Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dick Van Dyke Movie posters


Dick Van Dyke has long been one of my favorite comedians. His classic sitcom, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1961-66), created by Carl Reiner, might well be (arguably) the greatest sitcom in TV history. 

After making a sensation starring in the original Broadway production of "Bye Bye Birdie", followed by an easy transition to television star, it seemed inevitable that Dick Van Dyke would become a movie comedy star, which he did. His film debut came in 1963, when he starred in the film version "Bye Bye Birdie" a box office hit, then co-starred the following year with Julie Andrews in the mega Walt Disney smash "Mary Poppins". 

Dick Van Dyke's eventual problem though was that "The Dick Van Dyke Show" had set the bar so high for television comedy, and Rob and Laura Petrie were such familiar and beloved characters in America's homes, that equalling that writing and performing standard in his movies would sadly wind up being a near impossible task, and audiences finally had trouble excepting him as anybody other than Rob Petrie. Van Dyke (or his agents?) also had a knack for picking (mostly) lousy film projects, either coy, silly "sex comedies", which were in abundance in the mid sixties, or watered down Disney family fare, appearing in one critical and box office dud after another, his only other genuine hit being the late sixties family musical "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". As on TV, Van Dyke was always extremely appealing and likable in his films (His TV wife Mary Tyler Moore would also suffer a similar fate attempting to make the transition to movies), yet his movie career wound up being brief, petering out after only 8 years and 12 films, before he returned to the relatively safer world of television sitcoms, dramas, and live theatre. 

I've included all of his starring/co-starring film posters, dating from 1963-71, and one from 1979. As in the case of so many other films, the majority of the posters are far superior to the actual films.

Dick Van Dyke's first film, repeating his stage role as failed songwriter Albert Peterson. Van Dyke disliked the film version, which highlighted (for good reason) new sex kitten starlet Ann-Margret. The director George Sidney was clearly smitten with her, building up her part (which was far smaller in the original show) and repeatedly shooting her in lovingly soft-focus close-ups. After Van Dyke returned from watching a preview, he muttered to his Dick Van Dyke Show co-star Rose Marie "If you're my friend, you will never go see "Bye Bye Birdie".
Yet Bye Bye Birdie is a funny, fun, fast-paced musical comedy, featuring a great cast (overall), especially Van Dyke, Paul Lynde and Ed Sullivan himself,  a sexy Ann-Margret, a clever screenplay adaption by legendary comedy writer Irving Brecher, and terrific songs from the original show. It was rightfully a big hit.

Put on a Happy Face
Van Dyke had a small cameo role in this so-so Shirley MacLaine comedy

The original poster for Mary Poppins, which transformed Dick Van Dyke as Burt the chimney sweep (with a faux British accent), into a major movie star.

Van Dyke's  first "sixties sex comedy", featuring Ethel Merman as "Madame Coco"

British poster
the Australian version of the poster. The Aussie's had a knack for never being able to capture an American likeness on a film poster.

the paperback cover
Lovely art (by one of the James Bond poster artists), lousy film, though the chimp was funny.
Another version. Yup, the chimp clearly steals the show

and another

yet another...
and the best yet

the paperback cover
This film is actually pretty good, from "Tandem" the new team of Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear,  the American answer to "Divorce Italian Style",  but a "pointless" poster (who is he pointing at? And why?), aside from the cartoon art, a larger version of which was wisely featured on the cover of the soundtrack album.

A more amusing illustrated  poster for the British version and a spanish version...

Van Dyke plays a lovable criminal British butler in this likable caper film comedy. Poster art by the one and only Frank Frazetta. The heads of the 4 stars are actually photographs pasted over the artwork that Frazetta was asked by the studio to retouch, an approach he was not at all happy with.
Same film, different Fitzwilly pose

"Star of the year" for 1965
... but always a Dull film. An unfunny, lifeless clinker with a fun poster.
A second poster version

and a third

the Danish poster

From the same folks who brought you James Bond, and another hit musical comedy for Dick Van Dyke (not attempting a British accent this time around.
Van Dyke gets the full throttle Jack Davis poster treatment. Another incredibly dopey comedy flop (written and directed by Garson Kanin, attempting late sixties "hipness") about a bank teller who of all things, grows a beard, and the wackiness that ensues.  This is rated "Bomb" in Leonard Maltin's movie guide for good reason.
"The Comic" was a long planned dream project for Dick Van Dyke and writer/director Carl Reiner, a fictional biography of a troubled, self destructive silent film comedian named Billy Bright, loosely based on Buster Keaton, with a little Stan Laurel, Harry Langdon and Lloyd Hamilton thrown in.

Trailer's from Hell on "The Comic"...

The film premiered in 1969 with barely a notice (I saw it shortly after it opened on second bill with "The Desperado's" starring Vince Edwards... which actually wasn't bad!), but over the years it's become a cult favorite. It's heavily flawed, much of the dialog between Van Dyke and Michelle Lee sounds far too similar to Rob and Laura Petrie dialog, actors appear in the 1920's with late sixties haircuts and sideburns, Billy Bright's erratic behavior is never fully explained, the late sixties color is too garish, etc)...

Yet the film still has some unforgettable sequences recreating vintage silent film comedy, a memorable Steve Allen show sequence and an hilarious Billy Bright TV commercial for "Whitey White", a great, subtle performance by Mickey Rooney as fellow film comic and pal "Cockeye", and especially Dick Van Dyke, Oscar worthy as Billy Bright, particularly during his sad final days, old, bald, alone and forgotten in his small Hollywood apartment.

Would some company please finally get this out on DVD! Sheesh!!

My blog on THE COMIC:
 the Australian poster
Dick Van Dyke's final starring film comedy role, from 1971, a wild, darkly funny and hip satire with a terrific cast (including Bob Newhart, Tom Poston  and Bob & Ray!) about a town going smoke-free for one month. This was the only film directed by Norman Lear just before he created "All in the Family". Still, the box office did poorly and the 46 year old Van Dyke returned to TV to star in "The NEW Dick Van Dyke show"

Great poster art by Sanford Kossin!

Screenwriter Larry Karaszewski's "Trailers from Hell": Cold Turkey
When "Cold Turkey" began to tank at the box office, this second Sanford Kossin poster was created adding a bit more sex appeal.

in 1979, Dick Van Dyke returned to the screen to star in Stanley Kramer's final film, this dreary drama, based on the Broadway play of the same name. It received negative reviews and was a box office failure, and would also be Van Dyke's last starring film role.

Thanks to Leonard Maltin, Jerry Beck, Dan Yaccarino, Stephen Kroninger, Vice Waldren and Larry Karaszewski


  1. Wow - delightful post! Beautiful images, great LK commentary. ..F Frazeta reminds me of someo.. -

  2. The clip reminds me what a great dancer Dick was, despite doing the worst British accent ever.

    Did Frazetta get help from Jack Davis on the Fitzwilly poster? It looks like a Davis layout.

  3. My guess is it's Frank Frazetta channeling Jack Davis.

  4. Great topic for a post! I love all these films, despite their flaws because Van Dyke is so appealing a performer. And these posters are terrific! Thanks, Drew!

  5. "What's a Dick Van Dyke?" asked Rose Marie, allegedly (88 and still breathing, allegedly) when told the title of her new sitcom. Dick (or Dyke, whichever he prefers) cut his teeth on TV hosting Farmer Al Falfa and Heckle & Jeckle cartoons. How cool is that?

    I've always loved Cold Turkey, What a Way to Go and The Comic, but my favorite Dick Van Dyke project has always been the experimental Van Dyke and Company which, in a perfect world, would never have been canceled after only half a season in 1976. I blame Jimmy Carter.

  6. I _think_ I saw _Cold Turkey on a double-bill with a rerelease of _Some Kind of a Nut_. Thankfully, they ran _Cold Turkey_ first, which is a really underappreciated classic. I loved it then, I still love it now.

    But even at the age of eight, I could see that _Some Kind of a Nut_ was just _dreadful_. The plot has Van Dyke growing a beard because of a bee sting, and apparently everyone else in the world goes apeshit over this. Only things I remember are a beach scene where Van Dyke's hand is up a girl's skirt trying to catch the bee, and him walking down a corridor in his underwear with half a beard.

  7. Brian, here's the NY Times review by Vincent Canby of "Some kind of Nut" which basically sums it up...

    GARSON KANIN's "Some Kind of Nut" is about a Manhattan bank teller, played by Dick Van Dyke, who grows a beard, an act that would be difficult to accept as eccentric even for the purposes of a television comedy. Old friends don't recognize him. His fiancé threatens to break off their engagement. His former wife appreciates him as a man for the first time, and his employer fires him. Like Kanin's own Billie Dawn, and some heroes from some old and much better Capra films, the bank teller fights for his independence, proclaiming the kind of populist sentiments that were so dear to the hearts of members of the Writers Guild of America during World War II:

    "I'd rather be nothing than nobody!" "I'd rather be beaten to death than beaten into submission!" "We're not a bunch of computer cards. We're human beings!"

    The problem with this sort of comedy now—as it was then—is that the characters who say such things really are computer cards—items to be manipulated for programed effects.

    "Some Kind of Nut," which opened yesterday at the Victoria and at neighborhood theaters, is Kanin's second film this year. His first, "Where It's At," was released in May and, although it wasn't wildly funny, its style was a very appealing recollection of the frantically paced wisecrack comedy Kanin perfected in the nineteen-forties and nineteen-fifties. "Some Kind of Nut," which has little style, not only sounds like something out of Kanin's trunk, it even looks it, in spite of some split-screen stuff and a visit to a Zen den.

    There is one particular sequence that dates the film like a carbon-14 test: Van Dyke, wearing nothing but his shoes, black ankle socks and big, bloomer-like boxer shorts, runs almost naked through the streets. He is supposed to be high on some sort of drug but, even so, the scene is equivalent to one of those obligatory, post-prohibition era, comedy drunk scenes.

    Angie Dickinson, Rosemary Forsyth and Zohra Lampert play the ladies in Van Dyke's life, and, if you don't nod, you'll also see Dennis King in a small bit as the bank's senile, misogynistic president. He looks older than Sam Jaffe in "Lost Horizon" but is much funnier as he says of women in business: "If I had my way, I'd fire every mother's son of them."

  8. ...if you don't nod, you'll also see Dennis King in a small bit as the bank's senile, misogynistic president...

    According to IMDB, that's the same Dennis King from Fra Diavolo! I'll bet Laurel & Hardy buff Dick Van Dyke had something to do with his casting.

  9. Great post on a great blog! I'm going to be a 'regular' here! Do you happen to know who did the portraits of Julie & Dick for the Mary Poppins poster?

  10. I completely agree with you about The Comic, Drew. Flawed but wonderful.