A North Austin Don Rickles Love-In
Okay, it’s time for me to come clean. Summer before last, I planned a visit to my in-laws around seeing a Don Rickles show in Manchester, New Hampshire.
My quiet husband is a huge Don Rickles fan. So when we saw the comic doing his thing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and heard that he was going to be appearing in the northeast when we’d vaguely planned on being there, we immediately bought show tickets online. Then we got our airplane tickets and hotel reservations, based around seeing the Rickles show.
Having just seen him do his insult comedy on television, we were more than a little surprised at both how musical, and how sentimental, he was on stage. In his live act, he has a whole band, and he sings. He sings a lot.
That live– and highly musical– stage show was beautifully captured in the film Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project, which screened Tuesday night at the Austin Film Festival. Producer Bob Engelman, who did a Q&A after the event told us two important things about the film. That this is the first filming of Rickles’ live act, and that we were the second audience to ever see the film (Engelman said the film screened last week at the New York Film Festival).
The film interweaves clips of Rickles live act with home movies, interviews of Rickles, and clips from his umpteen Tonight Show appearances. It also features interviews with a show biz who’s who, including Bob Newhart, Debbie Reynolds, Clint Eastwood and Chris Rock, among many others.
In the film, and in his live act, Rickles talks about the late Frank Sinatra, with the kind of love that, these days, a younger man wouldn’t be able to pull off with sincerity. A younger man would likely be terrified of being thought gay when talking about loving a late friend. An 81 year-old grandfather and WWII veteran doesn’t worry so much about that.
Talking about Sinatra’s era in Las Vegas, Rickles made the entertainment world of the 1950s and 60s in Vegas seem like almost a family.
“He’s the last man standing” from that era, Engelman pointed out during his Q&A.
The way Rickles talked about the intimate Vegas of a bygone era made it a fitting film for showing on the AFF’s quiet Tuesday night. That’s because this screening was the first time that I really felt that the festival was an Austin film event.
Maybe it was because many people from out of town have left, or because they just didn’t have cars to get to the north location of the Regal Arbor theater. However, at the screening of Mr. Warmth I actually recognized many of the people in the half-full auditorium.
I’ve mostly been sitting alone at the AFF screenings because of not seeing anyone I knew. Happily for this screening I managed to sit next to my Austin-based movie-reviewer pal Juliette. The tall, hunky, dark-haired guy in the back of the screening was Matt Dentler, South by Southwest’s film programmer. I even saw a couple of people from Austinist, the hyper-local city blog, where I help cover the busy Austin theater scene. It was like old home week for the Austin Film Community.
Mr. Warmth is a fine film. Engelman told us that HBO will be showing it later this fall, and that it’ll be out on DVD in December.
“My dad would love this,” my pal Juliette had said to me just as the film was over. Mine would, too. I’m just hoping the Mr. Warmth DVD is out in time for the holidays, so that I can cross one bit of shopping off my list.
Photo: Producer Bob Engelman and Anna Hanks