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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on July 15, 2001
I have read reviews of this film both here and on other movies sites and have never come across such a mixed bag of opinons! Everything from a misguided interpetation that it's based on the life of Buster Keaton (which it is not!) to a review here of scenes that will haunt you (which they will). I also saw this film in the 70's and have been lucky enough to catch it again 15 years ago.
Van Dyke and Rooney do it and do it well. Some of the best scenes are the Comics' later years. The closing scene you will never forget, it has haunted me since the first time I saw this movie.
For those of you who can buy it over there, get it, you won't regret it. Unfortunately it just isn't available down here. Believe me I have searched high and low for years.
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on March 18, 2014
For decades "The Comic" was something of a lost film, unavailable in home format, and only seen when it happened to show up on television. The fact that it is now available is cause for rejoicing. When it was first released in 1969, "The Comic" did not do that well. It might have been a little ahead of its time, or it might simply be a case of writer/director Carl Reiner and star Dick Van Dyke offering people what they were not expecting. Having recently come off of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," audiences would be excused for thinking that the re-teaming of Reiner and Van Dyke in a picture about the early days of Hollywood would be a gag-filled romp. And it is, sort of. The recreations of silent films are wonderfully done, with Van Dyke proving that he could have thrived alongside Keaton and Lloyd and Laurel. But "The Comic" is not really a comedy; it's the often tragic story of a silent film comedian named Billy Bright who is his own worst enemy (the character borrows a little from Laurel, a little from Keaton, and a lot more from Harry Langdon), so much so that he destroys his career through his unawareness, ego, and penchant for blaming everyone else for his problems. His lifelong devoted friend is cross-eyed fellow comedian, "Cockeye" Van Buren, beautifully played by Mickey Rooney, and his former movie-star wife is played by Michelle Lee. Reiner himself shows up, unbilled, in a small but key role as Billy's agent, and a host of Hollywood pros--Cornell Wilde, Pert Kelton, Fritz Feld, and Jerome Cowan--pop in for cameos. The great Mantan Moreland is on hand briefly to prove that even in old age he was still capable of plucking laughs out of thin air through his inimitable timing. But it is Van Dyke's movie. While his physical comedy shtick is flawless, this is essentially a dramatic performance, and as such it is shattering, particularly the scenes in which Billy Bright devolves into an out-of-control drunk. Van Dyke also convincingly ages into an old man--not the burlesque old man of "Mary Poppins," but a realistic old man. This is without a doubt the actor's best performance ever, which is saying a lot, though I think audiences of the time might not have been ready for Dick Van Dyke who could break their hearts as well as tickle their ribs. Had this film been made after Van Dyke had proven himself as a dramatic actor in the mid-1970s, it probably would be heralded as a modern classic, which is what it deserves to be.
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on January 10, 2014
Loved this movie ever since I first saw it 40 years ago. It's both funny and sad . A brilliant comic who lets selfishness and alcohol destroy his marriage and career . The story was based on a number of silent film comedians. I think it's the best thing Dick van Dyke ever did . Mickey Rooney is perfect as his fellow actor and only friend. This film has the most poignant final scene of any comedy ever made.
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on May 11, 2014
As a longtime fan of classic comedians, I've always had a soft spot for this funny-tragic film about a fictional funnyman from the silent movie era. Unfortunately, the movie didn't do as well as it should have on its initial 1969 release, in spite of a strong cast in the wonderful Dick Van Dyke, Michele Lee and Mickey Rooney. Perhaps, amidst the atmosphere of the Vietnam War and political unrest, a story about an up-then-down movie clown just didn't interest moviegoers. Perhaps the title character of Billy Bright was a bit too anti-heroic or enigmatic that audiences weren't sure whether to like him or hate him. Perhaps the project was more closer to director Carl Reiner (seen briefly as a loud, pushy agent) or Van Dyke, the latter a big fan of such greats as Laurel & Hardy and Buster Keaton, than to audiences. Whatever the reason, although this is a fictionalized tale of the world of early film comedy, there's much truth reflected here of real life stories: how clowns mask their heartaches, their egos (inflexibility) concerning their artistry, their own self-loathing leading to alcoholism, divorce and poverty.
Beginning with that wonderful opening credit of a tin wind-up Billy Bright doll walking around & falling down (symbolic of what's to come), the film follows stage comic Bright's transition from stage to films, his tumultuous marriage to leading lady Mary Gibson (Lee), his lifelong friendship with Ben Turpin doppelganger/sidekick "Cock-eye" (Rooney), and his fall from grace into a bitter old man who doesn't understand how things went so wrong in his life. Bright is a character who seems to find fault all around but within himself. Bright's voiceovers at his own funeral are darkly funny & surprisingly outrageous (Bright's last request of slamming a pie in the face of the studio head is priceless). His TV commercial comeback in present day (a reflection of Keaton? The racial in-joke of Isabel Sanford presenting "Whitee Wash" is a hoot) and the absurd chapter of Bright being manipulated by a scheming fiancé not even half his age & her brash Mom are funny moments. But the really magical moments come when Van Dyke shows his true comic gifts in those flickering black & white silent comedies.
The truly sad moment is saved for that final scene of an elderly Bright watching his classic silent feature "Forget-Me-Not" on TV, his eyes welling with tears. It's a powerful & haunting image.
Definitely one of my favorites!
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on July 16, 2001
A memorable composite biopic about a silent film comedy star who has trouble handling success, and then falls afoul of the advent of sound. The film quotes scenes from other famous movies. For example, the main character voices-over his own funeral, a la _Sunset Boulevard_. But it is a memorable production for its own sake. We follow the comic from success straining his marriage, to his star on the wane, to attempts at a comeback, until we leave him as a pathetic wreck, old and full of regrets, watching one of his old films on late night TV. Affecting stuff...
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on August 8, 2014
I was very disappointed in the film THE COMIC. It displayed a one-note performance by Dick Van Dyke in what should have been a tour de force. Not enough of Michele Lee, who brightened every frame that she was in. The performance that stood out was Mickey Rooney. This showed what a gem the late Mr. Rooney was. By the way, the DVD is in 16:9 widescreen, not 1.33:1.
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VINE VOICEon January 3, 2011
"The Comic" stars Dick van Dyke, Michelle Lee, and Mickey Rooney. Don't be misled by the Amazon listing that mentions Steve Allen and Jerome Cowan. Steve Allen does make an appearance (as himself) and Jerome Cowan has a small part as Lawrence, in what was to be his last film, but they shouldn't be listed as the main performers.

The role of silent film funny man Billy Bright is Dick van Dyke's (1925) finest performance, and that's saying a lot for an actor who has 9 Emmy nominations and 4 wins for his "Dick van Dyke Show" (1961-6) and a Golden Globe nomination for "Mary Poppins" (1964). "The Comic" comes at the end of van Dyke's brief hiatus from TV - when his series ended in 1966 he made 7 films in the next 4 years (including this one and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang") and then returned to the small screen.

Billy Bright is an amalgam of several silent film comedians, including van Dyke's idol, Stan Laurel, Buster Keaton (the alcoholism), Harold Lloyd (who often appeared with his wife), Harry Langdon (the hat), and Charlie Chaplin (the womanizing). While Billy's mannerisms and facial expressions resemble Stan Laurel the most, there are bits and pieces from films of all the famous silent stars.

FWIW - In his autobiography Rooney said he thought the film was about Buster Keaton.

Michele Lee (1942) plays van Dyke's leading lady and wife. She is best known for her work on "Knott's Landing" for which she received an Emmy nomination in 1979 and won 4 Soap Opera Digest Awards. "The Comic" was her third film, following a very successful debut in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" (1967), but like van Dyke, she returned to TV after this film and has stayed there ever since. Lee does an excellent job as van Dyke's love interest, although I have to say she bears such an uncanny resemblance to Mary Tyler Moore (van Dyke's TV wife) that it is a little disconcerting.

The great Mickey Rooney (1920) plays van Dyke's sidekick, "Cockeye" (probably a homage to Ben Turpin). Rooney made nearly 300 films from 1926 to 2010. He was a major star of the silent era with his "Mickey's" shorts and then went on to save MGM with his "Andy Hardy" series and his films with Judy Garland. He won a Juvenile Oscar in 1939 and went on to garner 4 Oscar nominations. He was nominated 3 times for an Emmy and won once ("Bill" in 1981). Rooney is terrific in this film.

Cornel Wilde (1912-89) plays the director. Wilde appeared in more than 50 films and was nominated for his work in "A Song to Remember" (1945). He's probably best known for his work as the Great Sebastian in "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952) but I think his best work was in "The Naked Prey" (1966), a film he also directed and produced.

Carl Reiner (1922) produced and directed. Reiner collected 13 Emmy nominations and 8 wins for TV series such as "Your Show of Shows", "Caesar's Hour", and "The Dick van Dyke Show". His work in films is not as well recognized, with bombs such as "Going Ape" (1970), "The Man with Two Brains" (1983), "Summer School", etc. I remember him best as an actor in the Sid Caesar shows and as the straight man in the "2000 Year old Man" skits with Mel Brooks (for which they won a Grammy in 2000).

All of Reiner's awards are for acting and writing, and, IMHO, his work as a director is clearly the lesser of his considerable abilities. If the film has a fault, it is in this area, where there are some obvious lag periods.

In 1969 "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" was the big box office king, followed by "The Shoot Horses Don't They?", "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", "Midnight Cowboy", and "Easy Rider". "True Grit" and "The Wild Bunch" rounded off the top 10. So it was a great year for westerns. The big Oscar winner was "Midnight Cowboy" (Picture, Director) and John Wayne won his only Oscar for "True Grit". Other notable films that year were "Hello Dolly", "Once Upon a Time in the West", "Putney Swope" and "Z". Comedy westerns were in vogue with "The Good Guys and the Bad Guys", "Support Your Local Sheriff" and "Paint Your Wagon".

Pauline Kael in The New Yorker said the film had a "true manic feeling" and praised Rooney who "creates a character out of almost nothing and lives it on the screen so convincingly". She criticized Reiner's direction and says "his movies are as thin as skits"

This is truly a great film. On the one hand you have the marvelously funny skits by van Dyke, Rooney, and crew, and around this you have the tragic story of Billy Bright.

BTW - Here's what the great silent film stars were doing the year "The Comic" came out -

* Buster Keaton - died in 1966. Last film "A Funny Thing Happened..." (1966)
* Charlie Chaplin- died in 1977. Last film `A Countess from Hong Long" (1967)
* Stan Laurel - died in 1965. Last film "Atoll K" (1951)
* Oliver Hardy - died in 1957. Last film "Atoll K" (1951)
* Harold Lloyd - died 1971. Last film "The Sin of Harold Diddlebock" (1947)
* Harry Langdon - died in 1944. Last film "Swingin' on a Rainbow" (1945)
* Ben Turpin - died 1940. Last film "Saps at Sea" (1940)

This is definitely a film to see for anyone who likes to laugh. In addition, there are some fine performances, and it's very interesting to see what filmmaking was like in the silent era.
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on February 18, 1999
I saw this film back in the 70's and i could not get it out of my mind. Without a doubt the best work Van Dyke has done. He and Reiner sculpt a film of unforgettable honesty & humor. This is a soft spoken study of humanity. I'd compare "The Comic" to "Chaplin" but for me more memorable in it's simplicity. About a silent film star forgotten with the years "The Comic" also creeps into film history "silently" as a Classic.
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on February 28, 2012
Recently I met Dick Van Dyke and asked him when they were going to release this film on dvd. He said he didn't know. The next person to ask would be Carl Reiner and plead with him to get Van Dyke and he to do commentary throughout the movie. There are probably a lot of stories behind making this film -- as well as some of the outtakes Van Dyke mentions briefly in his biography. if you're a fan of this film and can get a hold of Reiner, ask him to release this film already.
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on September 12, 2010
For years I made do with an old VHS copy of "The Comic," while I looked for a DVD version. Then I finally found it...but not here. Do a search in the DVD section of eBay. It's a no-region edition that they obviously get from foreign sources. I don't believe it's ever been out on DVD in the U.S. This DVD is not remastered, and is not quite as bright as the tape, but it's DVD-sharp and it plays just fine. "The Comic" is an underrated, neglected minor masterpiece. It is without a doubt the best acting Dick Van Dyke has ever done. If the ending doesn't bring a tear to your eye, you have no heart. This movie deserves a top-quality domestic DVD release. Until then, be aware that a DVD version does exist.
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