Charles Nelson Reilly & Guests
Frank Anderson & Barry Poltermann
Charles Nelson Reilly & Paul Linke
One of 2007's most touching documentaries, "The Life of Reilly" centers itself squarely upon the final stage performance of "Save It for the Stage," funnyman Charles Nelson Reilly's semi-autobiographical one-man show that served to remind contemporary audiences that his comic genius, largely relegated to TV game shows and sitcoms over the past 15-20 years, had also resulted in Reilly's 3 Emmy nominations, Tony award (with another nomination) and a 50-year career that ranged from the mundane to the insane.
Reilly, who died earlier in 2007 as a result of complications from pneumonia, shot most of this film in 2004 with directors Barry Poltermann and Frank Anderson.
While "The Life of Reilly" includes quite a few older black and white film clips, the heart and soul of the film is Reilly himself and, especially, his one-man show in which he recounts his life on Broadway, as an acting coach and, with his trademark flamboyant humor, his life growing up with an abusive and racist mother,a lobotomized aunt and a father (once a poster artist for Paramount) who ended up institutionalized.
While "The Life of Reilly" is nearly always funny, Reilly himself doesn't shy away from the darker places in his past, whether sharing about his troubled childhood, barely escaping from a circus fire in 1944 or simply being told by a TV exec in the 1950's that "They don't let queers on television." Of course, Reilly would have the laugh last as a frequent guest of Johnny Carson and an even more frequently regular on such game shows as "Match Game."
Even when Reilly is making light of his life, there's an undeniably endearing quality about his performance that is both heartwarming and funny. Reilly, for example, not only points out the people in his life but who should actually play them on film. Who among us avid film fans hasn't, at least once, fantasized about who would play ourselves and our loved ones on film?
Reilly also shares delightful tales from his acting school days under the guidance of Uta Hagen with the likes of Steve McQueen, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Hal Holbrook, Jack Lemmon and several others.
Simply shot and straightforward in presentation, "The Life of Reilly" is an entertaining, touching and funny look at a man whose Hollywood life is truly worth remembering. Made even more poignant by his death this year, "The Life of Reilly" is a documentary to catch should it come to an arthouse near you.
Copyright 2007, The Independent Critic