The Party’s Over: Dean Martin in MR. RICCO (MGM 1975)

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It’s an older, more world-weary Dean Martin we see in MR. RICCO, a fairly gritty but ultimately unfulfilling 70’s flick that would’ve made a decent pilot for a TV series (maybe in the NBC MYSTERY MOVIE rotation with Columbo and McCloud), but as a feature was best suited for the bottom half of a double bill. This was Dino’s last starring role, though he did appear in two more movies (THE CANNONBALL RUN and it’s sequel), and this attempt to change his image from footloose swinger to a more *gasp!* sober Martin doesn’t really cut it.

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Dean’s a defense lawyer, a “lily white liberal” who gets black militant Frankie Steele (Thalmus Rasulala ) off a murder rap. When two cops are blown away in an ambush, the witness provides a description of Steele, causing friction between Ricco and the police, especially his friend Detective Captain Cronyn (Eugene Roche, an underrated character actor who’s really good here). The cops raid the militant’s warehouse headquarters looking for Steele, and a racist cop shoots one of them, planting a weapon on the dead body. The dead guy’s brother Purvis (Phillip Michael Thomas, years before MIAMI VICE) is arrested, and sister Irene (Denise Nicholas of TV’s ROOM 222 and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT) hires Ricco to clear him. Meanwhile, it seems Steele’s still on the loose, as Ricco’s home is attacked with a barrage of gunfire. But Ricco has his doubts about it all; why would Steele want to kill the man who got him cleared of a murder charge?

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This sets the stage for (few too many) action scenes, and what amounts to an introduction to Mr. Ricco’s world. He’s pals with Cronyn, has a faithful dog companion named Hank who fetches his wide golf shots, lives with elderly Italian Uncle Enzo (veteran Frank Puglia in his last film), a plucky girl Friday (Cindy Williams marking time between AMERICAN GRAFFITI and LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY), and Italian restaurant owners Nino and Angela (Nicky Blair, Rose Gregorio) who set him up with sweet Katherine Freemont (Geraldine Brooks). If that doesn’t sound like a TV pilot premise, what does? The television connection is also linked to Emmy-winning director Paul Bogart, better known for his work on the small screen (series ARMSTRONG CIRCLE THEATER, U.S. STEEL HOUR, THE DEFENDERS, ALL IN THE FAMILY, the TV-movies LOOK HOMEWARD ANGEL, AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, THE SHADOW GAME) than his films (MARLOWE, HALLS OF ANGER, SKIN GAME, TORCH SONG TRILOGY).

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But Dino had just ended a nine-year run on his variety show the previous year, and was in the midst of a painful divorce. The great crooner probably wasn’t up to the grind of another weekly series (or even the MYSTERY MOVIE format of every three weeks), and was slowing down as he approached sixty. The point is moot, however; whatever the film’s intentions, MR. RICCO tanked at the box office. A new generation of stars and filmmakers was on the rise, and Dean Martin no longer had the cache he did in the Fabulous 50’s and Swingin’ 60’s. He continued with his CELEBRITY ROAST specials, played Vegas for his aging fan base, and had a memorable reunion with ex-partner Jerry Lewis at the 1976 Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon. Dino finally succumbed to lung cancer in 1995, putting an end to one of show biz’s greatest careers. MR. RICCO is average at best, but it does have the last starring performance of Dean Martin to recommend it. For fans of old Hollywood, that’s more than enough.

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Top Ten Reasons CASABLANCA is The Greatest Movie Ever Made!!

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Seventy three years have passed since CASABLANCA was first released. What can I possibly say about this film that hasn’t been said before, by writers far more skilled than me? Well, since CASABLANCA is my all-time favorite, I feel obliged to put my two cents in. So, here are my top ten reasons why CASABLANCA is the greatest movie ever made:

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  1. Humphrey Bogart as Rick.  While Bogie was already a star thanks to THE MALTESE FALCON, his performance here sent him into the stratosphere. Cynical, self-centered Rick Blaine, bitter over a lost love, sticks his neck out for nobody. His character is multi-layered, and his true nature wins out in the end. Without Bogie in the role, CASABLANCA wouldn’t be half as good.
  2. Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa.  Beautiful Bergman underplays her part in what should have been an Oscar winning turn (sorry, Greer Garson). Ilsa’s feelings are torn between Rick and husband Victor Laszlo, and the depth of those feelings come right through the screen.rains
  3. Claude Rains as Captain Renault. Corrupt, cagey Renault is one of Rains’ best roles. Playing a man who claims to have “no convictions”, Rains shows why he was one of cinema’s best character actors. His banter with Bogart throughout the film is priceless.
  4. The Dialogue.  Every line is a gem, with many of them becoming part of the lexicon (“I’m shocked, shocked…”, “Here’s looking at you, kid”, “Round up the usual suspects”). Writers Howard Koch and Julius and Phillip Epstein came up with a perfect script. (And Phillip became grandfather to a boy named Theo Epstein, who guided my beloved Boston Red Sox to World Series title in 2004, ending an eighty-six year drought!!)

    'Casablanca' Film - 1942...No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features (1082971b) 'Casablanca' - Humphrey Bogart, Dooley Wilson and Sydney Greenstreet 'Casablanca' Film - 1942
    ‘Casablanca’ Film – 1942…No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage
    Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features (1082971b)
    ‘Casablanca’ – Humphrey Bogart, Dooley Wilson and Sydney Greenstreet
    ‘Casablanca’ Film – 1942
  5. Dooley Wilson as Sam.  African-American Sam is written and played as a friend and confidant to white Rick ,rather than a servant.  The two men are equals, a rarity for a 1942 film. Besides the heart wrenching “As Time Goes By”, Wilson also sings “It Had to Be You” and “Knock On Wood”, which brings me to….
  6. The Music. Max Steiner’s score hits all the right notes, setting the mood for the drama. Speaking of music, the duel between the Germans singing “Watch on the Rhine” and Laszlo leading the patrons of Rick’s in “La Marseillaise” is one of Hollywood’s finest moments. supp
  7. The Supporting Cast. Without a doubt, the greatest supporting cast ever assembled. Paul Henreid is the moral core as Victor Laszlo, Peter Lorre’s brief bit as weaselly Ugarte is pivotal to the plot,  Conrad Veidt the epitome of Nazi oppression. CASABLANCA is fun for movie fans who love to play Spot the Stars: look, there’s S.Z. Sakall, Dan Seymore, Sydney Greenstreet, Lenoid Kinskey, John Qualen, Gino Corrado, Madeline LeBeau, Frank Puglia, Marcel Dalio, Joy Page, Hemlut Dantine, Torbin Meyer….
  8. Emotional Manipulation. Any good movie knows how to play its patrons, but none better than CASABLANCA. It’s an emotional roller coaster ride, and no matter how many times I see it, I still get caught up in it. I know what’s coming, but I cry at the end anyway.
  9. Michael Curtiz. The man simply does not get enough credit for being one of the all-time great directors. You can’t make a film like CASABLANCA without a top director at the helm. Just look at his resume… soul

   10. CASABLANCA Can Never Be Duplicated!  Anyone out there have fond memories of the 1955       TV version with Charles McGraw? Or the 1983 one starring David Soul? Didn’t think so.

So there you have it! A one of a kind movie, still as powerful as when it first hit the screen. CASABLANCA is the greatest movie ever made, and remains my favorite. I could watch it over and over, like listening to a favorite song. If you’ve never seen it….what are you waiting for???

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