There are certain celebrities who just always seem to have a wholesome image. I’d put Dick Van Dyke in that category; a guy known for squeaky clean sitcoms and family-friendly films. So, it’s a bit strange to see him as a character who does something controversial and bucks the system. I know your mind is going wild right now imagining just what sort of nasty thing Van Dyke might have done. Brace yourselves, for in the 1969 film Some Kind of a Nut Dick Van Dyke…grows a beard.
Van Dyke plays Fred Amidon, a teller at a bank in New York. He’s going through a divorce with his wife, Rachel (Angie Dickinson), but has a new fiancee in the form of a fellow bank employee, Pamela (Rosemary Forsyth). One day, while having a picnic lunch with Pamela, Fred is stung on the chin by a bee. This makes it difficult to shave, and as he is going on a three-week vacation anyway, he decides to just let the beard grow. When he returns to the bank, fuzz and all, his employer takes issue and quickly demands Fred shave it off.
Now, Fred is the sort of guy who usually falls in line with his boss’ demands, but he now decides that he is going to take a stand. He refuses to shave. This leads Fred on a path that takes him into the counterculture, finding kindred spirits in various hippies and beatniks. He also finds that his estranged wife becomes quite intrigued by this side of him, which she had seen before. Meanwhile, Pamela is repulsed by the beard, and even ends up plotting with her controlling brothers to drug Fred and shave the beard off themselves. This leads to a half-done job that fires up Fred even more.
Films like Some Kind of a Nut are always a bit intriguing. For every 60’s film where Hollywood succeeded in capturing the counterculture movement of the day, you also have weird moments like this where they tried to do something that would appeal to those long-haired youngsters, but with a straight-arrow star. In all seriousness, though, how edgy is a film really going to get when your star is the guy who sang “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?” He’s just too clean-cut and likeable to be convincing as a guy who’s going to create such a stir over a bit of facial hair. Perhaps part of it is that the beard in question barely even registers as a beard. It’s just a few notches above peach fuzz, to be honest. Had they given Van Dyke a ZZ Top number and more freedom let loose, we may have ended up with something that had a bit more fire.
That being said, Van Dyke is still an appealing screen presence. He manages to make the film entertaining to a degree, even when it seems to run out of ideas. The script definitely meanders a bit through its middle section. It also helps that there is some real and unexpected chemistry between Van Dyke and Angie Dickinson. Of course, Dickinson is as sexy as ever, but I was surprised to find myself completely buying that she and Van Dyke’s character caused a bit of steam once upon a time. They are an odd match, to say the least, but it strangely works.
From a technical standpoint, the filmmakers try very hard to do some unusual things that just don’t work terribly well. This begins with frame one of the opening credits sequence which follows the bee that starts this whole story as it harasses various people around Central Park. It then moves into a sequence where Van Dyke and Forsyth scream and swat at said insect, captured with some strange camera work, including use of a fish-eye lens. The final chase sequence of the film is also headache-inducing as it divides the screen into small sections to show us several different camera angles all at the same time. If watching the split-screens that make up much of the documentary film Woodstock is tough for you, this sequence will make your brain explode. I can’t imagine how this sequence would’ve looked in the days of pan-and-scan.
In general, I’d say Some Kind of a Nut is a film that suffers from a number of miscalculations. Casting Dick Van Dyke as someone who is going to be embraced by the counterculture, as likeable as he is, is a miscalculation. Strange camera techniques and split screens, also a miscalculation. I suppose it’s to the credit of seasoned performers like Dick Van Dyke and Angie Dickinson that the film still manages to have a certain level of entertainment value. It’s all just a bit too weird to be ignored.