Friday, 27 January 2012

MR. WARMTH: THE DON RICKLES PROJECT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Filmmaker John Landis renders a loving documentary portrait of a true American original!

Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007)
dir. John Landis
Starring: Don Rickles, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Robin Williams, Robin Williams, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock, Harry Dean Stanton, Roseanne Barr, Steve Lawrence, Sidney Poitier, Regis Philbin, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Jay Leno, Ed McMahon, Debbie Reynolds, Ernest Borgnine, Larry King, Roger Corman, Joan Rivers, Jimmy Kimmel, Jack Carter, Carl Reiner, Tom and Dick Smothers, Frankie Avalon


By Greg Klymkiw

Anyone who doesn't find Don Rickles funny has no sense of humour. No, let me rephrase that. Anyone who has never had at least one moment in their life when they soiled themselves from laughing so hard at Don Rickles has no sense of humour. End of story. No argument. Yeah, yeah. Humour is a matter of taste. Tell it to your, Mama, sissy-pants. If Rickles has never inflicted you with joyful incontinence, your taste is shoved so deep up your rectum it's no wonder you're perpetually constipated.

Throughout my childhood, Rickles was a ubiquitous presence. I don't think a day passed when he wasn't popping up on television or in the movies. Every 60s and 70s sitcom worth its salt had a Rickles guest appearance - The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle, The Munsters, The Beverly Hillbillies - the list seems endless. Talk shows, variety shows, awards shows and specials like the famous Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson always featured Rickles prominently. And the movies - Oh, the movies! It felt like Rickles was in all of them (and if he wasn't, he should have been) - serious war dramas like Run Silent Run Deep, not-so-serious war comedies like Kelly's Heroes (where he played "Sgt. Crapgame" opposite Clint Eastwood), Roger Corman's brilliant X - The Man With The X-Ray Eyes and one Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello Beach Party picture after another.

Rickles made me laugh harder than any comedian then or now. He was the wise-cracking, wise-acre master of insults. Nobody was left unscathed - neither celebrity nor audience member. No race, creed or religion (including self-effacingly his own) escaped his witty barbs. He was relentless - infused with charges of mega-wattage. He was fast, furious and unmistakably an original.

He started as a standup comic in the late 30s - often playing dives and strip clubs. After serving in the Navy, he studied acting - his classmates included the likes of Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe and Jason Robards. His movie career took off in the late 50s and in the early 60s, he took Las Vegas by storm.

He's 85-years-old and he hasn't stopped performing.

His live shows are, of course, the stuff of legend and he successfully managed to keep them from ever being filmed. Happily, for those of us who have never seen him live, he was finally convinced to let the cameras capture his mad genius onstage.

Thank Christ, it was filmmaker (and Rickles fan) John Landis who not only convinced Rickles to expose himself for the feature-length HBO special Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project, but directed it as well. Landis has made some of the funniest movies of all time - American Werewolf in London, Coming to America, Trading Places, The Blues Brothers, Three Amigos, National Lampoon's Animal House and The Kentucky Fried Movie. Landis, is first and foremost a filmmaker with a style and voice all his own and he attacks this documentary about America's most beloved caustic wit with both zeal and artistry.

Landis delivers everything a good documentary needs - we get personal anecdotes, the sweep and arc of Rickles' life and most importantly, we get a sense of Rickles on and off stage. We see his kindness, tenderness, love and humanity. This is no warts-and-all portrait. There are no warts. And even if there are, we don't want to see them. In fact, if they exist at all and Landis exposed them, neither he, nor we would believe it.

Rickles is a mensch!

And, of course, a comic genius.

We not only get plenty of phenomenal Rickles concert footage, but gorgeously shot and composed talking heads interview footage as well as skilfully selected and blended archival footage. Rickles isn't only hilarious in the standup routines Landis captures, but in the intimate interviews.

And, of course, we get every star under the sun who has ever worked with and/or admired Rickles to speak about him.

Most amusing of all is how Landis and his subjects all seem obsessed with nailing why Rickles is so special. Brilliantly, the film is ultimately about how none of them hit the nail on the head - that it's Rickles himself who provides the answers. That said, the smorgasbord of stars called upon to extol and examine Rickles, are often funny, entertaining and insightful.

The two best interview subjects are director Martin Scorsese (who comes closest to nailing why Rickles is brilliant) and actor James Caan who reveals that the driving force for his performance as the hotheaded Sonny in The Godfather was by finding his "inner Rickles".

What emerges is a portrait of a comedian who not only entertains, but has inspired more than one generation of comedians, actors, directors and other show business types.

Finally, it's Rickles himself - through his routines and interviews - who reveals what makes him click. Rickles uses insults so ferociously that what finally allows them to be funny (and offensive in all the best ways) is that he's just kidding - not in that disingenuous "Hey, just kidding, folks" fashion, but because he's clearly having so much fun himself.

And the fun is infectious. His audiences feed off this energy and fuel him further with their laughs.

Rickles' barbs are not laced with hatred, but with joy and understanding of human foibles and frailty.

Most of all, though, Landis does prove that the Rickles "Mr. Warmth" monicker is not just an ironic twist on the basis of his humour, but that he's a good person - a loving husband, father and grandfather, a loyal friend and a genuinely fine human being.

And yes, he's warm.

But when Rickles is performing, he's hot!

"Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project" is available on a terrific two-disc DVD from Video Service Corp. (VSC). We get Landis' film on Disc 1 and on Disc 2, we get a tremendous pot-pourri of outtakes including Landis directing Robert DeNiro to say what he wants him to say, James Caan telling a knee-slapping John Wayne story and more Scorsese than you can shake a stick at.