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Mr. Ricco (DVD Review)

8 Oct, 2012 By: Mike Clark

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
$18.95 DVD-R
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Dean Martin, Eugene Roche, Thalmus Rasulala, Cindy Williams.

After the applause, whistles and wailing subsided amid the folkloric Martin & Lewis reunion on the 1976 Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, Jerry’s opening comment to his former partner, to formidable guffaws, was, “You workin’ any?” Dino responded that he was “getting a few weeks” (I believe this was the terminology) at the MGM Grand (Hotel).

Part of Martin’s contractual deal was to churn out an occasional movie for what was left of the Mother Studio — and despite the opening “Beginning Our Next 50 Years” self-huzzah that opens what would be the Martin’s final lead (and final big-screen drama), the actual result was the stuff that waning drive-ins were made of. With or without the title quotation marks (even this release’s jacket and disc art differ), Panavision “Ricco” rarely gets shown, and if Turner Classic has ever run it letterboxed on TV, I missed it (and I’ve been looking).

At 58, Martin had aged a lot since even the smash-dom of Airport just five years earlier, and his skin tones were pretty close to close to the way my father liked his steaks when my mom would chant, “Sam … SAM” after he’d undercooked them on the backyard grill to something close to Dracula specifications. Whatever the next level is above “improbably cast” is what Martin is here: playing a criminal attorney in San Francisco (hardly a city synched to the Dino milieu) who has sprung a Black Power local on a murder rap when, in fact, this defendant may have merited legal retribution.

Dean Martin in a Black Power atmosphere — or at least in a movie where characters sport Afros – is something new. Unless, of course, you count the Black Power of fellow Dino Rat Packer Sammy Davis Jr. when, say, the latter rattled Richard Nixon’s day by ambushing the president with that famous bear hug (without — to employ Sammy nightclub parlance — the prez’s “kind permission”). Ricco was one of a piece with the “urban” John Wayne cop drama McQ from the previous year, which sported my own favorite ad copy in the history of cinema (“Wayne on Wheels”). 

Predominantly TV director Paul Bogart (though he’d done 1971’s well-received Skin Game) directs with one of the most peripatetic zoom lenses (to no avail) of the era, and the script was by Robert Hoban for his only screen credit. Cindy Williams, in that window between American Graffiti and “Laverne & Shirley,” plays Martin’s assistant, while Eugene Roche gets to bellow a lot as an intermittently friendly cop/exec once shootings and other retributions get out of hand. Eventually, Martin/Ricco endures a brutal beating — or, more to the point, his obvious stuntman does — and this is an indication of why this release is a find even though it’s terrible: one would never expect the immortal vocalist of “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” “In Napoli” and “Wham! Bam! Thank You, Ma’am” (you can look it up; it was 1950) to be a part of this particular movie.

For a little comedy relief, there are a couple passages involving Ricco’s fornicating pet dog plus a golf course scene where the same mutt performs a few paw mashies on his master’s wayward shots into the rough. At this point, the links were no doubt the place Martin preferred to be in real life, and all that was left on big screens were a pair of Cannonball Run comedies, a brief show-up on TV’s “Half Nelson” and that “Charlie’s Angels” episode where he was caught somewhere between a sleepy mumble and a how’d-all-these-people-get-in-my-room slur. Thus, Mr. Ricco is kind of a footnote — something alone the lines of “Do the Clam.”

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