1975. USA. Directed by Michael Ritchie. Screenplay by Jerry Belson. With Dern, Barbara Feldon, Michael Kidd, Melanie Griffith, Joy Carlin. Preserved print courtesy Park Circus. 113 min.
Winner of the Best Actor prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for his performance in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, Bruce Dern makes a special appearance to introduce Michael Ritchie’s Smile, a classic of 1970s American cinema. Dern’s is undoubtedly a name that will often be heard during awards season, which should come as little surprise to admirers of his 50-year acting career, including unforgettable performances in films by Alfred Hitchcock, Bob Rafelson, Roger Corman, Hal Ashby, Sydney Pollack, John Frankenheimer, and Walter Hill. With Ritchie he made Smile, an affectionate satire of that most hallowed of American pastimes: the small town beauty pageant. Competition was Ritchie’s great comic theme—whether on the ski slopes (Downhill Racer) or the playing field (The Bad News Bears, Semi-Tough), in the political arena (The Candidate) or the auditorium (Smile)—and in “Big Bob” Freelander, the used car salesman who runs the pageant with excessive good cheer, Dern found one of his funniest and most nuanced roles, the very embodiment of “Morning in America” optimism.