, who is played by Reiner as a gentle spoof of the egocentric comic icons who hosted the hit tv series of the 1950s—Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, and Jackie Gleason.  There were two primary settings for The Dick Van Dyke Show—the office, where Rob collaborated with Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie on the scripts for each week’s show, and home, the setting for domestic comedy between Rob and wife Laura, played by a perky Mary Tyler Moore.  The Thrill of It All seems a big-screen extension of Reiner’s work on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

ANGELA, PLAYED BY ELAINE MAY, MESMERIZES YOUNG DAVID, PLAYED BY RENI SANTONI.

Enter Laughing is an adaptation of a play version of Reiner’s 1958 novel of the same title, which is loosely based on his years as a teenager who had dreams of becoming an actor. Reiner was 16 when his brother, Charles, suggested he take a dramatic workshop that was part of the WPA. He quickly discovered he had a proclivity and a love for performing, and two years later, he joined the Avon Shakespearean Touring Company. While traveling around America with the troupe, he appeared in Hamlet, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, and the Comedy of Errors, among others. In Enter Laughing, Reiner’s experiences are funneled through the adventures of David Kolowitz, played by Reni Santoni in his first starring role.

David works in a machine shop but dreams of becoming a suave, sophisticated actor like his idol Ronald Colman. He auditions for a cut-rate, broken-down acting troupe planning to mount a drawing-room melodrama off-Broadway—way off-Broadway. The troupe is headed by the pretentious Harrison B. Marlowe and his daughter Angela, who matches her father’s theatricality with her own eccentric affectations. David lands a part because Angela takes a shine to him, and because he pays the Marlowes a fee for becoming part of the troupe. Reiner’s experience and understanding of show business archetypes from his years as a sketch writer on Sid Caesar’s show came in handy in his depiction of the Marlowes who are painted with broad strokes. Jose Ferrer is hysterical as the gin-guzzling Marlowe whose days in the limelight are long past. He added just the right baroque flourish to his powerful voice to come across as the epitome of the “theatrical ac-tor.” Elaine May plays Angela, who approaches life as though it were a part in a play. When David visits Angela in her dressing room, she flirts, acts coy, and tries to charm the naïve teen. When he leaves, she recites the “parting is such sweet sorrow” speech from Romeo and Juliet. Caught up in the moment, David wants to respond in kind, but he can only think of the rousing lines from Kipling’s Gunga Din that conclude with “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”

RON DON COLMAN ACTS HIS HEART IN REHEARSAL.

The film’s funniest scenes revolve around David’s misadventures with the Marlowes’ acting company. When asked for his name, David decides to go with a stage name and blurts out, “Ronald Colman.” Mr. Marlowe questions him about having the same name as a famous Hollywood movie star, so David claims it is Donald Colman. Which is it? It’s Ronald Donald Colman, according to David. And, much to his chagrin, his new stage name is soon shortened to Ron Don Colman. Opening night finally arrives, and David’s family, best buddy, and girlfriend are sitting in the audience anxiously awaiting his entrance onstage. And, that entrance is indeed memorable because he flies through what is supposed to be the wall of the set instead of the door. The sequence is a tour de force of character comedy, verbal humor, and physical comedy all done with exquisite timing.

The title of the film derives from David’s first reading for Mr. Marlowe. He enthusiastically begins his reading with “Enter laughing. . . .,” speaking this stage direction as though it were his opening line. Beyond its meaning as simple stage direction or as the movie’s title, “enter laughing” is also appropriate for audiences who encounter Reiner’s work in television or film.

0 Response Enter Carl Reiner
Posted By Juana Maria : April 2, 2012 2:00 pm

Hey! I love the movie “the Thrill of It All” because of the really great actors,oh I just love Doris Day & Jim Garner! They are also in the movie “Move Over Darling” which is a remake of “My Favorite Wife”. I know of Carl Reiner mostly from “the Dick Van Dyke Show”. I really don’t know him for too many movies he was in.

Posted By Juana Maria : April 2, 2012 2:00 pm

Hey! I love the movie “the Thrill of It All” because of the really great actors,oh I just love Doris Day & Jim Garner! They are also in the movie “Move Over Darling” which is a remake of “My Favorite Wife”. I know of Carl Reiner mostly from “the Dick Van Dyke Show”. I really don’t know him for too many movies he was in.

Posted By Suzi : April 2, 2012 4:07 pm

Juana Maria: Reiner was not in too many movies until recently, when he began popping up as a character actor. He did appear as Alan Brady, the boss in the old Dick Van Dyke Show, but that was not often. Alan Brady tended to be talked about but not seen in that show. Reiner did write and/or direct a lot of movies in the 1980s you might be familiar with–from George Burns in Oh, God to Steve Martin in All of Me to the spoof of Fatal Attraction called Fatal Instinct.

I think both Thrill of It All and Move Over Darling are in TCM’s Doris Day line-up this week, which I am looking forward to. Love Doris.

Posted By Suzi : April 2, 2012 4:07 pm

Juana Maria: Reiner was not in too many movies until recently, when he began popping up as a character actor. He did appear as Alan Brady, the boss in the old Dick Van Dyke Show, but that was not often. Alan Brady tended to be talked about but not seen in that show. Reiner did write and/or direct a lot of movies in the 1980s you might be familiar with–from George Burns in Oh, God to Steve Martin in All of Me to the spoof of Fatal Attraction called Fatal Instinct.

I think both Thrill of It All and Move Over Darling are in TCM’s Doris Day line-up this week, which I am looking forward to. Love Doris.

Posted By michaelgloversmith : April 2, 2012 5:11 pm

I regrettably haven’t seen either of these films but I did just see THE JERK for the first time and was amazed at how funny it was. I need to fill in on Reiner.

Posted By michaelgloversmith : April 2, 2012 5:11 pm

I regrettably haven’t seen either of these films but I did just see THE JERK for the first time and was amazed at how funny it was. I need to fill in on Reiner.

Posted By Susan Doll : April 2, 2012 5:52 pm

Michael: If you haven’t seen DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID, I would highly recommend it. The integration of clips from old film-noirs and new footage with Steve Martin is hysterical. And, ALL OF ME with Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin is really interesting. From the old Sid Caesar clique, I think Mel Brooks’s premises for his films are funny in and of themselves, but Reiner is the better comedy director. (Of course Woody Allen is the stand-out from that group.)

Posted By Susan Doll : April 2, 2012 5:52 pm

Michael: If you haven’t seen DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID, I would highly recommend it. The integration of clips from old film-noirs and new footage with Steve Martin is hysterical. And, ALL OF ME with Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin is really interesting. From the old Sid Caesar clique, I think Mel Brooks’s premises for his films are funny in and of themselves, but Reiner is the better comedy director. (Of course Woody Allen is the stand-out from that group.)

Posted By tdraicer : April 2, 2012 7:56 pm

My favorite film with Reiner as an actor is The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, where he manages to play the straight man of the film while still being funny.

Posted By tdraicer : April 2, 2012 7:56 pm

My favorite film with Reiner as an actor is The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, where he manages to play the straight man of the film while still being funny.

Posted By jennifromrollamo : April 2, 2012 9:16 pm

I too, thought immediately of Reiner in The Russians Are Coming, which we have on dvd, from my late father-in-law’s movie library. I also really like the movie All of Me, but didn’t realize that Reiner directed it, or The Thrill of it All. I did hear of his birthday last week, and thought wow-90 years old.

Posted By jennifromrollamo : April 2, 2012 9:16 pm

I too, thought immediately of Reiner in The Russians Are Coming, which we have on dvd, from my late father-in-law’s movie library. I also really like the movie All of Me, but didn’t realize that Reiner directed it, or The Thrill of it All. I did hear of his birthday last week, and thought wow-90 years old.

Posted By dukeroberts : April 3, 2012 1:56 am

I loved Reiner’s appearances as Alan Brady. He seemed so egotistical, but hilarious. As for being a better comedy director than Mel Brooks? I offer The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein as a counter argument.

Posted By dukeroberts : April 3, 2012 1:56 am

I loved Reiner’s appearances as Alan Brady. He seemed so egotistical, but hilarious. As for being a better comedy director than Mel Brooks? I offer The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein as a counter argument.

Posted By Susan Doll : April 3, 2012 11:38 am

Dukeroberts: I know Brooks has had the more appealing and broader spoofs, like Saddles and Frankenstein, but he tends to structure his films like a series of comedy sketches (not surprising, considering his roots), so that the big jokes drive the film. Consequently, he is more uneven as a director: Some films flow better (The Producers) than others (Spaceballs). If you look at his weaker titles (Robin Hood: Men in Tights; History of the World, Part 1), you know what I mean. I think Reiner better integrates the jokes,gags, and bits into the whole narrative (as in All of Me, or The Jerk), so his films have a more consistent pacing. There is a sense of moving from a beginning, accelerating to the middle, and then hitting a high point at the end. I am not saying one is funnier than the other; it’s just technically, I think Reiner is the better FILM director while Brooks may be the better gag writer.

Posted By Susan Doll : April 3, 2012 11:38 am

Dukeroberts: I know Brooks has had the more appealing and broader spoofs, like Saddles and Frankenstein, but he tends to structure his films like a series of comedy sketches (not surprising, considering his roots), so that the big jokes drive the film. Consequently, he is more uneven as a director: Some films flow better (The Producers) than others (Spaceballs). If you look at his weaker titles (Robin Hood: Men in Tights; History of the World, Part 1), you know what I mean. I think Reiner better integrates the jokes,gags, and bits into the whole narrative (as in All of Me, or The Jerk), so his films have a more consistent pacing. There is a sense of moving from a beginning, accelerating to the middle, and then hitting a high point at the end. I am not saying one is funnier than the other; it’s just technically, I think Reiner is the better FILM director while Brooks may be the better gag writer.

Posted By Juana Maria : April 3, 2012 2:57 pm

I can’t imagine my childhood without the movie “the Jerk” in it. The scence where Steve Martin is leaving and he says:”Well I’m gonna go then!And I don’t need any of this,I need “you”.Except this.” Then he goes around picking up stuff, such as an ashtray and a red chair. That movie and “Dirty Rotten Scondrels” seemed to be on every weekend on our local TV stations when I was growing up. The quote is particularly funny to me because it reminds of how Peter Flak as Columbo says:”oh,just one more thing.” I love that. As for the other comedies you’ve mentioned they all are favorites of my older brother. He would watch “Robin Hood:Men in Tights” every time he could. I remember first watching it on a preview for Showtime or some cable channel we usually don’t get. Now,you can find it on ABCFamily from time to time. I think it’s bit mature for younger audiences. Maybe,on ABCFamily it is censored a bit. I don’t know.
I know it wasn’t on the other cable channel. I never have worried whether Reiner or Brooks is funnier,I just know comedy wouldn’t be the same without them. Thanks for the article.

Posted By Juana Maria : April 3, 2012 2:57 pm

I can’t imagine my childhood without the movie “the Jerk” in it. The scence where Steve Martin is leaving and he says:”Well I’m gonna go then!And I don’t need any of this,I need “you”.Except this.” Then he goes around picking up stuff, such as an ashtray and a red chair. That movie and “Dirty Rotten Scondrels” seemed to be on every weekend on our local TV stations when I was growing up. The quote is particularly funny to me because it reminds of how Peter Flak as Columbo says:”oh,just one more thing.” I love that. As for the other comedies you’ve mentioned they all are favorites of my older brother. He would watch “Robin Hood:Men in Tights” every time he could. I remember first watching it on a preview for Showtime or some cable channel we usually don’t get. Now,you can find it on ABCFamily from time to time. I think it’s bit mature for younger audiences. Maybe,on ABCFamily it is censored a bit. I don’t know.
I know it wasn’t on the other cable channel. I never have worried whether Reiner or Brooks is funnier,I just know comedy wouldn’t be the same without them. Thanks for the article.

Posted By DBenson : April 4, 2012 3:08 pm

Reiner’s “The Comic” is fascinating, if not completely successful. Dick Van Dyke plays a silent comedian, “Billy Bright”, whose talent is ultimately negated by ego, alcohol and unrepentant womanizing. He begins in Keystone-style antics and ends up a bitter old man, doing TV spots that evoke Buster Keaton’s low-ebb work. The silent films bits, if not absolutely convincing, are eons beyond Hollywood’s usual recreations in that they’re actually funny, making good use of vintage gags as well as Van Dyke’s talents.

In the last part of the film, Van Dyke plays Billy Bright as an old man (considerably more decrepit that Van Dyke himself is today). The makeup and raspy voice appear faintly modeled on Keaton (I remember an interview where Van Dyke jokingly but firmly insisted the old man was based on himself), and there are references — the drinking, the marital breakup, the commercial work, and a brief marriage to a young golddigger — that also point to a Keaton influence, although by the time “The Comic” was made Keaton had long since conquered his demons, married well and enjoyed public rediscovery. Perhaps Reiner and Van Dyke, both well-known admirers of Stan Laurel, were anxious to distance the unpleasant Billy Bright from their buddy Stan.

Posted By DBenson : April 4, 2012 3:08 pm

Reiner’s “The Comic” is fascinating, if not completely successful. Dick Van Dyke plays a silent comedian, “Billy Bright”, whose talent is ultimately negated by ego, alcohol and unrepentant womanizing. He begins in Keystone-style antics and ends up a bitter old man, doing TV spots that evoke Buster Keaton’s low-ebb work. The silent films bits, if not absolutely convincing, are eons beyond Hollywood’s usual recreations in that they’re actually funny, making good use of vintage gags as well as Van Dyke’s talents.

In the last part of the film, Van Dyke plays Billy Bright as an old man (considerably more decrepit that Van Dyke himself is today). The makeup and raspy voice appear faintly modeled on Keaton (I remember an interview where Van Dyke jokingly but firmly insisted the old man was based on himself), and there are references — the drinking, the marital breakup, the commercial work, and a brief marriage to a young golddigger — that also point to a Keaton influence, although by the time “The Comic” was made Keaton had long since conquered his demons, married well and enjoyed public rediscovery. Perhaps Reiner and Van Dyke, both well-known admirers of Stan Laurel, were anxious to distance the unpleasant Billy Bright from their buddy Stan.

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