Cold Turkey (1971)
Reviewed on 2007 June 26
If those smarmy commercials from Big Tobacco — you know, the ones where they urge parents to talk with their children about smoking — make you want to throw up too, you’ll love this satire from Norma Lear. The fact that it was made in 1971 doesn’t make it seem dated. The cars and wardrobes are different but greed hasn’t changed much in three decades.
Eagle Rock, Iowa, is a sleepy town badly hit by hard economic times. Reverend Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke) tries to shepherd his people, and while he’s got a fat ego and likes the recognition he gets as a man of God, he really seems to want to help the town. When a Big Tobacco snake named Merwin Wren (Bob Newhart) comes up with the promotional stunt of giving $25,000,000 to any town that can completely kick the habit for thirty days, this seems like an answer to their prayers.
At first glance that Trojan Horse probably looked pretty good too. The Reverend exhorts everyone to give up their smokes for the contest. That’s an amazing request, but with the help of some strong-arming from determined parishioners, he pulls it off. Unfortunately this unleashes something even nastier than nicotine-fueled irritability: greed. Parts of it are piled on a little thick, but it’s mostly hilarious. One of the funniest bits is resident wealthy drunk Mr. Stopworth (Tom Poston) giving a boozy, weepy explanation on why he’ll literally fall apart if he quits smoking. It’s worth renting just for that, and the mayor’s wife (Jean Stapleton) doing what I’d probably do if I had to give up chocolate. The film also has one of the best, most biting end shots in a comedy.
Three chocolate morsels and a pot of black coffee.