Friday, July 15, 2011

The One and Only (1978)

          Steve Gordon was just beginning an impressive career when he died; after several years of writing for sitcoms, he made an auspicious directorial debut with the beloved comedy Arthur (1981), based on his own script, then suffered a fatal heart attack in 1982 at the age of 43. The only other feature on his too-brief filmography is The One and Only, which he wrote and produced, and which has similarities to Arthur. The story of a self-possessed man-child whose dreams of stardom lead him to a career in professional wrestling, The One and Only shares with Arthur the conceit that a person who lives only for laughter can find a soulmate who sees substance beneath the silliness.
          Henry Winkler stars as Andy Schmidt, a college student who’s convinced that he’s destined for greatness, despite having shown no particular skill for his chosen vocation of acting. Quite to the contrary, Andy’s such an irrepressible ham that during a school production of a classical play, he uses his one line as an excuse for interrupting the show with cheap comedy shtick. Nonetheless, his single-minded determination wins the heart of amiable coed Mary Crawford (Kim Darby).
          Much to the consternation of Mary’s uptight parents (William Daniels and Polly Holliday), the young lovers get hitched and move from the Midwest to New York, where Andy tries and fails to get an acting career going. Crossing paths with a little person who works on the wrestling circuit, Milton (Hervé Villechaize), Andy accidentally discovers his true destiny as a shameless crowd-pleaser who assumes various identities in the wrestling ring, from a psychic who hypnotizes opponents to a Nazi who bops his enemies with a war helmet.
           As directed by old-school comedy pro Carl Reiner, The One and Only goes down smoothly, mixing amiable I-gotta-be-me speechifying with terrific one-liners (some of the short jokes made at Villechaize’s expense are laugh-out-loud funny, though they definitely precede political correctness). Gordon’s script is pure fluff, and the story stops just when it’s picking up steam, but funny is funny, so it’s hard to argue with results. It helps that Winkler is terrific, all charm and comic timing, although Gene Saks (best known as a director of many Neil Simon films and plays) nearly steals the movie with his caustic performance as Andy’s hilariously crude agent.

The One and Only: FUNKY

No comments: