Cold Turkey

A very concise prophecy based on a reading of contemporary events, which has now come true. Lear begins after a prologue with a credit sequence as the camera slowly winds up the road to Eagle Rock, Iowa, following a scruffy dog back and forth across the road and examining the signs of the town’s dissolution (“WELCOME SOLDIERS” reads a worn-out billboard).

A no-smoking ordinance is tied to Eagle Rock’s renewed prosperity, and in the end President Nixon arrives to announce (by way of a blimp) the construction of a missile factory in the town, with a final shot of its smokestacks towering above the city.

Anti-smoking fascists are defined in the plainest of terms, but then, everybody comes in for a measure of the satire. It’s greatly to be pitied that audiences at the time couldn’t appreciate Cold Turkey as the masterpiece it is, and yet it’s hardly a wonder, as hard to believe as it is. Admire, then, the genius of Norman Lear, who figured it all out.

One of Eagle Rock’s yokels gets made Anti-Smoking Cop, and is instrumental in the deaths of several leading citizens at the end, including the minister (Dick Van Dyke), who wears out his wife with afternoon visits during the regime. Wellman’s Magic Town is very importantly drawn upon for the picture of Eagle Rock enlivened and subsumed by economic activity associated with the scheme.

Among the very funny gags is a TV director arranging a live broadcast of the reverend’s Sunday service, coaching the parishioners, chalking his mark next to the pulpit, etc. Various TV news anchors are parodied by Bob & Ray as Walter Chronic, David Chetley, Sandy Van Andy, etc., and are seen to be fantastically godlike creatures descending upon the town.

“WITH LOVE FROM YOUR PRESIDENT” reads the crawl across the blimp, proclaiming the news. “He gives us all his love,” sings Randy Newman over the end credits. All Lear has to do in his first shot is tilt down from a close-up of Bob Newhart to one of Edward Everett Horton, and there you have it.