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Cold Turkey is a 1971 satirical comedy film. It stars a long list of comedic actors, several of whom are well-known to North American television audiences. The film was directed, co-produced and co-written by Norman Lear and is based on the novel I'm Giving Them Up for Good by Margaret and Neil Rau.

Cold Turkey features original music by Randy Newman including "He Gives Us All His Love", a wonderfully arranged ballad with a gospel influence that serves as the film's theme song. This was Newman's first film soundtrack.

The film was made in 1969, but was shelved for two years by the distributor due to concerns about its box-office potential.

It was only released on VHS and EP LaserDisc (1993) in the pan-and-scan format. As of 2009 no plans have been made to release it on DVD, but it is still occasionally shown on various cable and satellite channels.

Plot

As part of a public relations and marketing strategy to compare the empathy of Big Tobacco to the nobility of the Nobel Peace Price, Merwin Wren (Bob Newhart), an advertising executive, convinces the Valiant Tobacco Company to propose a challenge: they will give a tax-free check for $25,000,000 to any city or town in America that can stop smoking, or "Cold Turkey", for thirty days. According to Wren the idea is that the offer will generate them worldwide free publicity putting them in a humanitarian category but that no town in America would ever be able to successfully sign up, especially since cigarette smoking is so addictive who would stop?

The Reverend Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke), a kindly but fearful minister of the Eagle Rock Community Church, takes up the challenge as a spiritual call to the town, and leads the economically-depressed fictional community of Eagle Rock, Iowa (population 4,006) to accept the challenge, spurred on by the thought of all the money and what it can do for the town, striving to help them find the strength to succeed. The town council had been trying to woo back the military ever since it closed a military base a few years back, hoping its return would help the local cash flow but that has not happened. People and families have been moving out almost on a monthly basis and the town center is almost deserted.

Reverend Clayton eventually gets every smoker in the town to sign up, and after being needled for not smoking himself (he used to but quit) he even began again to show solidarity with "his flock". Finally, at midnight, the challenge begins and for thirty days no smoking is permitted, Eagle Rock being the only town or city in America that got all of their smokers to pledge.

As the thirty days begin, the tobacco company sends Merwin to report the progress of their inability of the townspeople to commit, in other words wanting to see anyone in the town fail. Among the weakest of the townspeople: alcoholic Edgar Stopworth (Tom Poston) , the elderly Doctor Proctor (Barnard Hughes), who must always have a cigarette before surgery, and the anxiety-ridden wife of the Mayor, Mrs. Wappler (Jean Stapleton) who counts the small gherkin pickles she eats as the hours pass.

Eventually the attention of the nation's leading newscasters at the time (all played by the comedy duo Bob and Ray), turns the small community's efforts into a matter of highly-publicized failure or success. With the impending popularity also comes buxom 'massage therapists', beer vendors, souvenir shops, and for Rev. Clayton, a Time magazine cover, which leads him to another epiphany: if he can save the town, he will be the hero.

As the few remaining days approach, however, Merwin is told by the board members to undermine their efforts at all costs, doing whatever he can to get anyone to smoke before the thirty days are up, leading to hilarious results as the clock ticks down.

Setting

Although most of the film's action takes place in "Eagle Rock, Iowamarker", much of the film was actually filmed in the small town of Greenfield, Iowamarker and many local people were used as extras. This gives the setting a certain authenticity which might be different had it been filmed in a Hollywoodmarker soundstage. Some portions of the film, mostly neighborhood scenes, were shot in Winterset, Iowamarker. The Methodist church in Orient, Iowamarker and the bank in Macksburg, Iowamarker were used as well. The Grayson Mansion scenes were filmed at Terrace Hillmarker located in Des Moines, Iowamarker.

Themes

Cold Turkey is a light-hearted and comedic exploration of serious themes central to Americanmarker society in the late 1960s, including corporate corruption, addiction, the power of advertising and the mass media, organized religion, right wing and left wing politics, personal liberty versus loyalty to one's community, and the relative value of material gain versus personal honor and interpersonal relationships.

Quotes

  • Odie Turman: I'll tell that to a Communist when he H-bombs me! Before you H-bomb me, you go over to that man with a gun and get captured! (immediately followed in the uncensored version) You're a bullshit, Amos Bush!
  • Odie Turman: He's a Communist - look at them cigarettes!
  • Odie Turman: Sure, and I'm an unwed mother.
  • Edgar Stopworth: The booze bone is connected to the smoke bone...
  • Merwin Wren: Big clocks are never wrong!
  • Merwin Wren: Repeat after me, gentlemen, in Wren we trust...
  • TV director: I don't want his goddamn cuff links - get me a shot of the President!
  • Natalie Brooks: We've become a pack of monsters! Do you know what that makes you? A monster-maker!
  • Man on operating table: For God's sake, let him smoke!
  • Mr. Candace (president of the United Tobacco Co. to David Chetley): Badly, very badly! Now you leave me the f(bleep)k alone!


Actors

  • Veteran actor Edward Everett Horton, whose career began in 1906, plays tobacco company president Hiram C. "Mr. Tobacco' Grayson in a wheelchair and without dialogue. He is shown later in a limousine as Grayson farts, possibly the first time that is depicted in a U.S. movie. This was Horton's final role, and he died before the film was released.
  • Director Norman Lear has a three-second cameo approximately 2/3 of the way into the film. He is shown as one of the townspeople sitting down and crying because he is unable to get a cigarette fix.
  • Maureen McCormick, best known for her role as Marcia Brady on television's The Brady Bunch, provides the voice of a talking doll in the film, which says "I love you! - smoking gives you cancer!"
  • The characters played by Bob and Ray are parodies of real-life news and broadcasting personalities: "Walter Chronic" (Walter Cronkite), "Hugh Upson" (Hugh Downs), "David Chetley" (Chet Huntley/David Brinkley), "Arthur Lordly" (Arthur Godfrey), "Paul Hardly" (Paul Harvey), and "Sandy Van Andy" (Sander Vanocur). The film's promotional trailer features different newscasters, "Hardly Reasonable" (Harry Reasoner) and "Mike Walrus" (Mike Wallace), one of whom is played by Paul Dooley (who does not appear in the final film).
  • A number of actors appearing in the film -- Jean Stapleton, Vincent Gardenia, Paul Benedict and Barnard Hughes -- would go on to work with Lear in the coming years on his various television projects.


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