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The Comic

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Dick Van Dyke, Michelle Lee, Mickey Rooney, Carl Reiner
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The Comic (1969) starring Dick Van Dyke, Michelle Lee, Mickey Rooney, Carl Reiner

movie review of ‘The Comic‘, a little-known film by Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner.  It’s about the life of an early silent film clown, the fictional Billy Bright, and his self-destructive behavior that destroyed his career.   A funny, poignant, and recommended film — read on to find out why!

Synopsis of The Comic

Buy from Amazon The Comic tells the story of the fictional silent film clown Billy Bright (played by Dick Van Dyke) in flashback.  It starts with his funeral, narrated by the late comedian.  He blames the other people in his life for his own bad choices, including adultery and alcoholism.  These caused the end of his silent film career, and his inflexibility preventing him from transitioning to talking films.

review of The Comic

In The Comic, Dick Van Dyke does an excellent job of both comedy and tragedy, portraying the role of the self-destructive silent film comic Billy Bright.  He’s a fictional composite of several great silent film clowns, with the philandering nature of Charlie Chaplin, the alcoholic problem of Buster Keaton, and the issue of being forgotten by the public in his later life, as suffered by Stan Laurel, Van Dyke’s close friend.   Along the way, Dick Van Dyke recreates some of the slapstick comedy of the early silent films, with some truly funny bits.  Fine acting performances are also turned in by the beautiful Michelle Lee, who portrays his suffering girlfriend, and later his wife and the mother of his child, as well as an excellent performance by Mickey Rooney as ‘Cockeye’ his co-worker and steadfast friend.

It’s a movie that’s funny, poignant, touching and sad, occasionally all at the same time.   Some have compared it to Red Skelton‘s film, The Clown, and there are similarities.  Both title characters are great clowns with self-destructive streaks.  But in my opinion, Billy Bright is the sadder of the two.  Unlike Red Skelton’s character, Billy Bright never realizes that his problems are of his own making.  For example, immediately after his wedding, he begins filming a movie about getting married.  To the surprise of his new bride.  Billy Bright explains via voice-over to the audience that this was really for her.   Throughout the movie, he keeps ‘explaining’ that his selfish, self-destructive choices were for the ‘benefit’ of someone else.

“Adult” comedy

The Comic is a very good movie, an ‘adult’ comedy that deals with adult issues.  Billy Bright seduces his co-worker, and though nothing is shown beside the two characters in bed together.  They’re fully covered with sheets and pajamas so there’s no problem with showing anything that young people shouldn’t see. Also, there are very few expletives, it does deal with those adult themes.   I had no issues watching it with my 16-year-old daughter, but I wouldn’t have been comfortable watching it with someone younger.

In all, I found The Comic to be a very good movie, and I recommend it.   I was fortunate enough to watch it on Turner Classic Movies.

Editorial review of The Comic, starring Dick Van Dyke, courtesy of

Share a nostalgic look at Hollywood’s Golden Age. Dick Van Dyke will make you laugh and cry as The Comic, Carl Reiner’s bittersweet tribute to the legendary silent funnymen. In the 1920s, Billy Bright (Van Dyke) rises to super-stardom making hilarious comedies with Cockeye (Mickey Rooney) and leading lady Mary Gibson (Michele Lee). The brash comic steals Mary away from their director (Cornel Wilde), only to lose her due to his philandering ways. With the coming of talkies, Hollywood loses its sense of humor for Billy’s brand of physical comedy. Can he survive once the laughter has stopped? Featuring Van Dyke’s masterful recreations of classic slapstick routines, The Comic is a funny, moving tale of life’s pitfalls-and pratfalls!

Trivia for The Comic

  • In his autobiography, Carl Reiner said he intended this as a vehicle for Dick Van Dyke.  Van Dyke had, on the set of their TV show, often expressed the wish that he had been working at the same time as comedy legends such as his hero Stan Laurel.
  • The final film of Jerome Cowan.
  • The final film of Pert Kelton.
  • While starring in The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961), Van Dyke called up Stan Laurel to ask for permission to do a Laurel & Hardy bit in an episode. Laurel told him that neither he nor Hardy’s heirs owned the rights to the characters. Van Dyke and Reiner were horrified that Laurel didn’t even own the rights to his own face, and this picture is the result.


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