Tag Archives: Dick Van Dyke

Divorce American Style (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple can’t get along.

Richard and Barbara Harmon (Dick Van Dyke, Debbie Reynolds) appear to have the perfect life living in a sprawling suburban home with two kids, a good job and paid housekeepers, but underneath the facade their unhappy. Neither of them can communicate with the other, so they decide to see a marriage counselor (Martin Gabel), but this just makes things worse. Eventually they get a divorce, but the alimony and child support are so high that Richard is forced to move into a small 1-bedroom apartment and drive around in an old beat-up car. Barbara begins dating an affluent car salesman (Van Johnson) but both find that, despite all their squabbles, the more they’re apart the more they miss each other.

The script was written by Norman Lear who went on to produce the ground-breaking TV-series ‘All in the Family’, but the edge from that one is completely lacking here. I’m not sure if it was the time period this film was made in and what the studios perceived the public was willing to accept, but the satire is mild to non-existent and becomes boring quite quickly. The subject of divorce is handled in such a sanitized way that it barely even touches the surface and in many ways this thing comes off more like a romantic comedy with divorce being only a side-story.

The two leads are incredibly bland. Van Dyke again just seems to be channeling his Rob Petrie character and seemingly unable to play any variation from that. While his squeaky clean image may have made him likable on TV it makes him quite dull and one-dimensional on film. Reynolds fares better, but as a couple there’s nothing unique or interesting about them and the issues that they fight about, which is mainly the fact that they can’t ‘communicate’, comes off as generic and pointless.

The supporting cast are far more engaging. Joe Flynn, who has no problems paying or sex with prostitutes and does not feel it’s cheating because it’s ‘not romantic’ and his wife, played by Emmaline Henry, who wouldn’t go back home to an unfaithful husband even if he ‘hanged himself’ have the type of edge that could’ve made this film far funnier and more memorable had they been made the stars. Even Jason Robards and Jean Simmons have potential playing a divorced couple where the wife still lives in affluence while the husband due to his high alimony and child support lives in the dumps, but dates a pregnant woman (played by Eileen Brennan in her film debut) anyways.

The comedic tone is inconsistent. At times it conveys a surreal flair like having an orchestra conductor come out at the beginning and pretend to direct the voices of all the arguing couples in the neighborhood like there’s a musical quality to it. Having the kids keep a scorecard to their parents fighting is funny too, but these segments get interspersed with long talky moments that drags the whole movie down and things would’ve worked better had it started out right away with the couple already divorced instead of spending the first hour dealing with their protracted arguing.

The anemic insights that it does make about divorce come off as dated and wholly out-of-touch with today’s realities. A modern day divorced couple will most likely find nothing relatable with the story. Tacking on a pseudo happy ending just adds further insult to the topic by making it seem like all marital disagreements can somehow be ‘worked out’ coming off like it was written and produced by those who really hadn’t dealt with divorce issues in their real lives and did very little research on it.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 21, 1967

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Runner Stumbles (1979)

the runner stumbles 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Priest accused of murder.

Based on actual events the setting is 1911 in a northern Michigan town where Father Brian Rivard (Dick Van Dyke) presides over a small Catholic parish. He feels frustrated at being stuck in such a depressed town where many of the residents are out of work. In comes Sister Rita (Kathleen Quinlan) to help run the school and the Father immediately takes a liking to her youthful enthusiasm and fresh ideas, but gossip and rumors soon abound when it is found that they are spending too much time together and possibly becoming intimate. When the Sister is found murdered it is the Father who is accused and must fight for his life while straddled with an attorney (Beau Bridges) who seems glib and detached.

One of the biggest problems with the film is the miscasting of Van Dyke in the lead. His performance is stiff, wooden and affected. The chemistry between the two stars is non-existent making the romantic angle seem completely unbelievable. The film would have been better served had a younger man that was more Quinlan’s age and trained in method acting been cast in the part.

Quinlan is excellent in her role, but her efforts become lost as they bounce off Van Dyke’s almost corpse-like presence. Maureen Stapleton adds some excellent support and it’s great to see Ray Bolger in his final film role as the intrusive Monsignor. Bridges is also great as the lawyer and the one thing that livens the film up a little. Had his court scenes been more extended it would have helped the picture immensely.

Director Stanley Kramer, whose last film this was, seems to have lost touch with the modern movie goer. The presentation is stagy and the overly melodic soundtrack does not fit the mood and gets overplayed almost like a radio going on in the background that somebody forgot to turn off. The conversations revolving around the predictably stifling atmosphere of the era add little interest and go on too long as do the debates between giving in to human desires versus religious commitments. The surprise ending hardly makes up for a film that is slow and boring and ultimately making it as stale and stagnant as the small town it tries to portray.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stanley Kramer

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

The Art of Love (1965)

art of love

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Artist fakes his death.

Paul (Dick Van Dyke) is a struggling painter living in Paris who has not been able to make any money with his paintings and feels ready to give up and move back to the states. Casey (James Garner) is his roommate and best friend who tries to convince him to stay by coming up with a scheme where Paul fakes his death by jumping off a bridge and committing suicide, which should bolster the value of his paintings based on the concept that an artist’s work becomes more sought after once they are dead. The plan works, but it forces Paul to go into hiding and allows Casey to make a play at Paul’s fiancée Laurie (Angie Dickinson). When Paul finds out about this he confronts Casey and then things get really zany.

Carl Reiner’s script is trite to the extreme and although it moves at a brisk pace it is not very funny, or even passably amusing. The concept of an artist having to die in order to get his work to sell is an interesting idea to explore, but unfortunately like everything else in the film it is handled in a superficial way and used mainly as a springboard to all sorts of other wild scenarios that become increasingly sillier as it goes along.  Norman Jewison’s direction is dull and unimaginative and despite the fact that it has a European setting it was actually filmed on a Universal studios back-lot, which doesn’t help give it any atmosphere or distinction.

Van Dyke’s character is unrealistically ‘goody-goody’ and clean-cut.  He comes into contact with Nikki (Elke Sommer) a beautiful blonde woman who shows a strong interest in Paul, but he immediately and rigidly rebuffs her like he has no sex drive at all. The comic schtick that he does here is the same stuff we’ve seen him do hundreds of times before and he basically becomes Rob Petrie again simply transplanted into a European setting.

Although he has less comic opportunity Garner is clearly the better actor and has much more of a screen presence. It is easy to see why he continued to get choice movie roles for decades to come while Van Dyke became permanently demoted back to television.

Sommer is wasted in a transparent role. Dickinson, who three years later co-starred with Van Dyke in Some Kind of a Nut is equally forgettable and her constant propensity at fainting becomes increasingly more unfunny the more it occurs.

Ethel Merman makes the most of her role despite its limitations, but every time she speaks she seems to be shouting. Reiner is probably the most amusing out of all the characters in a brief bit as Garner’s shyster lawyer.

I wish I could tell you that there was at least one truly funny moment here, but there really isn’t. The humor is flat and dated and no better than a poor TV-sitcom and in many ways even worse.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.