Blu-ray Review: Cold Turkey

Before he changed the face of television with All in the Family and its spin-offs, Norman Lear co-wrote and directed Cold Turkey, a cynical, occasionally blistering anti-smoking comedy that to date, is his only credit as a film director. Prepared for a 1969 release, United Artists put Cold Turkey on the shelf for nearly two years, finally releasing the film in 1971, right around the time All in the Family was becoming a big hit.

Eagle Rock, Iowa population 4,006 has fallen on hard times. With most of the once thriving businesses having closed when an air force base was closed, the economy is in tatters. Backs against the wall, the citizenry buys into a contest sponsored take major tobacco company to award $25 million to any town that can quit smoking for thirty days. In reality, the prize is just a ploy by tobacco executive Merwyn Wren (Bob Newhart, The Bob Newhart Show) who assures his bosses they will never have to pay out the money. Why? Because every person in the town would have to sign a pledge not to smoke for thirty days. Just one offense, no matter how small, would result in disqualification. Of course, Wren doesn’t count on the determination of Eagle Rock’s Reverend Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke, Mary Poppins), who, with ambitions of his own, begins a crusade to get everyone in town to sign the petition. Of course, this is no easy task since everyone smokes as a way deal with the tremendous financial stress in their lives.

The cast features dozens of supporting players at their eccentric best including–Jean Stapleton, Vincent Gardenia, Paul Benedict and Barnard Hughes–who would all work with Lear in the future on various television projects. They are joined by, among others, Tom Poston, Graham Jarvis (A New Leaf), the comedy duo, Bob and Ray and Pippa Scott (Bad Ronald) While there are some humorous moments–Pippa Scott is very funny as Van Dyke’s wife. When the Reverend turns to sex to cope with not being able to smoke, she accommodates him with a bored look on her face. Bob and Ray provide pseudo-impersonations of legendary newsmen Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, who come to town when their attempt becomes big news. While I found the impersonations funny, like much of the humor, it hasn’t aged well. Do younger viewers even know who those three men are? The size of the cast means that no one really gets a chance to show off their characters individual quirks. We only get a minute or two and it’s on to the next subplot.

There are several funny gags, but many of them seem like they were just dropped into the script for the sake of it. One gets the sense there was probably a lot left on the cutting room floor. There are a lot of loose ends that a more experienced film director likely would have tried to tie up. Nonetheless, the issues raised are important, and the concept is a thoughtful one. While Cold Turkey just misses the mark at times, the socio-economic themes that would later become a trademark of his television shows are also in evidence here. There are a few laughs to be had and fans of Lear’s work, or Dick Van Dyke should be pleased to finally add this once obscure title to their Blu-ray collections.

Olive Films’ 1080p transfer is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The release is an impressive one, with only a few tiny white specks that show up here and there and a few small scratches. Detail is very good and depth is pleasing throughout. Colors are vibrant, and blacks are convincing. While this transfer doesn’t quite measure up to recent releases, for a remastered catalog title that’s nearly fifty-years old, it’s quite impressive.

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. is free of age related imperfections. It’s well balanced, stable and offers a nice amount of depth throughout. Dialogue is clean and clear. No complaints.

English SDH subtitles are included.

There are no extras available.

Movie title: Cold Turkey (1971)

Director(s): Norman Lear

Actor(s): Dick Van Dyke , Pippa Scott , Tom Poston , Edward Everett Horton , Vincent Gardenia , Barnard Hughes

Genre: Comedy

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