Buffalo Bill1944

Director: William A. Wellman
Stars: Joel McCrea, Maureen O'Hara, Linda Darnell, Thomas Mitchell, Edgar Buchanan
Genre: Biography, Western
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Runtime: 90 minutes

The name is Bill Bittinger. Bittinger, not "Bittinjer"--even the syllables of the name are slippery. He's a venal, self-serving, double-talking, pusillanimous, hypocritical, male-chauvinist, bigoted, quintessentially sleazy varmint, and a TV talk-show host besides. He could inherit the title "The Man You Love to Hate," except that that would connote too much stature. Make it "The Man You Love to Be Appalled By." Buffalo Bill was, if not the best sitcom ever, indisputably the most brilliant, outrageous, exquisitely detailed and nuanced. Naturally, the network kept it on the shelf for a year, till a summer slot needed filling. An instantaneous critical hit, the show also grabbed five Emmy nominations. The following winter it was brought back and, for a few months, enjoyed a Thursday-night berth between Cheers and Hill Street Blues--part of the best two hours on weekly commercial television. All praise to series creator Jay Tarses, who specialized in comedy so offbeat, the beat could be hard to locate. (His next effort was the dramedy The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.) But if we were to name only one name in celebration of Buffalo Bill, it would be Dabney Coleman. A breathtakingly deft character actor, Coleman had already test-flown the Beta version of Bill Bittinger as Merle Jeeter, the con artist nonpareil of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Bill was a socially condoned con artist: a daily TV talk-show host in Buffalo, N.Y. He had world-class company: Joanna Cassidy as JoJo, Bill's director and sometime lover; Max Wright as the encyclopedically neurotic station manager, Karl Shub; John Fiedler as the diminutive floor manager eerily content to be Bill's yes-man even though he owned half the real estate on Lake Erie; Coleman's fellow Tootsie alum Geena Davis, who not only played Bill's daft, starstruck personal assistant but also wrote for the series; Meshach Taylor as JoJo's affable assistant director; and Charlie Robinson as Newdell, the rare character in network television who projected a scarily becalmed version of Black Rage. The show never played to expectation, on any level. The most outrageous things could happen without the writers feeling obliged to work them into the story-proper. In one episode, dozens of imitation Jerry Lewises participating in some ill-conceived promo are rolling around the station like arrant bowling balls; open a door and another one tumbles in. That other one, incidentally, was Jim Carrey, just like he was before he was--the creepiest of the bunch, it goes without saying, and sublime. And no, the episode wasn't "about" the Jerry Lewis promo. There were uncanny grace notes--say, when Bill became instantly enamored of a musician guest. Someone referred to her as a "flute player" and Bill, his eyes turned reverently to some Elysian Field in his mind, quietly emended: "flautist." Or consider the time Bill, coping with the possibility of JoJo being pregnant, holed up in his apartment and re-enacted Lou Gehrig's farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, complete with microphone echo. An absolutely astounding episode turned on a duel of wills as Bill forced Newdell out of his job, then had to get him back to escape an anti-discrimination suit. The high point was a Black Power fantasia on Bill's part that ... well, Jamie Foxx's rendition of "Hit the Road, Jack" in Ray had nothing on Bill Bittinger's. The network suits never did figure out what to do with Buffalo Bill; inevitably, they killed it--and yes, more Emmy nominations followed its demise. Never mind. Dabney Coleman and his sainted ensemble are assured of seats on Parnassus. And happily, life eternal on DVD. --Richard T. Jameson

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"Buffalo Bill Quotes." Quotes.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2018. Web. 20 Feb. 2018. <https://www.quotes.net/movies/Buffalo Bill>.

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