I saw “Get Smart” not long ago, and was surprised to find that it was enjoyable and not terrible enough to make me regret paying to see it in a theater. Granted, it was a $5 early morning showing. Though Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway got all the press, one of the main reasons I enjoyed the film was the presence of another cast member who is a real cinematic treasure: Alan Arkin.
He’s one of those actors who may never have been a big star but sure as hell can make any movie he’s in worth watching. And he’s clearly got talent, and range. Look at the diverse roles he’s had over the years.
First off, let’s not forget that he gave us one of the great movie villains of all time. I’m talking, of course, about Harry Roat Jr. (from Scarsdale), his character in “Wait Until Dark” — the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made. Arkin scares the hell out of poor, blind Audrey Hepburn and probably a good number of people who’ve seen the movie. He’s so creepy that, frankly, I’d rank him right up there with Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader, the Wicked Witch of the West and the other great movie villains.
Most people either don’t know, or don’t remember, that Arkin briefly took over the role of Inspector Clouseau from Peter Sellers, in a 1968 film called, appropriately enough, “Inspector Clouseau.” Sellers was either unavailable or unwilling to reprise the role at that time — this was actually the third Clouseau movie after the original “Pink Panther” and “A Shot in the Dark.” (Full disclosure: It is not all that funny. I ordered it from On-Demand out of curiosity and wound up turning it off about 30 minutes in.) Still, taking on a role like that which is so identified with one actor takes a certain presence to pull off.
My favorite Arkin role, I think, has to be the grandfather in “Little Miss Sunshine,” because he is just so politically incorrect and inappropriate that he kept me laughing throughout the movie. He can say the most outrageous things with such a straight face and manner that he is associated these days with more comedic roles, but his “Wait Until Dark” performance is a reminder that there is much more to Arkin than making us laugh.
As the chief of CONTROL, he’s not really the center of “Get Smart,” but his presence kind of lends the movie a certain legitimacy, and maybe that’s what they were going for in casting him. I loved the scene where he squares off with the vice president in the situation room, saying, “I’ve been waiting for this since Nixon!” It’s silly, as is the whole movie, but you can’t help laughing.
Frankly, I hope we get to see more of him, definitely in comedies but in other films that let him stretch his wings a bit more. He always brings fun and class to any film with which he is associated.