In case you had any lingering suspicions, and thought that maybe, just maybe, Morey Amsterdam might have been the real brains behind The Dick Van Dyke Show, look no further than Amsterdam's magnum opus, the feature film in which he not only stars, but also produced and co-wrote: Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title (1966). Alarmingly bad yet fascinating, it may be a car wreck of a movie, but for various reasons it's absolutely a must-see along the lines of other cinematic atrocities such as Skidoo (1968) and Myra Breckenridge (1970).
And especially if you're a fan of The Dick Van Dyke Show. On that landmark sitcom, Amsterdam played Buddy Sorrell, human joke machine, and one of the writers on "The Alan Brady Show." Carl Reiner partly based the sitcom on his experiences as a writer on Your Show of Shows, with Buddy initially patterned after fellow writer Mel Brooks. However, a lot of Morey Amsterdam's own stage persona seeped into Buddy, who was always "on" and had nine lousy ideas for every brilliant one. Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title is exactly the kind of movie Buddy Sorrell would have made without Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) and Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) to rein him in.
Partly because of the film's many unbilled star cameos, Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title has long been sought after by a small but determined group of collectors. MGM's "Limited Edition Collection" disc is worth the wait, featuring as it does a sparkling 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer.
Inept cook Charlie Yuckapuck (Morey Amsterdam) and waitness Annie (Rose Marie) lose their jobs at the Daredevil Diner after incurring the wrath of their long-suffering boss, Mr. Travis (Richard Deacon). However, another former waitress, Magda (January Jones*), who's just inherited her late uncle's Ye Olde Book Shoppe, immediately offers them a job. It was an unexpected windfall: "I only saw my uncle once or twice, as a girl." "Your uncle was a girl?!" Charlie asks.
Charlie, apparently, is also a dead ringer for a recently defected cosmonaut and, elsewhere, foreign spies from Klaviyasha converge on the bookstore hoping to whisk him back behind the Iron Curtain before he reveals any state secrets. Meanwhile, two unusually friendly bank robbers (Joey Adams and Andy Albin, surely pals of Amsterdam's) casually move in downstairs and beginning tunneling their way toward the bank next door.
Reportedly, Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title was released in May 1966, though it must have had an extremely limited theatrical run given the fact that not a single one-sheet, lobby card, or other advertising material is available anywhere on the Internet. If the date is right, that means this was likely filmed either between The Dick Van Dyke Show's fourth and fifth seasons, or perhaps during the latter, some week when Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie weren't needed. Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title certainly couldn't have taken long to make. The picture looks incredibly cheap, and was probably shot in ten days or less.
Reiner and Danny Thomas, one of the show's executive producers, each make unbilled cameos, while series regular Richard Deacon plays two different roles: Mr. Travis and an unrelated police chief who appears in the last-third of the picture. Asked about his resemblance to Charlie's ex-boss, the policeman replies, "Did you see this picture from the beginning?" With jokes like these, one assumes Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore graciously begged off similar walk-ons. In one scene Charlie asks Deacon's police chief, "How did you get this job? Are you the mayor's brother-in-law or something?" - a reference to Deacon's Mel Cooley character, who on The Dick Van Dyke Show works for his brother-in-law, entertainer Alan Brady (Reiner).
The jokes were ancient even in 1966: Asked by a customer, actually a KEB agent (Peggy Mundo) working incognito, "Do you like Kipling?" Charlie answers, "I don't know. I never kippled." Better ideas include a surreal bit where an Asian woman (Yan Shan Tung) wanders in and begins chatting with Charlie in French as "Chinese" subtitles appear onscreen. Uh, okay. In the only truly funny scene in the picture, Forrest Tucker is speaking sweet-nothings into his lover's (LaRue Farlow) ear, but through the miracle of editing, the movie keeps cutting away to Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie, resulting in some funny word play when they finish his sentences. However, by far the movie's best joke is the title itself.
The picture is packed with weird star cameos, most crammed into the first half-hour. Nick Adams and Cliff Arquette (in his "Charlie Weaver" persona) appear as KEB spies and whose leader, Mr. Big (Jack Heller), sits in front of a strange, unexplained sign reading "'The' Button." (Apparently a reference to fingers on the button threatening nuclear annihilation, but so bizarrely presented as to make no sense at all.)
An elderly Moe Howard, eye-poking front man of the Three Stooges, makes a rare solo appearance, in the more or less straight role of Crumworth Raines, an attorney. Irene Ryan, playing her Beverly Hillbillys Granny character, gives Charlie and Annie a lift in the Clampett's dilapidated 1921 Oldsmobile truck. Milton Berle turns up dragging a long rope. "Why are you pulling that rope?" Charlie asks. Berle's reply: "Did you ever try pushing it?" Did I mentioned the roaming turtle with the hidden microphone?
Video & Audio
Presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen format with 16:9 enhancement, Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title looks quite good, its black-and-white image sporting decent blacks and contrast. The mono English audio (no subtitle options) is adequate on this region 1 disc. No Extra Features.
In fairness, with some tweaking Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title might have been loopily funny, a cult comedy for the ages. Instead, it's like a lesser 1930s Wheeler & Woolsey comedy only made in 1966. It's certainly not for everyone, but for the masochistic viewer, it's 84 minutes of awesome awfulness. Now if only someone can unearth The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz. Recommended.
...and remember, as Morey says at the end: "Many of your friends will be coming to see this thrilling and absorbing picture. Don't spoil it for them by divulging the thrilling and shocking ending!"
* No, not the Mad Men actress, nor apparently any relation. And yet who'd have thought there'd be two January Joneses in the world, let alone in the same business?
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary is Godzilla vs. Megalon (with Steve Ryfle) or, as we like to call it, Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Release Date.