Friday, August 26, 2016

Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project

Martin Scorsese doubled over in laughter.  That would be my favorite moment during MR. WARMTH: THE DON RICKLES PROJECT.  The director is recalling his time working with the comedian on CASINO, and also when Rickles castigated him on The Tonight Show for allegedly ruining his career.  I've seen Marty smiling and laughing before, but he is positively giddy here.  Clint Eastwood, who worked with Rickles on KELLY'S HEROES, also can't help but smile when he speaks of Mr. Warmth.

Another collaborator on that old movie was John Landis, who directs this entertaining 2007 documentary.  Although, it would be merely a bit part (his first) playing a character called Sister Rosa Stigmata.  Landis got to meet Rickles during that shoot and many years later would direct him in the horror comedy INNOCENT BLOOD.  Harry Dean Stanton also worked on KELLY'S HEROES and even sings for Landis from a booth at Dan Tana's.  The other interviewees - an impressive list of comedians, actors, directors, singers, talk show hosts, family members, and handlers - provide enjoyable anecdotes about the guy who insults everybody.  Ethnicity, gender, waist size, no one is spared.  A few rare clips of Rickles' current act are featured, giving a glimpse of his old school, wildly un-PC brand of humor he'd been doing for decades.

Regarding that, many viewers might be taken aback at Rickles' material.  Describing it in print may create Rickles as a mean spirited old sprite, but it doesn't (or perhaps shouldn't) take you long to see that the ribbing is essentially gentle, an effort to get folks to loosen up and laugh at themselves.   Not everyone will take it that way, of course, but contrast Rickles' shtick with some later comedians.  Yes, I'm looking at you Eddie Murphy. Andrew Dice Clay.  Even you, Michael Richards.  There is a considerable difference between good natured kidding and out and out hateful denigration of certain groups.  Clips of the old Dean Martin Roast specials show a lamentably bygone style of comedy, one where maybe feelings were occasionally bruised but in the end everyone seemed to be having fun, to not be captive to their egos (even Frank Sinatra, a frequent Rickles target).

That includes Rickles.  He always pokes fun at himself. That's the key.  Just like Rodney Dangerfield and Buddy Hackett and all those old guys. The newer comics are so guarded and defensive. Able to dish it out and know.  MR.WARMTH, which also sports a wealth of old T.V. and movie clips and photographs, does a creditable job of showcasing a man who really is a warm softie underneath the wisecracks.  You see it on stage and in his one on ones with Landis.

Fellow Jew Sarah Silverman, quite the outspoken one herself, thanks Rickles for helping her learn how to relate to those of other backgrounds.  I also liked Bob Newhart's recollections, which includes some amateur video of trips the Newhart and Rickles families took to Italy.  Newhart and many others also reminisce of the good old days of Vegas, when the town had some glamour and style and wasn't a sloppily casual, family friendly Disneyland.  When the Mob ran everything (quite efficiently, apparently).

But really, everyone's (Robin Williams, Carl Reiner, Penn Gillette, Ernest Borgnine, Sidney Poiter, et al...) stories and observations are worthwhile, excepting Bob Saget, who as usual comes off as an insufferable ass.

My second favorite moment in MR. WARMTH? The priceless clip of Johnny Carson invading the across the hall set of Rickles' sitcom CPO Sharkey, confronting him about the precious cigarette box he broke on his show the night before when Carson was absent.  In addition to being genuinely funny, it also makes me realize that David Letterman wasn't the first late night host to wander off his platform and into network hallways during a live show.
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