Monday, May 28, 2007
MICKEY ROONEY IS A DIRTY ROTTEN S.O.B....
...at least he plays one on TV in this unforgettable drama THE COMEDIAN, broadcast "live" in 1957. I first got to see this show when PBS ran a treasure trove of vintage video dramas around 1982. Now twice as old as it was back then, THE COMEDIAN remains one of my absolute favorites for bravura acting and writing. Adapted by Rod Serling from a story by Ernest Lehman (THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS) and directed by John Frankenheimer in top form.
Mickey Rooney plays "Sammy Hogarth" a beloved TV comedian who is a fire-breathing a-hole in private life. When the cameras stop rolling he drops his benign mask and is a repulsive, bullying jerk; Rooney spares nothing and no one in the cast, least of all crooner Mel Torme, in an excellent turn as his spineless brother "Lester." World-weary gagwriter "Al Preston" (Edmund O'Brien) is the most humane character in the piece, but facing burnout he's secretly driven to steal material to keep his flagging career afloat. Lester catches on and the stakes rise when he threatens to ruin Sammy with the scandal. Imagine THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW re-written by Arthur Miller and you get the picture. It's a bit over-wrought at times, (all the career-ending fuss about plagiarism is hard to swallow given how rampant joke-stealing is among comics) but the dialog is often brilliant and the acting is amazing. If you haven't ever seen it, DO IT NOW. If you haven't seen it lately, see it again. It is currently available on a cheap multi-disc set called THE GOLDEN AGE OF TV DRAMA vol1.
It's worth noting that Billy Crystal's woefully disappointing film MR. SATURDAY NIGHT (1992) covers similar ground, so similar that it plays like a badly cribbed hybrid of THE COMEDIAN and Neil Simon's excellent THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975). Billy Crystal is a great comic actor but he's no Mickey Rooney; THE COMEDIAN is the one to see.