Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Art of Love (1965): A Portrait of a Psychopath



Okay. What.

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.


James Garner is sick with fear and proclaiming his innocence like Dr. Richard Kimble. He sits and waits for his execution for a week. Finally, he is led out to his death. Madame Defarge is literally sitting out there knitting and yelling "Guillotine! Guillotine!"

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?

22 comments:

DKoren said...

You really do write the best reviews ever. Dick Van Dyke framing James Garner for murder? I totally want to see this now. Right now. My life has clearly been incomplete.

Hamlette said...

I... words fail me. I'm so glad they didn't fail you! This might be just what my strep-addled brain needs... if I don't nap the afternoon away...

Millie said...

Oh, you both have to see this and tell me what you think. It's random, and probably missing something to put it into unknown masterpiece level, but it is pretty great.

Hamlette said...

Okay, so the part where he finds him the bathtub genuinely cracked me up :-) What a loony movie! Sure brightened up my afternoon.

Millie said...

Seriously. No one could scream and jump as hilariously as James Garner.

Hamlette said...

AND no man could scream and jump exactly like a girl and still not look At All like a girl the way James Garner could.

Millie said...

The classic James Garner whimper. <3

DKoren said...

Oh wow. Dick Van Dyke's character is scary! That laugh! That dance of joy when Garner gets convicted! His disguises were hilarious. I'm really not sure what Elke Summer sees in him, but I think she'd better run for the hills now! Add him to the Unstable Artist category. I think my favorite part was when James Garner thought he jumped and he's standing at the bridge staring over in shock. His whole "I can't swim!" thing cracked me up.

Hamlette said...

I think my second favorite part was that little flip-twist-jump James Garner did onto his prison cot, screaming "He's alive! He's alive!" I had to rewind that.

The bathtub discovery, with Dick Van Dyke's eyes-rolled-up expression and James Garner's shriek -- still my favorite part.

DKoren said...

Haha! Yes, that flip-twist-jump made me laugh outloud. And the bathtub discovery is pretty priceless. I also loved James Garner's lost look when he realized he was actually being convicted.

Hamlette said...

BTW, Millie, I love your implication that there IS a normal way for Dick Van Dyke to frame James Garner for murder, but he chooses not to use that way.

I'm going to have to write a short review of this myself, and link to your post. After my afternoon nap.

Millie said...

Deb: DVD's character is completely scary! He would not have been at all out of place in an intense horror film. He just appears to have no humanity.

And Elke Sommer really should have gotten out of there. He was controlling and crazy from the moment he met her.

I love all of JG's random mannerisms and character choices. So great and funny.

Millie said...

Hamlette: Of course there is a normal way to frame a person for murder. ;-D

I look forward to you review!

Hamlette said...

Ta-da! My review is here. I did not even attempt to match yours, but mostly told people to just come read yours because it's more hilarious than the movie itself :-)

Hamlette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thanks, I've been looking for this movie on and off for years. I saw it about 25 years ago and was in stitches. What stuck in mine the most was - guillotine, ha ha ha ha!!

joe baltake said...

Millie! I read this belatedly. What can I say? Wow! Your site is routinely terrific, but you outdid yourself with this take on "The Art of Love." Can't believe that Universal never made it available on home entertainment in any format - I mean, a Jewison-Reiner film with that cast.

Millie said...

joe baltake: You are so kind. That means a lot coming from you, because I hugely admire your writing.

I know. Even though the film is completely insane, the pedigree is outstanding--and, one would think, very commercially popular.

Hamlette said...

Oh Millie, dear Millie, have you ever seen a movie called Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad? It's from 1967, has Rosalind Russell and Hugh Griffith and Jonathon Winters, and I'm trying to decide if I should pay $9.99 to watch it on Amazon. It sounds so completely bizarre that I immediately thought that if any one I knew had ever seen it, you would be the one...

Millie said...

Hamlette: No, I haven't. But, it has been on my list for quite some time! You should check it out and tell me about it's sure-fire gloriousness (the title alone!)

Hamlette said...

I think I'm going to save up my Amazon credits that I get for choosing slower shipping instead of 2-day, and watch it when I can get it a bit cheaper than $9.99. I'll let you know if/when I do watch it! It has simply got to be hilarious.

NoirGirl said...

I'm just discovering this masterpiece of cinematic reviewing and had to stop and leave a comment for you. Honestly darling, you have a distinct gift for writing. You are the only person I know who can give away all the plot and have me dying to see the movie immediately.

The mere fact that someone would be crazy enough to write a film in which the girl ends up with anyone other than James Garner is frankly shocking and then add this insane plot to the mix makes it pure gold!

I love what you did the with the creepy DVD photo and how it enlarges as your description of his exploits continues. I stared at his eyes in each successive photo and became more and more terrified!

Ethel Merman's Slightly Racist Nightclub (just one of a popular chain) --> may just be one of the funniest lines ever to grace a Millie-post.

This would be a perfect pick for TCMFF 2016 as a midnight screening. I shall be making this suggestion in my survey this year!

AND. If we can ever get the NFs in the same place at the same time again, we have to watch this together. It was made for us.

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