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He's a Spy? Yeah. Right.
by Jon Schuller

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Among the myriad stories that are still surfacing about World War II are several about famous people who were helping the Allies fight the war but totally in secret. Noel Coward, the famous English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, used his influence and writing skills to bring America into the war, especially by helping Great Britain. Julia Child worked for the OSS. Harry Houdini was used to infiltrate Russian police stations while touring. Sterling Hayden spied in Europe. Greta Garbo kept tabs on Germans and made trips to Copenhagen. John Ford, the famous movie director, helped the OSS develop advanced camera techniques for aerial photography. Roald Dahl, the writer, was used by the British Secret Service to seduce society ladies in Washington in order to find out who would be helpful to the British cause in World War II. Ernest Hemingway set up a spy ring in Cuba to keep tabs on German U-boats operating in the Caribbean. There are many other people who helped the war effort under the cover of fame and fortune. There was a story some people consider it
fiction - about an apparently unlikely choice to do undercover work for the C.I.A. His name was Chuck Barris, who worked for Dick Clark on American Bandstand, created The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and the Gong Show, and was chosen to become an assassin on his trips abroad. The film was Confessions of a Dangerous Mind starring Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, George Clooney and Julia Roberts. The supporting cast featured Rutger Hauer, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jerry Weintraub. It was Clooney's directorial debut, first released on December 31, 2002.

Chuck Barris (Rockwell), after a short stint as an NBC page in 1961 where he hoped to meet girls and become important returns to Philadelphia and gets a job on American Bandstand. He composes the hit single Palisades Park (for Freddie Cannon) and meets a woman named Penny Pacino (Barrymore). He gets a chance to sell his game show concept called The Dating Game to ABC but gets rejected. He brawls at a bar and suddenly a man named Jim Byrd (Clooney), who works for the CIA, approaches him and suggests he work for the agency as an
assassin. He goes to Mexico, comes home as he realizes Penny has turned hippie. By 1967, The Dating Game has skyrocketed and Barris is rich.

The Newlywed Game is another success as he returns from a mission in Helsinki, Finland, meeting a beautiful American agent named Patricia Watson (Roberts). He doesn't want to marry Penny and his successes on television keep him busy. In 1970 his newest assignment is in East Berlin; he's to kill a dangerous agent named Hans Colbert. He meets his contact, Keeler (Hauer), there and the bad guy is taken out. He returns to the States after being interned by the KGB and then exchanged.

Six years later another big hit, The Gong Show, makes Barris famous again. Byrd visits him at home to warn him that a mole may know his true identity and suddenly Byrd, too, is murdered. We're not sure if Barris is the gunman or not.

By this time all of his double-life activities finally catch up with him and he has a nervous breakdown on live television. Penny tries to rescue him and convince him to marry her finally. He travels to Boston instead, meets
Wilson and, then, suddenly collapses as if poisoned. He has gotten Patricia to confess to being the real mole as he had actually poisoned her instead. He returns to California, marries Penny and begins his autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

It took quite a while for this story to become a script and eventually get the financing, director and actors to bring it all to life. Many actors were considered for the role of Barris but eventually Sam Rockwell was chosen because he was so convincing as the lead character. I think Mr. Rockwell is one of our premier actors and he can play so many diverse parts. As Barris, he's the many-sided game show host who says he's an assassin on the side. You decide if it's all true or just another game show, this one with rather deadly consequences. Rockwell's fellow actors are the best, too, and George Clooney's first directorial job is a good one. Try this one on, see if it's a good fit for you. The film's an interesting mix of facts and fiction, in my humble opinion. Regardless, it's a movie that will make you think while making you smile.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

When Is It Leaving? Where Is It Going?

I'd Forgotten About That Completely

May I Quote You On That?

A Penultimate Year For Movies

Just Say No. Again.

All Columns


Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 29 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).



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