Monday, May 28, 2007

MICKEY ROONEY IS A DIRTY ROTTEN S.O.B.... 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 TWILIGHT ZONE 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 (Now on HULU as of 2010).

It's worth noting that Billy Crystal's disappointing film MR. SATURDAY NIGHT (1992) covers similar ground, so similar that it plays like a hybrid of THE COMEDIAN and Neil Simon's THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975). Billy Crystal is a great comic actor but Mickey Rooney in THE COMEDIAN is the one to see.


RFarmiloe said...


THANK GOD you picked this piece as one of your earliest posts! Not only is this one of television's greatest's also one of the greatest dramas to EVER to cover the dark side of showbiz. Rooney was beyond fantastic in this. It's probably his VERT best work on ANY stage. For many years you and I have been quoting this show.....NOW people might know what we are referencing instead of rolling their eyes and nodding politely. I hope everyone will make the effort to check this wonderful production out. They TRULY don't make them like this anymore. I look forward to when you post your entry on Rooney's role as "Cockeye" from THE COMIC w/ Dick Van Dyke.....or am I asking too much...??? Great job!!

"Lester.....gettin' a little chilly in here!"

Will Finn said...

Rick-- If we've ever talked longer than 3 minutes without quoting this piece I don't recall it. I'll never forget when we saw this screened at the DGA and Mick' and Frankenheimer and even Lehman were all there! Lehman was so funny--he practically apologized for writing something so vicious and couldn't for the life of him remember why he did! Then Mel Tolkin stood up in the audience and insisted it was based on Berle but Lehman wouldn't hear it--heehehehee! I know for you and me this ol' world would be a hollower place without Sammy Hogarth and his "Comicular" pals.

David Nethery said...

I'm going to seek this one out . I love every film that was made from an Ernest Lehman script :
Sweet Smell of Success, North By Northwest, Sabrina, and yes, I'll admit it : The Sound of Music.

(well, ok, I'll also admit I dislike the film version of Hello Dolly , screenplay by the good Mr. Lehman.)