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This is a splendid little sleeper of a movie. Ernie Kovacs was one of the giants of early television. I think he would be pleased with the way Jeff Goldbloom captures his wonky personality. Melody Anderson also distills that of Edie Adams. There is a very basic heart tugging story about the search for Kovacs' two abducted daughters. But at the same time the film is funny --- Cloris Leachman is a hoot as Kovacs impossible mom --- and has many of the offbeat and innovative qualities of the old Kovacs show itself.
I just happened upon this great little 1984 made-for-TV
movie starring Jeff Goldblum who is dead-on Ernie Kovacs. Great direction,
music and even a cameo by Edie Adams (Ernie's widow, by whom this story is
based)playing Mae West. Plus just watching all the 1950s cars go by.
Not only is the direction by veteran Lamont Johnson wonderful, but the casting by Lynn Stalmaster is just superb! The two Kovacs daughters are delightful (especially the younger's reply at the end to Ernie's admonition about still sucking her thumb!).
The picture captures the wacky, frenetic pace--and true life--that was Ernie Kovacs. How to film all this, with kids screaming "they want their mommy," and yet keep Goldblum and the Edie Adams actress true to their characters is marvelous.
Special commendation, too, to a real pro: Cloris Leachman, who plays Ernie's mother. Her walking around with no underwear and just long-sleave men's shirts, while speaking with a thick Hungarian accent and broken English, is just spellbinding.
Don't miss this great little movie when it's on: I had wanted to watch it because I thought it was a 2-hour Biography on A&E; instead, as a movie made for TV, it was almost a better biography (save for no beginning about Ernie or his tragic death in a car accident and later great help by Edie to pay all of his IRS and other debts).
In the earliest days of Television, Ernie Kovacs, laid the foundation for many aspiring talk show hosts, comedians and News Personalties. After his death, there were many who acknowledged his inspirational influences. Having grown up with his unusual humor on our small Black and White TV sets, it came as no surprise when the world passed by this early screen innovator. However, this movie called " Ernie Kovacs: Between the Laughter " is a great tribute to that remarkable talent. Jeff Goldblum plays Ernie Kovacs and does so with a flair which would have made the late great comedian proud. Kovacs' film begins with his early days when he switched from radio to Black and White Television. His first marriage failed but left him with two beautiful daughters which were kidnapped by his first wife, Dorothy. (Madolyn Smith Osborne) Further into his life, Ernie continues to invocate his way into the world of Television all the while raising the standard, while at the same spending a great deal of money on private detectives like Pierre LaFititte (John Glover) who eventually proves his worth. The movie is a serious attempt at defining the original artist and Goldblum does a remarkable job of bringing life to an otherwise deadpan expression. Nevertheless with little effort Melody Anderson plays his second wife Edie Adams who adds a beautiful segment to a wonderful individual who established an art form which many recognize as pure Classic. Recommended for the serious fans of Jeff Goldblum. ****
Ernie Kovacs was one of the great innovative comedians of the last
century. In the years of his career he had to be because he operated
during the McCarthy Era when a whole lot of subjects were taboo in
terms of satire. As one of Kovacs's contemporaries Sid Caesar said,
comedians with all the restrictions of early television had to be
What was going just as Kovacs was hitting the big time both in his career and his courtship of Edie Adams, he was going through a nasty divorce with his first wife. He won the custody fight and that was unusual for a father to do that back then, still his wife took his two small daughters and fled with them to parts unknown. Kovacs spent thousands trying to locate them.
Just as Jim Carrey was able to channel Andy Kaufman in his film, so did Jeff Goldblum do with Kovacs. I am old enough to remember Ernie Kovacs from film and television and Goldblum was great. Melody Anderson was a fine Edith then Edie Adams and Cloris Leachman was fabulous as Ernie's mother from hell. Now I know where they got the inspiration for the grandmother character in Malcolm in the Middle.
If that wasn't enough the real Edie Adams got to play Mae West who Edie back in the day did a devastating impersonation of. I never did find out what Mae thought of it, but here she kind of channeled Mae the same way Goldblum channeled her late husband.
For a nice behind the scenes look at one of our great American comic geniuses definitely see Ernie Kovacs: Before The Laughter.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
On the whole I considered this to be a pretty good movie. But being the
Ernie Kovacs fanatic that I am, I couldn't help but notice a few
discrepancies throughout. Perhaps since this film is based on Edith
Adams' recollections, there was a bit of a skewed point of view. Or
perhaps the movie covers the period of time that Ernie was signed with
CBS and NBC while the film was produced by ABC could bring up a few
copyright issues. In one way or another all of Ernie's bits in the film
are changed in somewhat noticeable ways. Here are a few of the bit
discrepancies I found...
During the Percy Dovetonsils performance it was very clear to any fan of Ernie's that the "eyeball glasses" worn did not even resemble the actual ones that Ernie wore. Also, the fish in the martini event had a completely different poem by Percy.
During the Nairobi Trio performances, Ernie's "conductor" ape was waving his baton in the reverse order from the way Ernie always did during the performance. Ernie always waved the baton up and to the right, while in the film it was waved up and to the left.
During the "Wolfgang Sauerbraten" German Disk Chockey bit, the turntable was on the opposite side of the table from where it always was during Ernie's performance. And the dialog was completely incorrect for the particular bit he was doing in the film.
And perhaps the most glaring instance was that Ernie NEVER actually laid on the train tracks in front of an oncoming train in his entire career! That story has always be attributed to folklore, an urban legend if you will...
The performances by everyone in the cast were quite admirable. Although Mr. Goldblum's 6'4" lanky frame was noticeably different from Ernie's 6'2" 215 lb frame. Though this could be easily explained, since the rest of the cast may have been tall, requiring the use of a noticeably tall actor such as Jeff Goldblum. Ms. Leachman was absolutely wonderful as Ernie's wacky mother! Kudos! Ms. Edie Adams' appearance as Mae West could have been omitted, as it was nothing more than a self serving distraction from an otherwise fine movie.
So... I would suggest to anyone with even a passing interest in Ernie Kovacs, that they should take the 95 minutes required to watch this film. Even more so I would suggest that you get a hold of a copy of the fantastic biography by Diana Rico. A wonderful book that leaves absolutely no stone unturned about the life of Ernie Kovacs.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Like one person already mentioned, there are noticeable embellishments
on the life of Ernie Kovacs - specifically on his performances. But
that's not really what this movie is about. It's about a courageous man
trying to make an inroad in a new medium - television. And while he was
doing that, he had to deal with a failed marriage and the kidnapping of
his two daughters. But the most interesting thing about the film is
what "wasn't" seen in it.
(Spoiler alert - maybe)
If you know Ernie Kovacs' bio, this won't spoil a thing. But assuming you don't, here's the summary. Ernie Kovacs was the first father in the history of U.S. justice to be awarded "full" custody to his children. Before Ernie's case, mothers "always" got at least partial custody (but usually full custody). Men almost always got the short end of the stick in a custody battle. Even so, here's what you "didn't" see in the film.
When Ernie's private investigator brought the cops to the place where his first wife was keeping the children ... and after the children were reunited with Ernie ... NOTHING happened to the first wife. Had the sex roles been reversed, the father would have been arrested, taken away in handcuffs, and charged with violating a court order (custodial interference) and Federal kidnapping charges because the children were transported across a state line. But the first Mrs. Kovacs? Not a darn thing was done. The private eye told Ernie, "I'll ride back with the officers" ... and the officers were leaving without arresting anybody.
In 1955 custody battles (and even in 1984 when the film was made), men were treated like criminals if they absconded with their non-custodial children. But if women did the same thing, they usually got off scot-free. And even in our 21st Century "enlightened" times, the same double-standard treatment can sometimes be seen in custody battles.
I took away one star because of the way the film concluded. Remember his first wife's threat to take him back to court? Well, she didn't follow through with it - at least not while Ernie was alive. But when Ernie died in the unfortunate 1962 auto accident, his first wife tried to regain custody again - taking Edie Adams (who'd since married Ernie) into court. Remember that Ernie's divorce took place in Pennsylvania. But afterward, Ernie, Edie and the kids moved to New York. His first wife tried to convince a New York judge that it was "Ernie" who kidnapped the children in 1955. And, the court almost believed her until Edie could produce the Pennsylvanian divorce decree and custody order. And even though she did, the New York court "still" proceeded with a new custody hearing.
During the hearing, Ernie's daughters referred to Edie as "mom" ... and their mother as "the other lady." And Edie won custody.
Anyway, I wish this part of their lives had at least been brought out so that viewers would know just how low his first wife went to get back at Ernie - even after his death.
In the absence of being able to watch Ernie Kovacs episodes, I settled
on this movie one night. As a kid I would watch Kovacs show with my
parents approving in their loungers behind me, because they recognized
him as a creative original (and my parents are super old-school!) The
three of us would find plenty of things to chuckle about, as everyone;
phonies, conformists, TV show hosts, simpering poets, a trio in
gorillas masks; were all set up and mowed down for our enjoyment.
Ditto for this movie. While Goldblum may not be too much like Kovacs, there were scenes that made me laugh in exactly the same way Kovacs had. Kovacs loved a good put-on & absurdity was the unifying thread of his show. Kovacs search for his kids was the typical stuff of made for TV movies, but I still laugh over some scenes in this. The sequence where Kovacs is reviewing his contract and puts on pair of glasses to read the fine print, then another pair over those, then another pair over those, while playing it sincere is exactly the kind of screwy humor my family held in high respect.
This was actually a very interesting movie. I tells the story of comedian
Ernie Kovacs and his search for his kidnapped children. I love Jeff
Goldblum and he is top notch in this movie. The movie features some of
Kovac's classic sketches and boy are they funny.
I wouldn't rent this (mostly because I doubt I would be able to find it), but if it's on TV then sit down and watch it. The climax is very moving and the rest of the movie is also pretty darn funny.
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