Enter Laughing

Steven Spielberg’s The Fablemans might be the latest in a long legacy of artists making thinly-veiled autobio pics about their humble beginnings, but it’s worth noting the great works that came before (and are mostly forgotten.) First and foremost is the late, great Carl Reiner’s debut feature comedy, Enter Laughing– a sweet and hilarious look at a young Bronx man trying to figure out how to follow his passion for acting. Every scene bristles with energy and gusto that never lets up, often with hilarious results.

Carl Reiner, of course, had his hand in so much of America’s comedy legacy, from the innovative Dick Van Dyke Show to classic films like The Jerk and Oh, God– but Enter Laughing feels more like it was made by a bunch of friends having a blast. It’s just that these friends happen to be some of the most colorful and amazing actors Hollywood has been lucky enough to have, making Enter Laughing not just a great comedy, but a history lesson in its own right.

David Kolowitz is our Carl Reiner-stand in-protagonist, a delivery boy dreaming of making it big on stage. He’s played by Reni Santoni, whom you might remember from either Dirty Harry (if you’re older) or Seinfeld (as Poppie) if you’re not. Here, he’s brilliant as a young, naive, and likeable young guy who, like so many guys, is simultaneously bewildered by and obsessed with every woman he encounters in life. Those women include his girlfriend, Wanda (played by Janet Margolin, who later starred in Woody Allen’s debut feature, Take the Money and Run,) his leading lady, Angela (played by the incomparable Elaine May,) and Miss B, played by Nancy Kovack- one of TV Land’s great character actors.

But wait, kids, that’s not all- Miss B.’s boss is played by master comedian Don Rickles, David’s mother is played by Hollywood starlet Shelley Winters, and the hilarious Jack Gilford plays David’s boss. An incredibly young Rob Reiner has a great cameo as another actor auditioning for the same role, and the iconic Michael J. Pollard is David’s pal (you’ll know him better as C.W. Moss in Bonnie and Clyde.) And that’s just a few of the many great talents that pop up here.

Back to the movie itself: it’s a great one, even though the premise (kid from the Bronx goes for his acting dream) is a pretty big cliche you’ve seen before and since. Reiner, who wrote the original story that became a play and now a film, shows just how good his comedy and directing chops are, even here, in his first flick. With an upbeat, jazzy score by Quincy Jones that perfectly mirrors the jovial and sincere nature of the film, Enter Laughing truly deserves the title of an American Classic.

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