Cinema: Kicking the Habit

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Hollywood usually gets its bearings from the weather vane rather than the compass. Since the wind has been blowing chilly from Indochina, a new movie or two have gingerly and unconvincingly suggested that America's flaws are innate rapacity and violence.

One such is Cold Turkey, an extended sitcom loaded with the kind of jokes that induce canned laughter. Like the Mock Turtle, Writer-Director Norman Lear attempts an arithmetic composed of Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision. A tobacco tycoon (the late Edward Everett Horton) offers $25 million to any American city whose inhabitants can quit smoking for 30 days, on the plausible theory that it cannot be done. But he reckons without the Rev. Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke). Led by the uptight, upright preacher, Eagle Rock, Iowa, turns abolitionist. In the process, it writhes with collective withdrawal symptoms familiar to anyone who has tried to kick the habit. Such civil strife is grossly overdone, and the refinement of Lear's touch is perhaps best exhibited when a Pentagon colonel promises the town a share in the defense budget: a large bull is shown in the foreground.

As Cold Turkey clucks along, it does prove fitfully amusing. Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding make their film debut, delightfully impersonating a number of TV newsmen, including "Paul Hardly," and their CBS de resistance, "Walter Chronic." But these benign entertainers are essentially aural comedians, and their limitations underline the show's. Many films have been written specifically for TV. Cold Turkey seems the first to have been made for radio.