Students of comedy and vintage show business will adore the new documentary (from filmmaker John Landis) MR. WARMTH The Don Rickles Project, which premiered on HBO Sunday night and will replay several times. Featuring recent onstage footage from this year, plus older material, including great Las Vegas footage that makes you weep for the old days, MR. WARMTH ends up being an affectionate look at an extremely talented entertainer who's still going strong at eighty.
I've always thought he was as good a dramatic actor as a comedian, and his screen and TV career is covered nicely here (including his great turn in X The Man with the X-Eyes), giving him full credit for his wide-reaching talents. While many of may not have spent our childhoods tuned to the Tonight show with Johnny Carson, we certainly watched, as did comedian Bobby Slayton who talks about it in the doc, all the appearances he made on so many popular shows of the 1960s, including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Twilight Zone and many others. It was great seeing this part of his career also being saluted.
The interviews are wonderful, especially from show biz vets like Steve Lawrence, Keely Smith (who looks great!), Ernest Borgnine, Sidney Poitier, Jack Carter and many of Rickles' business associates. The insights from his best friend Bob Newhart are especially fascinating and charming, and the discussions about Rickles' mother Etta are vivacious and adorable.
What I most loved was the evocation of the nightclub era, in Las Vegas and beyond, a time that is long gone (mostly) but was vividly discussed and brought to life through the terrific footage and recollections of many of the participants in MR. WARMTH. The frank discussion of the influence of the Vegas gambling interests and how they loved and nurtured entertainers was especially fascinating. Shots of old Vegas makes it look like everybody was smart and snazzy; footage from today looks more like people walking around Disneyland with baby strollers and kids. Thank goodness Rickles and his ilk started out in the former world! In any case, the documentary provides a top notch look back.
This isn't a kissy-kissy documentary. Rickles' material doesn't play towards that at all, but it's an appreciative salute to a real trouper who is evidently as much of a pussycat in real life as he is a comedy tiger on the stage. As it should be....
Check out the MR. WARMTH The Don Rickles Project HBO Website for more information and airdate information.