Friday, February 25, 2011

How To Be Like Robert Benchley

Robert Benchley (1889 - 1945) has been one of my favorite humorists ever since my high school days, when I read a vintage copy of his hilarious 1936 collection My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew.  I've also enjoyed his movie work as a character actor since I first saw him in the great Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940); few people can make the word “No!” sound so funny. Watching Benchley in It’s In The Bag! for last week’s blog post led me to revisit Benchley’s witty, classic Vanity Fair essays, which in turn made me eager to watch his drolly funny, award-winning short films, now available from Warner Archive in a 3-DVD set, The Robert Benchley Miniature Collection.

As the scion of a renowned writing family including Nathaniel Benchley and Jaws’ Peter Benchley, Robert Benchley became a multi-media phenomenon when Hollywood beckoned and he became king of the mini-comedies, whose titles usually began with the words How To…. In most of these shorts, he usually played either an endearingly frazzled lecturer/expert or the ultimate everyman Joe Doakes (not to be confused with Joe McDoakes, a different everyman played in a series of Warner Bros. comedy shorts by a pre-Jetsons George O’Hanlon) exploring, puzzling over, and of course commenting on the foibles and challenges of daily life. The second of Benchley’s 46 short films, The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928), was among 25 classic films preserved for posterity by the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Adapting one of his own essays and using animation, Benchley plays a ditsy doctor lecturing to a women’s club about the sex life of the ever-gender-bending polyp. Benchley’s droll commentary includes this:

“We took one of the tiny creatures home with us to live. It was at the time a girl polyp, so we called her Mary after Ethel Barrymore. She was at first naturally shy, but soon grew accustomed to our mannish ways and became more like a child of our own than a polyp—although she looked more like a polyp than a child of our own....”  

Those of us who’ve heard the anecdotes about Benchley and his sharp, witty colleagues at New York City’s Algonquin Round Table back in the day may long to go back in time to break bread and quaff cocktails with them. Of course, even the Algonquin gang probably had their off-days wit-wise, grappling with writer’s block, deadlines, hangovers, and life’s usual highs and lows. Luckily, whether you read traditional paperbound books like Mother used to make, or online, Kindle, or whatever new medium appears, we’re lucky to have Benchley’s hilarious essays in various formats. The following excerpts from “Lucky World!” in My Ten Years in a Quandary…are among my favorites:

When you come to think of it, the wonder is not that there are so many jammed automobile fenders, bad motion pictures, sore throats, divorces and wars, but that there aren’t more of them. We are living in a world that is shot through with luck, that’s all….Consider the number of young people all over the world who are getting married, day in and day out, for no other reason than that someone of the opposite sex looks well in a green jersey or sings baritone, and then tell me that Divorce has reached menacing proportions. The surface of Divorce has not been scratched yet. We are lucky that everyone isn’t divorced.

Look at the people in the Congress, or the Chamber of Deputies, or the Parliament in London, and listen to what they say. The only logical ending to it all is that the world is headed for dementia praecox, with all the buildings tumbling down, all the water works shooting up into the air and all the citizens bumping into each other with trays of hot soup.

And yet automobiles dodge each other as if by magic, passable motion pictures are produced, many people stay married all their lives and actually don’t seem to mind, and only occasionally does hell break loose entirely. It’s a pretty lucky old world we live in, when you consider its possibilities.
Benchley sure got around, making Hollywood short subjects for Fox, Universal, RKO, Paramount—and MGM, where the Simmons Mattress Company first approached him to write and act in the short How to Sleep, inspired by The Mellon Institute’s sleep study. Benchley did double-duty as the narrator and sleep-deprived protagonist, trying everything from hot baths (ouch!) to a midnight lobster snack (yum!) to every kind of goofy sleeping position imaginable. Benchley later claimed his role was “not much of a strain, as (he) was in bed most of the time.” Nice work if you can get it! Audiences at preview screenings loved Benchley, and a star was born. A still from How to Sleep was used in Simmons ads. Only the Mellon Institute wasn’t pleased, pouting over MGM mocking their study—spoilsports! But audiences were pleased as punch with Benchley, leading to a contract with MGM from 1935 to 1944, and an Oscar for Best Short Subject, Comedy, for How to Sleep.

Friday, February 18, 2011

For Love of Chair: IT'S IN THE BAG! Has a Sit-Down with THE TWELVE CHAIRS

This week we of Team Bartilucci salute two relatively modern versions of The Twelve Chairs, based on the classic 1928 Russian novel by Ilf & Petrov. As you’ll see, each version puts its own zany twist on the story. Pull up a chair of your own and enjoy! J

Vinnie’s Pick: It’s In The Bag! (1945)There are a number of comedians all but forgotten by modern culture, like the Ritz Brothers or the legendary Bert Williams, first black man to headline the Ziegfeld Follies.  In the world of radio, Fred Allen was once a powerhouse, but today, only fans of the entertainment of the era know him.  He’s responsible for the oft-repeated quip about television being called a medium because “it’s neither rare nor well-done”* His radio show inspired the work of Stan Freberg, Johnny Carson, and if they were honest about it, damn near every comedian to come along since.

His forays into film were few, and his only starring role was It’s In The Bag!, the topic of today’s treatise. Allen plays Fred Floogle, a man of no fixed vector of success, barely scraping by with his flea circus.  When he discovers he’s the only heir to an unknown uncle’s twelve million dollar estate, he thinks he’s made it, and starts a spending spree worthy of Monty Brewster. Alas, Fred discovers his uncle had been wiped out, leaving assets totaling a pool table (rack and balls included) and five chairs.  He quickly sells off the chairs to an auction house…a bit too quickly. A phonograph record from his uncle reveals that he was swindled out of his fortune by persons unrevealed. Evidence of the crime, as well as three hundred thousand dollars in cash has been secreted…in one of the five chairs.

So begins a mad dash across town for the chairs, events including a sizable cameo by Allen’s on-air (and only kayfabe) foe, Jack Benny; Miss Pansy Nussbaum, a beloved character from his radio show; and eventually the hideout of gangster Bill Bendix (played by…William Bendix!).

The sequence in a wildly overpacked movie theater is a classic – Dave Willock and Walter Tetley (best known to modern cartoon fans as the narrator of the Wacky Races and the voice of Mr. Peabody’s boy, Sherman, respectively) appear as ushers who run Floogle and his wife from pillar to post in a quest for a pair of seats, finding none. A nightclub scene features Allen singing (a term used here to describe the sounds coming from his mouth, in absence of a more illustrative term) with Don Ameche, Rudy Vallee and Victor Moore. Other guest stars include Robert Benchley, Jerry Colonna, Sydney Toler and John Carradine, not to mention a small army of character actors.

A screwball comedy that still holds up today, It’s In The Bag is available via Netflix Instant Streaming.

*At least that’s how Ernie Kovacs quoted it on one of his specials; another version goes: “It’s a medium because when it’s well-done, it’s rare.”  I like Ernie’s version.

Dorian’s Pick: The Twelve Chairs (1970)
After writer/director/uberfunnyman Mel Brooks won his well-deserved Oscar in 1968 for his original screenplay for The Producers, his next film was the 1970 farce The Twelve Chairs, based on Ilf & Petrov’s 1928 novel. That’s right, Fred Allen didn’t create It’s in the Bag; he was just one of several talented people who’ve adapted it over the years. Alfred Hitchcock fans, take note: Mrs. Hitchcock, writer/editor Alma Reville, was one of It’s in the Bag’s screenwriters. How fitting, then, that the world of The Twelve Chairs skillfully blends sorrow and treachery with comedy like Hitchcock did! Of course, I wouldn’t go so far as to claim the world is “a foul sty (full of) swine” like Joseph Cotton did as Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt (1943); life and The Twelve Chairs all have plenty of joy, satirical moments, and outright hilarity, too. When The Twelve Chairs came out in theaters, New York Times film critic Vincent Canby grumbled, “One of these days someone is going to put together a smash-hit television special called The Greedy, Fraudulent World as Seen by Mel Brooks.” In my opinion, Canby missed the point. A gleefully unapologetic comedy with a sting in the tail like The Twelve Chairs stirs me to slightly paraphrase Steve Martin: comedy isn’t always pretty. Brooks’ best work has always had a knack for showing us, through a funhouse mirror, the best and worst of people and the world we all live in. 

The film’s frantic shenanigans take place in 1927 Soviet Russia, where former nobleman Ippolit Vorobyaninov (Ron Moody, two years after his Oliver! Oscar nomination) has been reduced to a desk clerk under the new regime. When he hears his mother-in-law is on her deathbed, he rushes over so fast he doesn’t even let go of his rubber stamp (leading to the one of the film’s darkest, funniest sight gags). She confesses that when the Revolution kicked in and the Bolsheviks invaded, she’d hurriedly hidden the family jewels—real jewels, you naughty-minded people—inside the upholstery of one of the titular chairs from the Vorobyaninov clan’s dining room set. Of course, those chairs have since gone all over Russia one way or another, so Vorobyaninov has his work cut out for him. Enter suave, street-smart con man Ostap Bender (Frank Langella, before Dracula made him an even brighter star of stage and screen in the late 1970s), smoothly insinuating himself into a partnership with Vorobyaninov to find the chairs. And boy, does Vorobyaninov needs the help; the remains of his entitled attitude haven’t prepared him to live by his wits or use the fine art of finesse! Our fortune hunters are also up against Father Fyodor (Dom DeLuise), who took advantage of the Confession booth to glean info about those valuable chairs. Luckily, the not-so-good Father is as stupid and bumbling as he is greedy—and uproarious!
Even with the bittersweetness of life in the then-new Soviet Union, The Twelve Chairs is frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious. The theme song alone cracks me up, with lyrics like “Hope for the best, expect the worst/You could be Tolstoy, or Fannie Hurst.” One of our family’s favorite running jokes is “I am Cousin—CHAIR!” Moody and Langella are as memorable a comedy team here as Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder were in The Producers; now there’s a crossover story I’d like to see (of course, it would have to be science fiction since the stories are centuries apart; details, details! J). I must say Langella was quite the hottie. (Heck, Langella still cuts a dashing figure today!) The ending has bite to it, to be sure, but that doesn’t kill the mirth of the preceding 90 minutes. Besides, I’m intrigued by the idea of friendship trumping pride, even if it involves Dostoyevsky and faking epilepsy. According to Wikipedia, there’s another novel about the adventures of rakish Ostap Bender. I may have to look that up sometime!

Friday, February 11, 2011

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY: Beautiful Dreamers and Thurberesque Schemers

This post is being republished as part of the "For the Boys" Blogathon hosted by The Scarlett Olive from November 19th to November 20th, 2011.

Some of the otherwise knowledgeable younger classic film fans I know have barely heard of the great entertainer Danny Kaye (1913--1987). I’m here to help change all that! Director Norman Z. McLeod and screenwriters Ken Englund, Everett Freeman, and an uncredited Philip Rapp transformed one of my favorite stories by one of my favorite authors, James Thurber, into one of my favorite movies, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (TSLoWM patience, you might find an ad before the trailer). Samuel Goldwyn transformed Thurber's classic short story into a delightful and surprisingly soulful 1947 musical comedy-thriller. This was the very first Danny Kaye movie I ever saw when I was a child growing up in the Bronx, watching it on TV on WPIX. My mom had turned me on to the film, being a fan of both Kaye and pretty clothes. I think she enjoyed watching little me ooh and aah at Irene Sharaff’s gorgeous fashions (especially the hats; Mom could rock a chapeau like nobody’s business!) as much as we both enjoyed Kaye’s zany slapstick and wordplay. Frankly, Kaye became my first celebrity crush, thanks to the miracle of movies on TV. It’s still my favorite Kaye film, as well as one of my favorite movies of all time. Such Kaye classics as Wonder Man and The Court Jester might be more consistently wacky, but TSLoWM especially appeals to me because it brings out Kaye’s vulnerable side. 
If Walter marries Gertrude, they'll have to change the title to The Dreary Life of "Walty Mittens!"
It usually drives me up the wall when I see movie characters allowing themselves to be as put-upon and henpecked as Kaye's Walter Mitty is here, but I found myself able to sympathize. In this Goldwyn version, Walter is a shy young man still living with his mother (Oscar veteran Fay Bainter) in Perth Amboy, NJ. The gentle, hapless Walter is henpecked almost to the point of emotional abuse. The poor guy gets it from all sides! His well-meaning mother treats him like a child. (Am I the only one who finds it a tad creepy when an adult parent kisses an adult child on the lips, as is done here and in many other films?)  His fiancée, Gertrude Griswold (Ann Rutherford of Gone with the Wind; Two O'Clock Courage; Red Skelton's Whistling In... comedy-mystery film series), while pretty and perky, is nevertheless a stuffed skirt who’s more concerned about appearances, her yappy dog Queenie, and her domineering mother (veteran screen battle-axe Florence Bates of Rebecca; On the Town; I Remember Mama) as she bosses Walter around in her maddeningly cutesy way. Then there’s Tubby Wadsworth (Gordon Jones of McClintock!; My Sister Eileen; You Belong to Me), who keeps proposing to Gertrude—which was fine with me, because I thought those two tiny-minded twits deserved each other (hasn’t Walter suffered enough?)! 
How to Meet Cute Shy Guys, Lesson 1: Slip a little black book listing hot jewels into Shy Guy's briefcase. It's a great little ice-breaker!
Speaking of bosses and bossing, Walter has what should be a way cool job as a proofreader of pulp fiction at the Pierce Publishing Company in New York City. Too bad boss man Mr. Pierce (Thurston Hall of Lady on a Train; Theodora Goes Wild; The Great Lie) is always belittling Walter one minute and stealing his ideas the next. Under the circumstances, who can blame Walter for living in his daydreams (nice use of the song “Beautiful Dreamer”)? That’s where he leads one heroic life and musical production number after another as a fighter pilot, ship captain, Mississippi riverboat gambler, and Western gunslinger, each daydream wittily spoofing the genre stories Walter proofreads. 
Our hero is happy to hold the Mayo!
But our hero is put to the test when lovely, wholesome Rosalind van Hoorn (frequent Kaye co-star Virginia Mayo, great together in comedies like Wonder Man, as well as Mayo's dramatic performances in White Heat; Flaxy Martin; The Best Years of Our Lives;) finds herself becoming a damsel in distress. Seems that Rosalind and her Uncle Peter from Holland (free “Dutch uncle” joke, go wild) are up against bad guys led by a no-goodnik known only as “The Boot” (not to be confused with “Das Boot”), with his cohort Dr. Hugo Hollingshead (the scene-stealing Boris Karloff) and henchman Hendrick (Henry Corden, before he became the second actor to give voice to Fred Flintstone, including a brief but memorable bit in The Asphalt Jungle). These nasty jaspers want a little black book, but this book doesn’t have fair maidens’ phone numbers; it lists jewels and art treasures hidden from the Nazis. Paranoia, adventure, hilarity, and budding romance abound. Will Our Man Mitty’s dreams of heroism come true, and will his and Rosalind’s tulips meet?

There’s a sweetness about Danny Kaye in this role that’s always had me rooting for Walter instead of merely
growling, “Oh, tell 'em all to go to hell already.” As a result, it's that much more satisfying when Walter finally does tell off his obnoxious so-called friends and loved ones (unlike such “comedies of cruelty” as, say, 1990’s Madhouse, where the last 10 minutes of Revenge Against The Oppressors was the only entertaining part of the film)!
James Thurber reportedly tried to buy off Goldwyn to keep the film from being made, and hated the finished product. With all due respect to Thurber, I think perhaps he wasn't being quite fair. First off, books and movies have different storytelling requirements, and second, the first 10 minutes are almost straight from Thurber's story, except it's Walter and his nagging mom instead of a nagging wife. 

James Thurber by Rick Geary

It’s easy to let yourself become distracted by Goldwyn’s fabulous production values—to say nothing of the fabulous Goldwyn Girls—but look sharp and you’ll catch Thurber’s sting-in-the tail wit. As Walter's literal and figurative dream girl Rosalind, Kaye's frequent leading lady Virginia Mayo was thoroughly beguiling and never looked lovelier—and hey, the radiant Mayo was a size 12 and nobody considered her a "plus size," thank you very much! TSLoWM also contains two of my favorite Danny Kaye/Sylvia Fine musical numbers: “Anatole of Paris” and “Symphony for Unstrung Tongue;” in the latter, am I the only one who finds the line “He gets so excited that he has a solo passage” to be subtly salacious? My husband Vinnie and I like to think that Uncle Peter's grand home must be located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, where we lived for over a decade, since it reminded me of the kind of homes we used to see while strolling in the Fieldston area. Also, it didn't seem to take horrifically long for Walter and Rosalind to drive there from the Flatiron district of Manhattan; of course, that could simply be the magic of filmmaking.

Could Rosalind's Uncle Peter be Bruno Antony's neighbor?!
Incidentally, I've always thought the interior of the van Hoorn home looks a lot like the interior of evil Bruno Antony's home in Strangers on a Train; does anyone here know if these scenes might have been shot in the same house/set? I wish the few extras had included deleted scenes; there's a bit in the trailer with Karloff and Corden in a pub that I definitely don't recall seeing in the finished film. On the DVD and LaserDisc (yes, we still own the latter—good thing, too, since we can’t seem to find TSLoWM DVDs that aren’t Korean), it was nice to see the intro and outro with Virginia Mayo still alive and well at the time (and bigger than the "size 12" mentioned in the fashion show scene, but on her it was pleasant plumpness, in my opinion!), even though Mayo only had time to say one line each about her co-stars: "Ann Rutherford was delightful...Fay Bainter was a consummate actress...Boris Karloff was a true gentleman..." Anyway, if you’re not already a Danny Kaye fan, TSLoWM just might make you one!  

"That does it: from now on, I'm working from home!"

Mayo's aghast, Kaye's agape, and Karloff's a ghoul!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

THE LOST WEEKEND Goes COLD TURKEY: “One’s Too Many and A Hundred’s Not Enough” by Team Bartilucci

This week, we of Team Bartilucci will take a look at substance abuse on film—the serious side and the satirical side, in that order!

Dorian’s Pick: The Lost Weekend (1945)
Films about people in the throes of substance abuse and all that goes with it usually depress and/or annoy me, especially since we’ve known alcoholics and other addicts of various stripes over the years. Sadly, some of these people were unable or unwilling to kick the habit until they became sick or dead, in spite of getting every possible form of treatment to overcome their demons (granted, treatment options have evolved over the years). But the frank, uncompromising 1945 movie adaptation of Charles R. Jackson’s searing novel The Lost Weekend (TLW) got under my skin because I’ve always found the story of protagonist Don Birnam’s painful lack of confidence (softened from the novel’s bisexuality) to be so movingly rendered in the screenplay by director Billy Wilder (one of my favorite directors) and Charles Brackett, and powerfully acted by Ray Milland in the performance of his career. Unlike cute, funny movie drunks like Dudley Moore as Arthur, or William Powell and Myrna Loy as The Thin Man’s hard-drinking yet endearing and high-functioning Nick and Nora Charles, Don is no lovable lush. The film follows Don as he’s nearing his lowest point, having been an alcoholic for the past six years and been on the wagon for the past ten days—until today. Don’s younger brother Wick (Phillip Terry) and his devoted girlfriend Helen (Jane Wyman, three years before she won her own Oscar for Johnny Belinda), have been trying to be supportive in every possible way, including tough love, but despite his good intentions, Don falls off the wagon hard every time, and alas, this day is no exception. One thing leads to another, and Wick leaves town for the weekend without Don, with Helen only sporadically available thanks to her job at Time (not that it stops her from hanging around his door, worrying). Now the real story begins as Don hits rock bottom at the start of a long weekend in New York City—really a long, dark four days and nights of the soul, running the gamut from petty larceny to a terrifying night in Bellevue and an escape to home with only the DTs for company. The Lost Weekend is as dark and intense as a film noir. John F. Seitz’s moody Oscar-nominated cinematography captures the signs of Don’s addiction in quietly chilling images: wet glass rings multiplying on a bar surface over time; unsold liquor bottles in store windows, silently taunting him; the shadow of a hidden bottle in a light fixture in his apartment, which Don treats as no less than a miracle. Great cast, too, including Howard da Silva, Frank Faylen, Doris Dowling in her film debut, and in a small but crucial role, one of my fave character actors, Douglas Spencer  (Double Indemnity, The Thing…, Diary of Anne Frank, etc.). Despite the downbeat subject matter, the film was a hit with critics and moviegoers alike—and actually inspired some damn funny TLW spoofing, such as the chandelier gag near the end of My Favorite Brunette and the 1947 Bugs Bunny cartoon Slick Hare, where Milland pays for his drink with a typewriter and gets several tiny typewriters as change. TLW’s many awards included 4 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director for Wilder and Best Actor for Milland, with nominations also going to editor Doane Harrison and the haunting theremin music of one of my favorite composers, Miklós Rózsa. TLW balances tragedy, terror, and gallows humor so beautifully, I can’t take my eyes off it whenever it’s on TV. Despite being released in 1945, TLW still packs an emotional wallop today.

Vinnie’s Pick: Cold Turkey (1971)
In our last collaboration, I went on about the untapped potential of Dick Van Dyke in respect to his titular role (a term I just love saying, and so rarely get the opportunity) in Fitzwilly. In said piece, I quickly mentioned the 1971 satire Cold Turkey, and am pleased to have the opportunity to elaborate on such here. It's an oft-forgotten film, known mostly for being one of Randy Newman's first forays into songs for the films.  But thanks to the growing print-on-demand DVD industry, the film has been made available to the general public again.

It's based on the classic comedy trope that has brought us films like The Producers, The Mouse That Roared, and Bamboozled; that of an outrageous plan intended to fail, and the chaos that erupts when it accidentally succeeds.  Mervin Wren (Bob Newhart) is a PR flack for the Valiant Tobacco company.  He proposes a way to make Owner and CEO Hiram C. Grayson (Edward Everett Horton's last role; he passed before the film's release) as beloved to history as Alfred Nobel: offer a prize of $25 million dollars (a princely sum in 1971) to the first town that can quit smoking en masse for thirty days. The idea was that no town could achieve such a feat, so the money would never be collected, but the offer alone would make him appear a humanitarian.

But the little town of Eagle Rock, Iowa had grown so distressed over the loss of a nearby military base (and its requisite jobs) that they saw this as a godsend, or at least its spiritual leader, Rev. Clayton Brooks (Van Dyke) did.  Usually trying to whip his flock into a frenzy (and succeeding only in barely keeping them awake), he now whips the entire populace into a desire to quit smoking.  He ends up driving one unable-to-quit citizen out of town for the month, and the townspeople get the last holdouts to sign the pledge by hook or by crook.  By the time of the deadline, only Eagle Rock has succeeded in getting everyone to quit.

The town turns to madness quickly, both as a result of the lack of tobacco and the sudden attention of the media their simple act has spurred.  The networks set up camp in town, and advertising opportunities stream in, along with tourists. Brooks becomes an overnight sensation, making the cover of Time.  And all along, Mervin Wren is madly trying to bollix up the town's low-nicotine situation. It ends bittersweetly, with helicopters, the President's cufflinks, and two people lying on the ground shot.  Like many films of the past, it is as topical today as it was upon its release.  The cash amounts are wildly larger now, but nowadays the tobacco companies are forced to finance their own negative campaigns via the multibillion dollar lawsuit that now funds (among many other things) the "Truth" ads you've seen for so long now.  People are still trying to quit, and the companies are still making it look like they want to help while all the while hoping they don't.  The news media has expanded its grasp as well, but they can still transform a town when they descend upon it for a story, and rarely for the better.

The script is simple, the directing capable, both the work of Norman Lear, approximately 18 minutes before All in the Family hit the air, and released shortly after.  The cast is a Who's Who of television soon-to-be stardom, including Jean Stapleton, Vincent Gardenia and Barnard Hughes.  But the film's three tentpoles (OK, technically four) are Van Dyke, Newhart and the comedy team of Bob & Ray. Van Dyke plays Brooks as an unswerving servant of God who slowly gets his head turned by the potential of fame this media circus has spawned.  Newhart is possibly the best Small Angry Man in film history.  His "slow burn" puts Edgar Kennedy on notice, the seething anger that whistles out his ears as his plans gang aft aglay is priceless.  Like Van Dyke and Andy Griffith, the roles he played in film were all but forgotten once he became a star on television, and that's a damn shame.  The dry humor of Bob & Ray threads its way through the film as they play the multiple roles of almost every member of the media we see on film, including parodies of Arthur Godfrey, Paul Harvey and Walter Cronkite. 
It's a vicious little film, filled with performances you never got to see these actors give again as their careers took such different paths.  And while many films look at such addictions with great seriousness, this one found a way to tackle a serious subject with humor, while still making the bad guys look like the bad guys.