Wednesday, July 23, 2014
The Art of Love (1965): A Portrait of a Psychopath
I decided to watch this movie after noting the title on James Garner's IMDb page. It was from the '60s and I had never seen it. EXTRAORDINARY. Then, I saw that it costarred Angie Dickinson (queen of my heart!) and Dick Van Dyke and was some kind of ridiculous, crazy, slightly "edgy" comedy from the 1960s: MY FAVORITE.
Little did I know.
It has never been released on home video, which I thought was a little suspect, but fine. I found it on Youtube, and I was off. It started out typically enough, with some fun animated credits. I also saw that it was written by Carl Reiner and directed by Norman Jewison, which was both exciting and made its lack of video release even more odd.
It all became clear.
This movie is the most brilliantly ridiculous depiction of the quick unraveling of a psychopath ever released in brightly lit comedy form.
The movie appears to follow the conventional nice, ineffectual guy with his charming, jerk friend set-up. (I should start proclaiming spoilers at this point, probably).
Dick Van Dyke is a struggling artist who is told that his paintings would only ever sell if he was dead. James Garner is his writer friend who basically lives off of charming everyone around him into giving him money, food, etc. They get drunk one night and write a suicide note for Van Dyke, joking that his paintings will sell then. Through some Hardcore Shenanigans (TM), an accident happens and everyone including Garner thinks that Van Dyke has committed suicide.
And the jokes are on!
Dick Van Dyke ends up showing back up at his and James Garner's apartment, but by then, Garner has figured out how to make money off of this and he decides to exploit his friend and make him paint and hide off at Ethel Merman's Slightly Racist Nightclub (just one of a popular chain).
At this point you're supposed to feel bad for poor, confused Dick Van Dyke. He has a cold and is sneezing, he's uncomfortable, everyone thinks he's dead, he has to wear a terrifying disguise. James Garner, of course, is raking in the money, living at the hotel, stealing Dick Van Dyke's fiance from America. The normal stuff. He's playing the lovable jerk.
But, he goes too far. He unleashes the psychopath, formerly known as his best friend and roommate.
Dick Van Dyke goes off the actual deep end as only Dick Van Dyke can.
He literally snaps in an instant. At first he's angry and threatening to kill James Garner, and then, he's just smiling and quietly leaves the room chuckling to himself.
AND HE FRAMES JAMES GARNER FOR HIS MURDER.
And, not in a normal way.
No. He plants human teeth in the incinerator at their apartment. He cuts open his finger to get blood all over a "murder" knife, and smears it on Garner's coat. He plants a tie a strangulation weapon, and uses elaborate disguises to get the police to track all of this down.
He sees that James Garner has been arrested for murder and laughs maniacally, saying, "Sweet!"
Elke Sommer, who knows the truth, urges him to go to the police. He refuses, saying that he wants him to sweat a little.
He attends the trial in an elaborate disguise. When Garner is convicted and sentenced to the guillotine, he cackles and dances a jig just outside the courtroom. He is urged to save his former friend, and says that he is going to wait until just before the blade drops.
The audience peers into Dick Van Dyke's eyes and is traumatized.
The camera cuts to Dick Van Dyke engaging in a slapstick car chase trying to get to the execution on time. He runs through the streets and bangs into things as only Dick Van Dyke can.
James Garner's hands shake as he attempts to hold a final cigarette. He starts to whimper as only James Garner can.
Dick Van Dyke continues to jump from vehicle to vehicle.
James Garner is strapped into the guillotine. The executioner is frail and old, and sadly whispers about no more capital punishment; his hands quiver as he reaches to drop the blade.
Dick Van Dyke comes crashing in, Garner is released, everyone hugs, Van Dyke goes off to "rescue" Elke Sommer from a life free from psychpaths, and all is well and normal.
Until he is provoked again.
Seriously, everything I wrote above happened in even crazier happenstance. There was literally Madame Defarge randomly popping up places cackling and knitting. There was also the implication that the hilarious art dealer was a Nazi with stole paintings. There was a sight gag of James Garner sawing up and incinerating a mannequin. Carl Reiner showed up as an indifferent French lawyer.
What I'm saying is: good movie? OR BEST MOVIE?