1971 movie poster by Sandy Kossin
|Directed by||Norman Lear|
|Produced by||Norman Lear|
|Written by||Norman Lear
William Price Fox Jr.
|Starring||Dick Van Dyke
Helen Page Camp
Edward Everett Horton
M. Emmet Walsh
|Music by||Randy Newman|
|Cinematography||Charles F. Wheeler|
|Editing by||John C. Horger|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Release date(s)||February 19, 1971|
|Running time||99 min|
Cold Turkey is a 1971 satirical comedy film. It stars Dick Van Dyke plus a long list of comedic actors, several of whom are well known to North American television audiences. The film was directed, co-produced and co-written by Norman Lear and is based on the novel I'm Giving Them Up for Good by Margaret and Neil Rau.
Cold Turkey features original music by Randy Newman including "He Gives Us All His Love", a ballad with a gospel influence that serves as the film's theme song. This was Newman's first film soundtrack.
The film was made in 1969, but was shelved for two years by the distributor due to concerns about its box-office potential.
It was only released on VHS and LaserDisc (1993) in the pan-and-scan format. On 3 May 2010 Cold Turkey was released on DVD through Amazon.com with manufacturing on demand and it is still occasionally shown on various cable and satellite channels.
As part of a public relations and marketing strategy to compare the empathy of Big Tobacco to the nobility of the Nobel Peace Prize, advertising executive Merwin Wren (Bob Newhart) convinces the Valiant Tobacco Company to propose a challenge: a tax-free check for $25,000,000 to any city or town in America that can stop smoking, or go cold turkey, for thirty days.
According to Wren, the offer will generate Valiant worldwide free publicity and praise as a humanitarian gesture, but no town in America would ever be able to claim the prize, cigarette smoking being too addictive to stop.
The Reverend Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke), a kindly but fearsome minister of the Eagle Rock Community Church, takes up the challenge as a spiritual call. He urges the economically depressed fictional community of Eagle Rock (population 4,006), Iowa, to go for the prize.
The town council has been trying to woo back the military ever since it closed a base a few years back, hoping its return would help the local cash flow. Families have been moving out almost on a monthly basis and the town center is almost deserted.
Reverend Brooks recruits every smoker in the town to sign up. Needled for not smoking himself (he used to, but had quit), he begins smoking to find solidarity with his "flock."
At midnight, the challenge begins. For the next thirty days, no smoking is permitted, Eagle Rock being the only city in America that got all of its smokers to pledge.
The tobacco company sends Merwin to report the progress of the townspeople's commitment. The company needs just one person to fail. Among the weakest: alcoholic Edgar Stopworth (Tom Poston); the elderly Doctor Proctor (Barnard Hughes), who must always have a cigarette before surgery, and the anxiety-ridden wife of the mayor, Mrs. Wappler (Jean Stapleton), who counts the small gherkin pickles she eats as the hours pass. However, a group of 29 non-smoking residents, all members of the ultra-conservative Christopher Mott Society (possibly based on the John Birch Society) have been asked by Brooks to police all traffic entering Eagle Rock to ensure no tobacco products enter. A running gag ensues when elderly Odie Turman (Judith Lowry) keeps needling leader Amos Bush (Graham Jarvis) about his pistol, which she later steals.
Eventually, the attention of the nation's leading newscasters at the time (all played by the comedy duo Bob and Ray), turns the small community's efforts into a matter of highly publicized failure or success. Soon the community is invaded by buxom "massage therapists," beer vendors, souvenir shops and more. Rev. Clayton appears on a Time magazine cover, which leads him to another epiphany: if he can save the town, he will be a hero.
Merwin is told by Valiant's board members to undermine the town's efforts at all costs, doing whatever he can to get someone to smoke before the thirty days are up, leading to hilarious results as the clock ticks down.
Although the story takes place in "Eagle Rock, Iowa," most of it was filmed in the small town of Greenfield, Iowa, and many local people were used as extras. Some neighborhood scenes were shot in Winterset, Iowa. The Methodist church in Orient, Iowa, and the bank in Macksburg, Iowa, were used as well. The Grayson Mansion scenes were filmed at Terrace Hill, located in Des Moines, Iowa. Some were also shot in the town of Columbia in south central Kentucky.
- Veteran actor Edward Everett Horton, whose career began in 1906, plays tobacco company president Hiram C. "Mr. Tobacco' Grayson in a wheelchair and without dialogue. He is shown later in a limousine where Grayson farts, possibly the first time that flatulence is depicted in a U.S. movie. This was Horton's final role, and he died before the film was released.
- Director Norman Lear has a three-second cameo approximately 2/3 of the way into the film. He is shown as one of the townspeople sitting down and crying because he is unable to get a cigarette fix.
- Maureen McCormick, best known for her role as Marcia Brady on television's The Brady Bunch, provides the voice of a talking doll in the film, which says "I love you! - smoking gives you cancer!"
- The characters played by Bob and Ray are parodies of real-life news and broadcasting personalities: "Walter Chronic" (Walter Cronkite), "Hugh Upson" (Hugh Downs), "David Chetley" (Chet Huntley/David Brinkley), "Arthur Lordly" (Arthur Godfrey), "Paul Hardly" (Paul Harvey), and "Sandy Van Andy" (Sander Vanocur). The film's promotional trailer features different newscasters, "Hardly Reasonable" (Harry Reasoner) and "Mike Walrus" (Mike Wallace), one of whom is played by Paul Dooley (who does not appear in the final film).
- A number of actors appearing in the film -- Jean Stapleton, Vincent Gardenia, Paul Benedict and Barnard Hughes -- would go on to work with Lear in the coming years on his various television projects.
Arthur Krim of United Artists later did an assessment of the film as part of an evaluation of the company's inventory:
An old commitment to Dick Van Dyke, and what seemed to be a good idea for the American market, became an overpriced film with a has-been personality by the time of it's [ sic ] release. Albeit funny, the picture is way overpriced for its value, which is strictly for the American market - mainly for mid America. The producer and director went over a million dollars over budget on the film to deliver a minor American comedy with no overseas value. This film would be programmed today only if it could be made at one-half the cost.
- Cold Turkey at the Internet Movie Database
- Cold Turkey (film) at AllRovi
- Cold Turkey (film) at the TCM Movie Database
- Trailer for Cold Turkey
- "Cold Turkey, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved June 24, 2012.
- quoted in Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company that Changed the Film Industry, Wisconsin Press, 1987 p 314