It was almost 50 years ago when "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" released in theaters and demonstrated the late Jonathan Winters' comedic brilliance on the big screen. Not longer after, Winters was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as Lennie Pike, the furniture mover who manages to destroy a gas station. But, alas, he didn't win the Globe, despite kicking off decades of other periodic years when a comedian would be nominated for a big screen performance, yet with no win.
Perhaps Winters getting the nomination kicked off the twisted philosophy that a comedian can't prove enough in a movie to get over the award stump. Had the Hollywood Foreign Press been able to see inside the inventive mind of Winters, they likely would have changed course. Of course, the lack of respect hasn't abated in how challenging it is to do comedy effectively in a movie compared to drama.
The fact that Winters decided to act in a satire as his next movie project arguably prevented him from being nominated for a movie performance again. "The Loved One" in 1965 was easily one of the most astute dark satires of the 1960s as a look at the Los Angeles funeral home industry. It should have given Winters another Golden Globe nomination for his dual role as twin brothers (one a crooked reverend).
Satire, however, was even further removed from being understood in 1965 than it is now. That may be why he ended up in more comedy films that were in the vein of "Mad World", such as the much more hilarious "The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming." By the late 1960s, his comedic movie performances nearly stole the movie away, even if the movies as a whole were dwindling in quality.
When Winters finally became a huge success with his own TV series, there still seemed to be a reluctance to cast him as the lead in a movie. That was another punch in the gut to comedians as thought they had to be a sideline character in order to create balance in cast chemistry. All subsequent movies Winters made fell under that category, other than a semi-documentary made all about him in 2011.
It's not hard to imagine, though, what he could have done had he been the headlining star of a fictional comedy movie. Chances are, he could have easily portrayed multiple roles as Peter Sellers and Sir Alec Guinness once did. Such a project could have been a manic comedy tour de force that may have broken the barrier to more comedians (other than his apprentice Robin Williams) winning Golden Globes and Oscars.
Right now, winning major awards are still all about drama rather than comedy appreciation. No one can deny that most movie comedies fall within the crude now, hence making an Oscar win look less honorable. Regardless, no comedian or comedienne will be able to do the type of comedy Jonathan Winters was able to do with stream-of-conscious ease.
All irony is that some current movie comedians are testing the dramatic waters to prove their worth as actors. It was something we saw Winters do only once in a 1994 movie adaptation of "The Shadow" where he played the uncle of Lamont Cranston. Had he been given the chance, he could have excelled in a self-starring movie drama, considering his dramatic personal life with manic depression.
The above scenario would have finally proven that comedians know pain more than the dramatists do.
- Arts & Entertainment
- Jonathan Winters