Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Robin Williams Show

"Goooooooood morning, Vietnam! Hey, this is not a test! This is rock and roll! Time to rock it from the Delta to the D.M.Z.!"

I've been following Robin Williams since his "Mork and Mindy" days.

Few people have been as manic in public as Williams, and there have been few professional opportunities for him to let his wild side take over completely.

(I suppose one could argue that Williams only has one side, he is just judicious with its wildness.)

But I'm inclined to think that Williams' portrayal of disc jockey Adrian Cronauer had to be one of those opportunities. And he took advantage of it.

I've heard that most of Williams' radio broadcasts in the movie were improvised, and that would make sense.

Who else, after all, would think to say this while imitating Walter Cronkite?

"I just want to begin by saying to Roosevelt E. Roosevelt, what it is, what it shall be, what it was. The weather out there today is hot and shitty with continued hot and shitty in the afternoon. Tomorrow a chance of continued crappy with a pissy weather front coming down from the north. Basically, it's hotter than a snake's ass in a wagon rut."

How about this?

"What's the demilitarized zone? It sounds like something from the Wizard of Oz. 'Oh no don't go in there!' 'Ohhh wee ohh. Ho Chi Minh.' 'Oh look you've landed in Saigon. You're amongst the little people now.' 'We represent the ARVN army, the ARVN army. Oh no! Follow the Ho Chi Minh trail! Follow the Ho Chi Minh trail!' "

Who else would be irreverent enough to say this?

"Here are the headlines. Here they come right now. Pope actually found to be Jewish. Liberace is Anastasia and Ethel Merman jams Russian radar. The East Germans today claimed the Berlin Wall was a fraternity prank. Also the pope decided today to release Vatican–related bath products. An incredible thing, yes, it's the new Pope On A Rope. That's right. Pope On A Rope. Wash with it, go straight to heaven."

Certainly not the real Adrian Cronauer, who reportedly was nowhere near as hyperactive as Williams' character. I've heard he used no comedy in his broadcasts and simply left Vietnam when his tour of duty ended.

(Williams' Cronauer was taken off the air and given an honorable discharge provided he left quietly under shadowy circumstances.)

The real Cronauer story transferred to film wouldn't have made enough money to cover the producers' bus fare anywhere.

But the Williams treatment resulted in an Academy Award nomination.

He didn't win the Oscar (he lost to Michael Douglas). He deserved the nomination, though — it was, after all, his show, and his performance was dazzling — but he might not have been nominated if he hadn't been surrounded by a top–notch supporting cast.

Of all the noteworthy acting talent that provided that support, I think my favorite was Forest Whitaker as Eddie Garlick. Whitaker had been around for awhile — I first remember seeing him in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" — but I had never seen him like he was in "Good Morning, Vietnam."

For lack of a better term, Whitaker was Williams' sidekick, his straight man.

"No," Whitaker said at one point, "he's not all right. A man does not refer to Pat Boone as a beautiful genius if things are all right."

At another point, speaking of the stuffed shirt character (Bruno Kirby) who took over on–air duty when Cronauer was ushered out, Whitaker said, "We got one letter from a man who thought that Hauk's comedy was 'visionary and interesting.' The other 1100 calls say that the man can't do comedy to save his dick! That's a direct quote, sir."

And, boy, could he deliver a straight line.

But he could deliver punch lines, too. Like when he was asked why Bob Hope wouldn't come to Vietnam.
"He doesn't play police actions, just wars. Bob likes a big room, sir."

Now, that's a punch.