NEVER A DULL MOMENT (1968)
Never a Dull Moment is a fine example of the “point a camera at Dick Van Dyke and hope he does something entertaining” school of filmmaking (see Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N.). This gem was directed by Jerry Paris (best known for playing the dentist neighbor on The Dick Van Dyke Show). Gangsters! Art! Some third thing, probably! Here we go!
Jack Albany (Dick Van Dyke) is a shitty actor who, while walking home from filming one night, gets mistaken for Ace Williams, a deadly assassin. Like many things in the movie, this doesn’t occur for any particular reason, it just happens. Jack is escorted to the mansion of crime boss/art lover Leo Joseph Smooth (Edward G. Robinson) who is in the middle of an intense painting lesson.
Twenty minutes in, and this painting scene is the most interesting thing that’s happened.
After laborious introductions to characters who aren’t important, Smooth reveals that he has gathered together the best crooks the underworld has to offer. He has a plan to steal a 40-foot sunflower painting from a poorly guarded museum, put it in his house, and never tell anyone about it. Oddly, none of the bloodthirsty criminals in the room seem to have any objections to risking their lives for no money in order to help some old asshole get a big-ass flower picture.
It’s always good when your crime comedy could pass for an art history class.
Jack Albany is in deep shit now. No one is allowed to leave the mansion before the big heist, so as to prevent leaks, and to make matters worse, Smooth’s art teacher Sally (Dorothy Provine) walked in during the middle of the presentation, so she’ll probably have to be killed now. Understandably, Jack would like a drink, but oh no! Apparently the assassin he has been mistaken for can’t hold his liquor, so Jack has to use his shitty acting skills to pretend to be drunk for way longer than is funny.
Drunk Van Dyke.
In an attempt to warn Sally about the danger she’s in and possibly get her help with his own predicament, Jack gets himself into some lackluster predicaments on the ledge of the building.
As might be expected, the real Ace Williams (Jack Elam) shows up and Jack finds himself in deeper trouble still. Fortunately, Smooth doesn’t do the logical thing and just call up his buddies who recommended Ace to find out what he looks like. Instead it is decided that Ace and Jack will fight to the death in a dark room to prove who is the real assassin.
By “dark” I mean you can still see everything.
Of course Jack wins (with the help of Sally, and without killing the real Ace), so the next day he’s shipped off along with the rest of Smooth’s oddball criminals to perpetrate the poorly planned heist. Things go pretty much according to plan, until Jack just decides he’s had enough of this shit and tells the criminals to fuck off. A ridiculous chase through the museum ensues.
Quick, Van Dyke!
A mobster played by Slim Pickens gets his head stuck in a vaguely vaginal sculpture.
How I learned to stop worrying and love the art.
Everything comes to a head in the pop art room, and Jack is able to somehow kick everyone’s ass.
Also, the movie seems to think that this is what pop art looks like.
Meanwhile, Sally has escaped from the mansion and called the cops. The criminals are arrested and the day is saved. Also, despite having no chemistry, not knowing each other at all, and having shown next to no interest in each other during the rest of the film, Jack and Sally profess their love. Whatever. The End.
Art is how we stay alive. God, that sounds douchey. But, like it or not, that’s what Never a Dull Moment is all about.
Leo J. Smooth is a mobster who is afraid of his own mediocrity. Will anyone truly remember him after he’s dead? The answer, he fears, is no. How can this problem be overcome? By pulling off a heist so artful that he will go down in history as one of the world’s greatest criminals. (Whether stealing a giant painting of some flowers is likely to achieve that goal is somewhat besides the point. He at very least thinks it will work.) For Smooth, this heist is the ticket to immortality.
The art will live to be bigger than the man.
(GET IT, THAT PAINTING IS HUGE.)
Jack Albany is an actor who will literally die if he stops acting. Mistaken for a killer, Jack must use his skills to fill Ace’s shoes. Sometimes that means acting like a drunk moron. Sometimes it means being an irritating wiseguy. For Jack, acting his the ticket to not ending up at the bottom of the bay with concrete shoes.
I’m totally a gangster, see?
In a better movie, this theme would be in serious danger of being pretentious, but in this case it’s just sad. If your art is what keeps you alive (during your life, and after your death), it must suck to be someone who helped make Never a Dull Moment, ’cause this movie stinks, and nobody remembers it. Aw, depressing.
WHY DON’T PEOPLE LIKE IT?:
This is the point where I desperately try to avoid making a joke about the film’s title (and fail, by making a meta-joke about not making a joke). Anyhow, Never A Dull Moment moves far too slowly to be enjoyable. Seriously, most of the film consists of large groups of mobsters, most of whom we give no shits about, talking about things that have very little bearing on the plot at large.
Looking slightly sick Van Dyke.
Adding to the sluggishness is a general lack of humor, which is unfortunate in a comedy. I feel as though somebody said, “This script isn’t very funny, but I’m sure Dick Van Dyke will be able to liven it up!” This didn’t pan out. All things considered, it’s entirely unsurprising that this flick fell to history’s wayside.
- Apparently this was all based on a novel by John Godey, the author of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, which was turned into a movie twice (both times better than Never A Dull Moment).
MOST REGRETTABLE MOMENT:
Never a Dull Moment contains without question the most bafflingly, disturbingly lazy plot device I have ever seen on film. When conducting the heist, Jack’s job is to kill the two guards on duty. Since he’s not a killer, he instead tries to warn the first guard about the theft. Much to his surprise, the guard just falls over dead. Later, he approaches the second guard to ask for help from the crooks chasing him, and the second guard falls over dead too. At no point does the movie explain why or how this happened. Two innocent men are dead, and a distraught Jack just says, “Everything I touch I kill!” and the subject never comes up again.
This certainly isn’t the kind of fucked-up terror that has no place in a children’s movie.
Alright, so this movie isn’t all bad. It may be slow, and it may not be particularly funny, but at least things happen in it. Dumb stupid shenanigans are scattered throughout, and hey, that’s more than can be said for some Disney movies of this time period. At the end of the day, it’s really not worth seeking out.
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)
This is John’s thirteenth week of the experiment. Check up on his sanity in his first quarterly report.