The Life of Reilly (2006)

by George Watches Things


Charles Nelson Reilly was born in the Bronx. January 13th. I hadn’t heard of him before watching this documentary. He was very, very excited to tell me his story, though.

Reilly’s appeared in many plays and TV shows, but is, according to Wikipedia, most famous for being a panelist on a game show called “Match Game.” The Life of Reilly is actually his comedy act, and in the film, he is performing it for the very last time. His good luck sign, according to him is rain. He noted that it was raining the night this documentary was taped… the final night of his show. The night in which he would recap his entire life’s story.

He seems to be improvising his entire act. He starts off at one point, goes on from memory, then just says whatever he recalls about the subject. But everything word he utters is filled with emotion. His act isn’t all comedy. He talks about his father being institutionalized, his aunt getting a lobotomy, as well as his uncle’s “active social life.” And when his audience reacts negatively to something “surprising” he says, Reilly quickly exclaims “well, it’s that kind of show!” From joy to sorrow, it’s all here, in this show.

He has a rather lonely childhood, but describes his first encounter with a theater very warmly. That is where he belongs. This entire movie is staged within a stage. I think that touch was fitting, since so much of his life was hoping to be, wanting to be, and then, finally, being onstage. His mother always told him to “save it for the stage.” And he did.

Stray notes:

  • The end scene, in which he is talking to the pelican, is the best. Very heartwarming.
  • Reilly reminds me of numerous relatives. Many of them are insane.
  • “My mother didn’t know whether to s*** or go blind. That’s an old french theater term.”