By Richard Winters
My Rating: 2 out of 10
4-Word Review: Acting is his dream.
Loosely based on writer/director Carl Reiner’s experiences as a fledgling actor trying to work his way up into the business circa 1938. The story centers on David Kolowitz (Reni Santoni) who works as an apprentice at a machine repair shop, but dreams of one day making a living as a stage actor. He gets his break when he auditions for a part in a low budget stage production run by an aging, alcoholic actor named Harrison Marlowe (Jose Ferrer). Marlowe is not impressed with David’s acting ability, which is marginal at best, but at the insistence of his daughter Angela (Elaine May), who thinks David is ‘cute’, he decides to give him a try under the condition that David must pay them to perform in it and also must come up with his own costume.
Although this was a big success on Broadway as a film is has not aged well and is quite bland. The story is better suited as an episode for a sitcom and stretching out such a thin one-dimensional plot to an almost two-hour runtime becomes quite boring particularly with its plodding pace and direction. The only time it ever gets even mildly funny is during David’s audition scene, but even this ultimately falls flat particularly with the idea that David would be dumb enough to think that words in a script that are in parenthesis would be part of the dialogue and not a stage direction. You would think someone who has spent his entire life dreaming of being ‘the next Ronald Coleman’, who was a big movie star during the ‘30s, would know how a basic script is constructed and therefore this attempt at humor fails.
Santoni, in his first major film role, is terrific and despite being of Hispanic heritage, which Reiner is not, still manages to resemble Carl quite well during Reiner’s younger years. However, the character is too painfully naïve and dumb as he clumsily walks himself into messy situations long after the viewer, or anyone else with some common sense, would clearly see the obvious red flags.
Janet Margolin is beautiful playing David’s girlfriend Wanda and her presence gets an ‘A’ simply for her attractive face alone, but the romantic scenes do nothing but bog this already slow moving film down even further. Also, having David be so oblivious to her insecurities about him working with an attractive leading lady onstage makes him seem insensitive and not funny as intended.
Elaine May is good and so is Jack Gilford as David’s boss at the repair shop. It’s also fun seeing Carl’s real-life son, Rob Reiner, who later became famous for playing Mike Stivic on ‘All in the Family, making his film debut as a nerdy, would-be actor, but overall the film is dated and contrived.
My Rating: 2 out of 10
Released: February 25, 1967
Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes
Director: Carl Reiner
Studio: Columbia Pictures