COLD TURKEY – (United Artists,1971) Blu Ray & DVD from Olive Films .102 min.Color. 1:85:1 aspect ratio. PG -13 subtitles: English optional
Blu Ray $29.95 DVD $14.95
While ALL IN THE FAMILY (CBS,1971-9) was struggling in the ratings to find it’s audience (and it really didn’t catch on until summer reruns before it became one of the most important social programs in television history ),about a month after that show’s premiere a wonderful dark comedy film by it’s creator Norman Lear was released theatrically . It’s biting humor and commentary seemed to connect with a certain portion of the population ,and it brought in about $11 million at the box office.
It was only when the film began turning up on television ,promoted as “By The Creator of ALL IN THE FAMILY” that a much audience began to truly discover this film.
A little history for the young ‘uns –
For decades, smoking was considered an acceptable social behavior. People smoked everywhere- restaurants, theatres ,mass transit , the office, and of course at home. Even in hospitals, there was smoking allowed in certain areas.
Then, on January 11, 1964, Luther L. Terry, M.D., Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service, released the first report of the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health. It concluded cigarettes were cause of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men, a Probable (?) cause of lung cancer in women , and the major cause of chronic bronchitis.
The tobacco industry poured money into their lobbying efforts, as well as millions into creating iconic characters that showed that smoking was “cool”. Of course ,there was the image of the rugged Marlboro Man, a character first created in 1954 and lasting until 1999. Mind you , at least four of the portrayers of this western figure died from smoking caused illnesses .In fact, actor Wayne McLaren after his stint as the character spent his last years in anti smoking campaigns until his death from lung cancer in 1992 at the age of 51. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Or0Kteya0ps
Still, the addictive nature had people dig in their heels and refused to allow facts get in the way of the puffs of pleasure.
Norman Lear saw this ,and his knowledge of people as well as of corporate greed helped him create this film. Based upon the unpublished novel, “I’M GIVING THEM UP FOR GOOD” by Margaret and Neil Rau ,Lear and journalist/novelist William Price Fox created a wonderful madcap satire screenplay that sends up Middle America and corporate greed.
In the film , Merwyn Wren (Bob Newhart )is the wunderkid who thinks he will turn the tide against anti smoking by offering twenty five million dollars to any town that will go cold turkey and quit smoking for one month. The town of Eagle Rock ,Iowa, leaps at the chance at financial redemption that money will offer. Since the local military base was closed, businesses have been in a slump.
Reverend Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke ) sees this as a chance to save the town, as well as his status within his ministry. He must convince everyone to sign the one month promise, for if anyone takes a single cigarette puff, the town loses. This is not as easy as he thinks, because it seems nearly everyone in town has taken up smoking to deal with their daily lives, Clayton and his wife (Pippa Scott )included.
The film seems rather timely when a Tea Party like group (led by Graham Jarvis , and including a foul mouth old lady (Judith Lowry)who seeks commies everywhere)) decide they will patrol the town and prevent any contraband being brought in.
Lear presents the dark underbelly of society, where everyone seems to live in a perfect Middle America but it is only a thin veneer covering underlying desperation . but does so in a funny way with his sharp insights .
The superb cast make all the characters shine and keep our interest in the story .
The town drunk (Tom Poston) chooses to leave rather than be in a town without smokes.
A silent Edward Everett Horton as a wheel chair bound ,flatulent senior tobacco company owner Hiram C. Grayson (Horton’s last screen role, he passed away before the film was released. Supposedly, his character is the first one to ever fart on screen,a dubious honor to be sure).
Barnard Hughes is fantastic as smoke addicted Dr Proctor, who nearly brings the whole affair down, even holding off his fellow townsfolk at one point while trying to light up in an operating room.
Lear seemed to be picked people from this cast to be in his future tv series from this cast, as Vincent Gardenia appears as the town’s flustered mayor, Paul Benedict as a Zen Master, and Jean Stapleton as Mrs Wappler, frustrated with gaining weight due to her cessation of smoking .
Back in the 1970s, people looked up to and trusted the news media ,with the likes of anchormen like Walter Cronkite and Huntley & Brinkley. The brilliant Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding (the comedy team of Bob and Ray) appear throughout and do superb mimicry of those well admired journalists (when Ray appears as Walter Chronic, there is actually a halo above his head ,thanks to a circular light on the ceiling).
Dick Van Dyke is great in the lead role, trying to hold the town together. Pippa Scott ,his loving if overlooked wife, finds that her husband’s libido has increased due to improved breathing without their smokes. One of my favorite moments is when she is getting dressed, sees her husband approaching and starts undressing with a sort of ‘close your eyes and think of England” resignation.
The cigarette companies all get together and basically tell Wren that if he doesn’t get the town smoking before the deadline then he will be out of work, he tries harder and harder to get someone to light up. The film at the end even gets some digs in at the unpopular Richard Nixon without naming him directly.
The film boasts the first score by Randy Newman, including a song “He Gave Us All His Love” that Newman would redo on his 1972 album ‘Sail Away”.
Cinematographer Charles F Wheeler uses a lot of natural lighting on the Ohio locations ,and it gives us that Norman Rockwell look that the film is parodying.
MGM had released the film on VHS and DVD previously in full frame releases but now OLIVE FILMS has cleaned it up and released a nice ,though no frills Blu Ray release of this comic satire.
The picture is presented in 1:85:1 widescreen with a much cleaner and sharper image than had been previously available. The print doesn’t seem to have been given an upgrade , as there are some shots that look a bit muddy, but that may be found in the actual print.
The DTS-HD mono sound is fine ,and this film really doesn’t have need for any stereo remixing. The dialogue ,music and sound effects are clean and do not overpower each other.
There are subtitles for the hearing impaired an optional English subtitle function ,that follows the action and dialogue quite well, and is easy to read.
The disc is Region A only.
Sadly , there are no extras. One wishes that Dick Van Dyke and/or Norman Lear himself had been brought in to talk about their experiences of making this film.
There are some wonderful clips that they could have used but perhaps the rights were too prohibitively expensive .
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmJFGnPoJBg behind the scenes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C27kVPTQk5M 30th anniversary
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ln-5i30ml9M Dick Van Dyke in some 8mm home movies, using the Newman song.
However, do not let that discourage you from picking up this wonderful comedy .
Olive Films is to be commended for bringing us this little gem.
Kevin G Shinnick
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