Monday, April 27, 2015

THE OUT OF TOWNERS 1970

The-Out-of-Towners is Neil Simon’s second original screenplay but first solo original screenplay credit (1966’s poorly-received After the Fox being a reluctant collaboration with longtime Vittorio De Sica screenwriter, Cesare Zavattini). As the much-anticipated follow-up to The Odd Couple – 1968’s 4th highest-grossing film – The-Out-of-Towners was something of a critical and boxoffice disappointment. It disappeared from theaters so quickly I entirely missed its theatrical run. For the longest time the only version I was familiar with was one edited for broadcast TV, which suffered from the excising of the film’s marvelously ironic coup de gras (aerial hijacking was at its height during the 70s, spawning TV movies and feature films, and therefore no laughing matter. At least not as far as TV was concerned), and deprived us of the last of Sandy Dennis’ near-iconic wails of "Ohhhh, my God!”
Jack Lemmon as George Kellerman
Sandy Dennis as Gwen Kellerman
The plot is simplicity itself. On the occasion of his promotion to Vice President in charge of sales for the New York division of Drexel: maker of fine plastic precision instruments; Twin Oaks, Ohio resident George Kellerman (Lemmon) and wife Gwen (Dennis) embark on what is intended to be a fun-filled, 24-hour excursion to the Big Apple. Part job interview (“It’s just a formality.”), part second honeymoon, it’s an opportunity for the happy couple to enjoy a First-Class, all-expenses-paid sampling of the best that Fun City has to offer before uprooting and moving the entire Kellerman clan (two children and dog) from the drowsy suburbs of Ohio to The City That Never Sleeps.  

Armed with an itemized itinerary (mapped out over the course of nine lunch hours), buoyed by high hopes, and fortified with two bottles of ulcer medicine in a brown suitcase…what could possibly go wrong?
In a word, everything.

Once the Kellerman’s leave behind the blue skies and green lawns of Ohio, it’s as if they’ve fallen through the looking glass. Any and everything terrible that can befall and beset a visitor to a big city happens to our hapless couple. And therein lies the simple perfection of Neil Simon’s approach to the comedy in The-Out-of-Towners. It has nothing moving to say about learning to let go of the ones we love (The Goodbye Girl), no life-affirming lessons about second chances at love (Chapter Two), no laughter-through-tears ruminations on the importance of familial reconciliation (I Ought to Be in Pictures); It’s just a laugh-out-loud dark comedy built around your standard, run-of-the-mill, suburban middle-class urban-panic nightmare.
 The Dream / The Reality

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
The-Out-of-Towners is an original screenplay by Neil Simon based on a discarded act from his 1968 play Plaza Suite titled, Visitor from Toledo. Always an autobiographical writer, the catalog of catastrophes meted out to George and Gwen Kellerman during their visit to New York are said to have been inspired by a particularly disaster-prone trip Simon took to Boston in 1967 to doctor the flagging David Merrick musical, How Now Dow Jones.
And while The-Out-of-Towners condenses a lifetime’s worth of travel horror stories into one nightmarish 24-hour NY excursion, everything that happens is rooted in a recognizable reality. This core of verisimilitude is the chief reason why the 1970 film remains consistently funny after more than forty years while the painfully contrived 1999 Steve Martin/ Goldie Hawn remake is as forgettable as it is superfluous.

Directed by Arthur Hiller (Love Story, Plaza Suite, The-In-Laws) the structure of Simon’s The-Out-of-Towners is essentially that of a three-character comedy. The three characters being: The Couple, The City, and The Camera.
As the couple, Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis ‒ cast as Mr. & Mrs. Middle-Class Everyman ‒ get the biggest laughs from playing it entirely straight. The comedy stakes are raised by watching how this loving but dissimilar pair react when the comfortable rhythms of a 14-year marriage (he clearly “handles” things while she meekly defers, even when she knows better) are put to the test by the unexpected. And the unexpected is clearly something control-freak George doesn’t handle too well (remember, he works for a company that makes precision instruments). As the direness of their circumstances increases, their heretofore polite exchanges begin to take on a decidedly acerbic tone.
The urban jungle brings out the tiger in mild-mannered Gwen
The city of New York is the story’s neutral antagonist. And as a window into the John Lindsay era of blighted, cash-strapped NYC, a vivid antagonist it is. Neither villain nor enemy, its fogged-in airports, muggings, garbage strikes, missed trains, torrential rains, and overcrowded hotels are all urban maladies meted out with indifference. It’s only George (in his privileged petulance) who sees every setback as a willfully directed obstacle to his goals and personal affront to his status as an out-of-towner. Forever tilting at urban windmills, George’s consistantly defensive reactions to the most innocuous of complications is one of the film’s most amusing running gags. He behaves as if everything is happening to him alone. An entire plane of passengers is inconvenienced by bad weather, yet he’s the only one who sees alerting the stewardess to his dinner reservations as an effective facilitator of results. (Young people seeing this film for the first time are sure to be gladdened upon learning that having an unreasonable sense of entitlement didn’t originate with them.)
Gwen and George's visit to NYC coincides with a sanitation strike
The film has two crippling strikes occur at the same time.
In real-life the NYC transit strike was in 1966, the sanitation strike in 1968
Lastly, cinematographer Andrew Laszlo (The Owl & the Pussycat, Streets of Fire) turns his remarkably versatile camera into The-Out-of-Towners’ third character. As noted by entertainment writer Joe Meyers in his terrific piece on the film, Laszlo’s location camerawork (a great deal of which is hand-held) gives the film a gritty, almost documentary feel that adds immeasurably to its effectiveness. By turns jarring and hysterical, panoramic and claustraphobic, sometimes even witty (as when we are given a dog’s-eye-view of a box of Cracker Jack). In even the most confining locations, Laszlo’s camera seems to be everywhere at once, an active participant in the proceedings and an invaluable contributor giving The-Out-of-Towners the distinction of being the single most cinematic of Neil Simon’s films.
Andrew Laszlo's versatile camera gives us a suitcase's POV of an airport

PERFORMANCES
In her 2006 memoir, How I Lost 10 Pounds in 53 Years, actress Kaye Ballard, who appeared with Sandy Dennis in a 1988 production of Neil Simon’s female version of The Odd Couple, states that Dennis confided to her that she and Simon don’t get along because The-Out-of-Towners’ funniest running gag ‒ her infinite variations on the whining exclamation, “Ohhhh, my God!”‒ was her own ad-lib. He never forgave her for being the one responsible for the film’s biggest laugh.

Whether true or not, there’s no denying that Sandy Dennis brings a wealth of comedic ingenuity to a part that must have looked like absolutely nothing on the page. Dennis redeems the rote role of the long-suffering wife through the force of her individuality. The very mannerisms and quirks that contributed to the public’s swift disenchantment with the actress who just three years earlier had been hailed as a star of tomorrow, transform the otherwise colorless character of Gwen into a distinct personality and surprisingly feisty comic foil for Jack Lemmon’s hyperreactive George.
New York, New York: Gwen finds her vagabond shoes aren't up to the task
Coming on the heels of two barely-seen independent films (That Cold Day in the Park, Thank You All Very Much), The-Out-of-Towners looked like a mainstream comeback for the Academy Award-winning actress, but in truth it was more a return to supporting roles after a brief tenure as a leading lady. Still after two such serious films in which she played soft-spoken characters, it’s nice to see Dennis in funny mode. Makes you wish she’d made more comedies.
Although I like him a great deal, I’m not a huge fan of Jack Lemmon (Simon’s first and only choice for the role), but he does have a knack for making disagreeable characters palatable (ever see Under the Yum Yum Tree?), and as such he makes an ideal George Kellerman. In fact, Lemmon is so good here that his work in The-Out-of-Towners ranks as one of my top fave Jack Lemmon performances. A vibrating bundle of counterproductive outrage and irrational ire, Lemmon is the manic comic engine that makes the entire film work.
I can't think of another actor capable of playing so many shades of pique
If Dennis does wonders with the simple act of active listening and repeating the phrase, “I can verify that!”, Lemmon is a miracle worker when it comes to playing countless variations on the incredulous reaction shot. Both actors share a splendid chemistry, turning a film that might otherwise have been just a drawn out string of calamity jokes into a rich character comedy about a married couple and what happens when they’re wrenched outside of the confines of comfort.
             
A real treat for viewers of a certain age is The-Out-of-Towners' supporting cast of familiar faces.
Billy Dee Williams as Clifford Robinson / Boston Lost & Found
Ann Prentiss (sister of Paula) as the 1st Stewardess
Anne Meara as The Purse-Snatch Victim
 In addition, there's Robert Altman stalwart, Paul Dooley making his film debut as a hotel desk clerk; comic actor Ron Carey (Barney Miller) as a cabbie; stand-up comic Sandy Baron as a television AD; Richard Libertini as a baggage handler; Graham Jarvis (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) as a mugger; Dolph Sweet (Gimme a Break) as a cop; Anthony Holland (All That Jazz) as a night clerk; and Carlos Montalban (brother of Ricardo) as a Cuban Diplomat. And many more familiar faces from 60s TV.
Character actor Dort Clark
He has only one tiny line in the film, but I have to include him here because he's been a longtime
favorite of  mine from his appearances in TV shows like That Girl and Car 54 Where Are You? 

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
I think that The-Out-of-Towners has aged better than most of Simon’s other works, but that’s not to say it’s not old-fashioned. In fact, one of the main reasons I like it so much is because it is so old-fashioned. Old-fashioned as in classic. In structure it seems to follow an archetypal pattern: The setup is simple (George needs to make that 9am meeting); the obstacles are clear (every person place and thing that represents New York is standing in his way); and the comedy arc is timeless (George’s overreliance on order and efficiency is going to take a serious beating). As comedy utterly devoid of pretense or allusions to significance, it’s some of the funniest writing of Simon’s career.
Comedy Has an Expiration Date
It's doubtful viewers today are aware that  the scene with Lemmon & Dennis running to each other in
Central Park is a parody of a ubiquitous Clairol Hair Care TV commercial from the 60s  

If The-Out-of-Towners’ depiction of New York has the exaggeration of satire, the look of the film itself is pure documentary. Shot on location in and around Manhattan, Boston, and Long Island (standing in for Ohio), it’s a treat to see so many glimpses of late-60s New York. And the nostalgia evoked by such sights as The Automat and the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel (with its placards advertising Peggy Lee appearing in The Empire Room) are offset by visions of a time when stewardesses wore go-go boots, women carried gloves, and train stations had cigarette machines and phone booths.
Bracing themselves against a rainstorm, Gwen and George walk past The Automat 
Posters for two concurrently running Neil Simon Broadway shows 
(Plaza Suite and Promises, Promises) grace a Boston train station  

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Most comedy is often so much a product of its time that it’s not unusual for a popular comedy from the past to fall flat with audiences today, and vice versa. I don’t really know what problem 1970 audiences had with The-Out-of-Towners, but it’s easy to imagine that perhaps the unrelenting dark tone of the humor took fans of Neil Simon by surprise.

In the course of 24-hours, the Kellermans are subjected (and this is only a partial list) to a rerouted flight, lost luggage, a missed train, a broken shoe, a kidnapping, a mugging while asleep, a chipped tooth, a lost wedding ring, being chased by a mounted policeman, an exploding gas main, and getting caught in a diplomatic protest. Without benefit of a breather, some might have found the film’s pacing exhausting.
Or maybe it was a matter of oversaturation. The 70s were the start of “disillusionment cinema” and dark comedies were all the rage. New York, then in a state of major economic and social decline, was a popular target for serious drama (Peter Boyle's film, Joe) and bleak satire. Jules Feiffer kicked off the trend in 1967 with his truly grim satire, Little Murders (made into a film in 1971). But the same year Neil Simon’s poison-pen to Manhattan hit the screen, New York came under satirical fire in Diary of a Mad Housewife, The Owl and the Pussycat, Where’s Poppa?, and The Landlord. The-Out-of-Towners may have been have been a victim of being just one New York satire too many.
The-Out-of-Towners always has an answer for the question, "What more could possibly go wrong?"
But in today’s atmosphere of cringe-comedy and humiliation humor, The-Out-of-Towners feels surprisingly contemporary and in step with the times. Arthur Hiller and Neil Simon manage to depict a suitably threatening New York City without resorting to racist or xenophobic humor or casting (something unimaginable today). And unlike similar scenarios in which bad things befall well-intentioned protagonists despite their best efforts and it feels cruel to laugh at a sad-sack victim (Martin Scorsese’s After Hours comes to mind), The-Out-of-Towners consistently reveals the  obstinate George Kellerman to be the architect of his own misfortune.
Never let it be said that George & Gwen Kellerman didn't learn from their experience.
Eagle-eyed viewers will note that on the return flight home, 

Gwen has won the battle of the "little gray suitcase" 
If you've never seen it, The-Out-of-Towners is a near-perfect example of frustration comedy. An unbroken chain of snappy comebacks, laughably familiar situations, and expertly set-up gags with unexpected payoffs. I'm in the camp that feels much of Neil Simon’s work has not aged very well, but The-Out-of-Towners is the exception and  ranks high on my list of all-time favorite motion picture comedies - a list topped by What's Up, Doc?, Airplane, and Young Frankenstein.


Copyright © Ken Anderson

30 comments:

  1. Wow, what a detailed post! I still have to see this one, and I have to say that despite my love of Lemmon, I've avoided this one for some reason. I'll have to amend that soon :-D

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    1. If you love Jack Lemmon, I think this film is a must-see. The comedy may not be up your alley, but Lemmon's frantic performance is tops! Thanks for visiting and commenting!

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  2. Thanks for the shout out Ken!
    Terrific piece on one of my favorite comedies.
    It's interesting to read that Simon didn't care for Sandy Dennis' hilarious improvs.
    Apparently the same thing happened with Elaine May & Charles Grodin during the making of "The Heartbreak Kid." I think those are the two best Neil Simon-scripted films because they are darker and tougher than most of his other movies.
    Too bad he didn't have other strong-willed collaborators who could steer him in that direction.

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    1. Hi Joe,
      You're so welcome! The range of films you cover on your site is a movie-lover's dream. I hadn't heard that Simon had difficulty with May & Grodin on "The Heartbreak Kid" but it wouldn't surprise me.
      I always imagine playwrights possessing a strong, "branded" voice being very protective of their words in a, "The only laughs to come out of a Neil Simon film are Neil Simon's". kind of way.

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  3. Ken, I am so delighted that you've profiled one of my VERY favorite movies...it's my favorite Neil Simon, even above Goodbye Girl and Odd Couple...I am surprised to hear it wasn't a big hit, but it is indeed a very very dark comedy. Your comparison to After Hours is apt!

    Lemmon is brilliant as the hot-headed husband...I think any weary traveler can identify with him when all those little things go wrong, and he and Neil Simon take it right over the top and it's hilarious.

    Oh, and my beloved Sandy Dennis! Of all the joys of the Out of Towners, I love her most of all. She is brilliant and fierce in this movie, too, and plays so so well with the potentially scene-stealing Lemmon. They are magic together.

    Let's not even mention the yukky "remake" with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn, two actors I really admire, back in the 90s; wasn't it appalling though??

    Ken, I always say this, but I will again: Your taste in movies is divine, and every post feels like we're all sitting around watching them together. Genius!!
    -Chris

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    1. Thanks, Chris!
      The feeling is mutual...a part of me does feel as if a small community of film enthusiasts are sharing our thoughts about ourselves and our love of movies with one another. Seeing movies is great, being able to talk about them is a blessing.
      I love knowing this is a favorite. I am still surprised I didn't see it when it came out, but movies were taking themselves so seriously in 1970 (as was I), maybe it just flew under my radar.
      People who have seen Sandy Dennis onstage always say she was such a terrific comic actress, and say her film work doesn't effectively reflect that (Did you ever see her in the Watergate satire in a nunnery movie "Nasty Habits"?).
      And that "The Out of Towners" remake ...it exemplifies what happens when someone remakes a film without understanding what worked about the original. There's no comedy of contrast when the couple (Martin & Hawn) are written to be as off-the-wall as the denizens of the city they're visiting. It was SUCH a mess...appalling is the right word. I wanted my money back!
      Great hearing from you Chris, Thanks!

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  4. Hi Ken,

    Wonderful post on a film I've always been indifferent too. I really need to give it a rewatch though, it's been many years and I don't remember it too clearly. I'm so glad I've read your post on it so that as I'm rewatching it I can keep an eye out for all the things you highlight. I love to see movies where familiar faces pop up in early roles.

    Part of my reluctance I must admit has always been the presence of Sandy Dennis, a little of her goes a long way for me in most cases although I think she's super in Up the Down Staircase because either she or the director kept her mannerisms under control there. Here it sounds like they may compliment the part, we shall see.

    How did I not know that Kaye Ballard wrote a memoir!! I MUST hunt it down as soon as I can.

    Oh and I'm right there with you on the love for What's Up, Doc? that's a brilliant comedy.

    Glad to see you back with another great write up.

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    1. Hi Joel
      Several of my friends don't really care for this film very much. Like you, they find Sandy Dennis a dish not to everyone's taste, and the more sweet-natured of my friends find the comedy to be too bickersome and mean-spirited.
      It's not like "What's Up Doc?" a film even Streisand detractors seem to love.
      If you happen to give this film another go-round any time soon, you must let us know if your indifference remains intact.
      Oh, and the Kaye Ballard memoir is sleight but full of funny anecdotes and dish (although she remains very coy about herself).
      Thanks so much, Joel!

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    2. Hi Ken,

      Dropping back to say I gave the film another go and was much more entertained this time round. I think perhaps the film is one better enjoyed by someone who has traveled and while not having run into the myriad of problems the main couple did all at once at different times have experienced several of those issues. Watching it now I could really empathize with running for the train, getting stuck over an airport, missed reservations etc. and I have to say Jack and Sandy played those scenes just right. Sandy in particular was better than I remember, she was surprisingly calm which was necessary considering Jack Lemmon's jittery exasperation almost from the first moment. I still think Up the Down Staircase is her best work but this was a solid performance from her.

      It also filled me with nostalgia for the New York of old. I had a friend who lived in Manhattan in the 80's around 66th and 3rd and while her neighborhood was lovely and a bit funky there were many rougher areas that still had tremendous character. I was there a few years ago and it was so homogenized it was disappointing. It was safer, which of course was good, but so much had been lost. Anyway thanks for causing me to revisit this and finding it improved for me with the years.

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    3. Yay! So appreciate it when there are UPDATES!
      Glad to hear the film played a little funnier for you the second time around.
      And your feelings about New York then & now is one I hold myself. It's easy for me to romanticize my nostalgia for old NY because I was (happily) never mugged or had a bad experience when I visited there in its seedier days. As you note, a real loss of character has been traded for a safer, cleaner, and certainly prettier city. As bad as it was with all those grindhouse theaters and peep shows, Times Square once was a place like no other in the world. Now, Hollywood and Highland here in Los Angeles looks just like Times Square. Something I suspect is true of every major American city now.
      So pleased you were inspired to revisit this film, Joel and thanks for coming back to share your thoughts!

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  5. What a beautifully written and perceptive post on this forgotten film, which certainly deserves a second look. Your analysis of Sandy Dennis's performance is lovely in its details. Dennis seemed like such an interesting actress in quirky films like Up the Down Staircase, but then she seemed to get lost in a twitchy caricature of herself later on. I'm kinda with you on Jack Lemmon; there's something about his schnookiness that's always bugged me (though I do admire his genuine acting talent). And you're right that he's the most interesting character in Under the Yum Yum Tree, a film that seems (deservedly) embarrassed by its lame attempts at sexual sophistication - I was far more fascinated by the Lemmon bachelor pad (which seemed like something straight out of Frank Tashlin) than by any of the film's romantic complications.

    I recall seeing The Out of Towners as a kid when it first came out; and Sandy Dennis's final 'Ohhh My God!' is still lodged in a little nook of my cinematic memory (and the audience really did laugh at the closing joke!). I think the film in its own odd, traditional way did capture something of the mood of the late 60s, I guess one could say from the Silent Majority side of things - a sense of the confusion and unrelenting pace of the big city, of impending societal breakdown, of how anything and everything was not only going but zooming out of sight. I seem to recall that one film critic (maybe Pauline Kael?) disliked the film as a 'hate letter' to NYC, which perhaps is why the movie didn't do well; but, as someone growing up in New Jersey, I found the film really did present a view of NY as seen by us out of towners, as a place stretching the bounds of reality. The real-life chaos of the Big Apple at that time certainly contributed to such a viewpoint.

    I never saw the remake of this film, but, coming out in 1999, my guess is that NYC would not have presented itself as such a target then - it was the Giuliani boom years, when real estate was soaring and crime was dramatically descending, and some of us die-hards (I had by then moved to Brooklyn) were lamenting how the close-down of porn theaters on 42nd street had diluted the gritty NY ambiance (the area is all Disneyfied now and it's GHASTLY). I suppose the way to make fun of NY now is to point out how expensively tacky it's become and how annoying the nouveau riche are. Bring back Sandy Dennis!

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    1. Thanks, GOM!
      I'm so jealous you got to see this at a theater when it first came out. This is one of those comedies where it's fun to learn which particular gags go over with others (My sister howls at a throwaway joke in which a smiling Dennis is trying to placate an angry mob by explaining that her husband works in "plastics", but one of the protesters thinks she is saying "bastard" and only gets angrier).
      Your observation that Simon's comedy gave voice to the anxieties of the Silent Majority comment is right on point with what I remember about the era. There was nothing revolutionary in Simon's comedy, it was more comforting to a certain sector.

      Also, you pinpoint what was lacking about the remake. The filmmakers didn't stop to re imagine the old film in terms of how much New York had changed, and the result was unfocused as all getout.

      Sandy Dennis was such a one-of-a-kind screen personality...today I imagine all her quirks and mannerisms would be market-researched out of existence.
      *Slightly off topic but speaking of mannerisms, one of the problems i have with Neil Simon's later films is the presence of Marsha Mason. By the time she appeared in "Max Dugan Returns" I got to the point I could predict every gasp, hand clutch to the bosom, hyperventilating ourburst, and crinkle-faced teary-eyed smile.

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  6. Ohhh My Gooooddddd! LOL I recall seeing this one afternoon on TV as a tyke, sometime in the mid-to-late '70s, and being startled and stunned by all the things that befell this couple! Of course I found it funny, though any sort of social comment surely went over my head, but it also provided a nightmarish vision of NYC that I never really shook (not just this movie, of course. "Death Wish" is another one of several that sealed the deal even more!)

    Not only have I enjoyed the post itself, as usual, but also the comments by others and the reflections on Neil Simon's plays and movies. I've performed in two of his plays, Plaza Suite and Chapter Two, and while I enjoyed doing both, I find myself weary of his brand of humor after a time (and the film version of "Chapter Two" was just agony for me to watch!)

    I steered completely clear of "The Out of Towners" remake, just as I did "Fun with Dick and Jane" and "The Longest Yard" (and probably several others!) No interest in it whatsoever. Who in the hell is going to top an exasperated Jack Lemmon and the - as you've pointed out - masterfully detailed performance of a slowly disintegrating Sandy Dennis?

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    1. Hi Poseidon!
      I visited New York once in the early 80s when it was still grimy and a rather scary place, and I must say, the terrors depicted in The-Out-of-Towners were very much in the forefront of my mind in spite of the fact that my personal expedience was the polar opposite (New Yorkers were so friendly, I was caught off-guard!). Later in 2007 when I visited it again, I barely recognized the place. More beautiful and safer to be sure, but so different that it has made this film a little like a slice of time captured on film.
      Your mention of "Death Wish" reminds me of how terrifying New York seemed back in the day.

      Love that you performed in a couple of Simon shows. they always seem to me to be pretty exhausting, what with all that quick patter and having to be concerned with the rhythms of comedy.
      And remakes are not my favorite, but remakes of comedies are especially dicey, because they usually substitute obviousness for wit.
      no, all copies of the 1999 "out of Towners" could be destroyed in a fire and not a single thing of value would be lost.

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  7. It's been a while since I've seen this movie, but remember it as one of the few comedies that had the same 70s NYC street feel as dramas like Taking of Pelham 123 or Dog Day Afternoon. (I recently found a flick called Night of the Juggler from 1980 which is the New Yorkiest movie I've ever seen.)

    I grew up in Westchester so was in Manhattan a lot during the 70s and 80s, but moved upstate in '90. When I had to go down on business in 2000, I took a walk down 42nd street and couldn't believe the change. I know something had to be done, but, wow, something sure was lost.

    (My son just took a trip to NYC with his 9th grade class and they let them loose in Times Square for two hours. That would've been unthinkable when I was his age. When I joked to him that he should make sure to see Peepland, he thought I meant something like the M&M store or the Hershey store but dedicated to marshmallow chicks.)

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    1. Ha! Love the "Peepland" story! Movies like "Who Killed Teddy bear" and "You're a Big Boy Now" show a New York that only exists in memory. As you say, something really had to be done with the Times Square area (the 80s punk musical "Times Square" was perhaps the last I saw depicting the old NY I remember) but now Times Square looks very much like Universal City Walk here in LA.
      We're lucky to have seen the seamier side of the city without becoming one of Neil Simon's urban casualties.
      By the way, I saw "Night of the Juggler" when it came out, and you're the only person I've ever encountered who even remembers that film existed. All this NYC talk makes me think it would be great if the Metropolitan Museum of Art had screening of films depicting New York during its trouble-plagued years.
      Thanks for commenting!

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  8. I found this film an hilarious take on Murphy's Law. Lemmon is spot on and the absurdities of being attacked by a gang of squirrels is priceless. My wife can't stand the film but I think it is really Dennis, as she mopes and drones through about every scene.

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    1. Hello Kurt
      It's funny I hadn't thought of it that way, but a take on Murphy's Law is precisely what this film is! And I agree Lemmonn is particularly good.
      Now you'll have to help me on the squirrel attack thing. I don't recall such a scene in the 1970 film which i watched recently, but I blocked the remake out so completely...is that perhaps where a gang of squirrels attack?
      Ah, and poor Sandy Dennis, she does indeed polarize viewers, doesn't she?
      Thank you for visiting this blog and taking the time to comment. Hope to hear from you again (especially if you recall where that squirrel attack scene takes place!)

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  9. Dear Ken: Hi! It's good to see you back, and with another fun and absorbing-to-read post.

    Once again, I haven't actually seen the film in question (I didn't realize how many movies from the late 1960s and 1970s I HAVEN'T seen). But once, while flipping channels on TV, I did catch the sequence with Lemmon and Dennis being chased by the mounted police in the park. With the hand-held camera work and the (if I recall right) rather dramatic sounding background music in that scene, my reaction was, "This is a comedy??"

    Even if I haven't seen the whole thing, I can share that "The Out-Of-Towners" was one of my parents' favorite movies; they were about the age of Dennis' character when the movie came out. Because my tastes usually don't allign with my parents' (they absolutely love some films, such as Blake Edwards comedies, that leave me cold) I guess I've been reluctant to give "Out-of-Towners" a try.

    And like you, I made my first visit to New York City in the early 1980s (I was a senior in high school and my dad took me there for a graduation gift. It was great, because I got to see my first Broadway musicals!). To me, it was a scary city in a lot of ways at that time. I recall walking back to our hotel late at night after the theatre and being terrified every time we passed a grimy and shadowy alley. Having watched all the TV shows of the day, I knew that anyone who went to NYC would inevitably get mugged!

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    1. Hi David!
      Thank you very much! Your description of that scene where Dennis and Lemmon are being pursued by the policeman is very apt. So many of the sequences that work so well in "The Out of Towners" are played as if they are absurdist drama, not comedy. That particular scene is kind of harrowing in the camera work and Quincy Jones' effective score really adds tension!

      Your first trip to NY sounds similar in tone to mine, although I was out of college at the time. I saw my first Broadway show (Cats) and riding the graffiti'd subway and walking through the grimy streets was a mixed bag of elation and apprehension. As I said, I was absolutely thrown by how nice io found New Yorkers to be, especially after EVERYBODY warned me that they would be rude, rude, rude.

      Neil Simon's comedies do fit in well with the era of Blake Edwards' movies, so if that particular style is not to you liking, It's doubtful that "The Out of Towners" will be very enjoyable for you. i wish i could recommend a Simon film I know you would like, but my tastes are so odd...i gravitate to some of his worst-liked films (The Star Spangled Girl, for example).
      As I've said before, David, very happy you found this blog, and flattered you return to read about and comment upon these film. Thanks!

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  10. Billy Dee Williams without the mustache? That's like seeing the Lone Ranger without his mask or Superman without his cape-it just doesn't look right!

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    1. I know what you mean! However, it does look like he's wearing his starter moustache.

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  11. You've made me want to see this picture again, and that's the best compliment I can pay you. Sandy Dennis is a quirky acquired taste -- you either love her or can't stand her. Fans of hers must see "That Cold Day in the Park" -- she's so delightfully weird!

    By the way,I love your line: "Young people seeing this film for the first time are sure to be gladdened upon learning that having an unreasonable sense of entitlement didn’t originate with them."

    Great!

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    1. Hi William
      It's funny, as much as Sandy Dennis is precisely one of the main reasons this movie hasn't fully fallen through the cracks as one of Neil Simon's more dated comedies, I always know that she is an actress who divides audiences violently. I never wonder or scratch my head when people say they can't stand her. In fact, as you point out, people tend to love her a great deal or find her annoying as hell. I've never met anyone who had a "take her or leave her" attitude.
      I'm flattered you enjoyed the post enough to even entertain the idea of rewatching a film you might have otherwise tucked away as "been there, done that." Thanks for taking the time to comment and offer such a complimentary opinion!

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  12. I love this film. I love your blog. And i would never try to change someone's opinion, but.... "I’m not a huge fan of Jack Lemmon"????

    I think he's my favorite actor. I always thought his performance in SOME LIKE IT HOT was the funniest performance in any film. Watch (or re-watch) THE APARTMENT, CHINA SYNDROME, PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE, DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, and MR ROBERTS and maybe you'll find a new appreciation. Love Sandy Dennis too! --Kevin

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    1. Hi Kevin
      Ha! I love your understandable enthusiasm for Jack Lemmon and your reaction (all those question marks) is the same as mine when someone says that Julie Christie is "OK."
      Don't you find that in the realm of film discussion, there comes the more or less clinical assessment of a star's skill and command of craft, and then there's the subjective appraisal of one's enjoyment of said star.
      Jack Lemmon is an incontestable talented actor, skilled at comedy and drama. And there I wholly agree. i've seen all the films you've listed.
      Where I veer off on a course of my own is in not finding him as likable as most people do. A little of him goes a long way for me (Love him in Some Like it Hot / he makes me want to set my eyebrows on fire in Mr. Roberts) .
      So, it's not like I don't appreciate his talent, it more like the usual subjective, almost visceral reaction to him as a screen presence.
      He's certainly in good company...I really am not a fan of either Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart, either.
      Thanks Kevin for giving me a little chuckle with your incredulous reaction to Lemmon indifference. Sign of a true movie enthusiast!

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  13. Hi Ken!

    It's great that you are back again. You were so prolific with your reviews that I can understand that you needed a break.

    "The Out of Towners" seems like a film that I should have seen at some time. Strange that it disappereared considering it was a Comedy from a big studio starring Jack Lemon. I too am not a huge fan of his. I can't bear to watch those comedies from the 60's about frustrated middle aged middle class men who want to cheat on their wives. Jack Lemon was in loads of those and that is why I couldn't finish "The April Fools" despite the very late 60's setting of the film.

    I like Sandy Dennis all though i have seen very few of her films. Maybe you're right that movie audiences had enough of her acting style.

    It's fascinating to read your reviews because you know so much about the times and movie trends of when the films were released. You are a true film historian.

    Thanks, Wille

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    1. Hi Wille
      I know what you mean about those 60s comedies, and you describe them perfectly. Although I like the Jack Lemmon comedy "Good Neighbor Sam", it pretty much stands as a template ofthe kind of comedy you're describing. One very much associated with Lemmon. (I really wanted to like "The April Fools" too, especially because of the late 60s setting, but like you, I have never finished the entire film!)

      I think Paramount was focused on Neil Simon's more high-profile 1971 release "Plaza Suite", based on his successful play, and perhaps dumped "The Out of Towners" in theaters rather unceremoniously. Honestly, I was such a fan, yet this film flew out of my neighborhood theater at lightening speed!

      Dennis though is a delight in the film, but there isn't enough of her to warrant my recommending it if Lemmon gives you the hives. She's mostly support.

      And I am indeed a film historian in that I have reached an age where my childhood moviegoing memories alone can provide a look into a world that must seem like ancient history!
      All kidding aside, I'm glad I recall the circumstances of the release of so many of the films from my childhood. I think it provides context. When I read essays about 60s and 70s movies written by young people, they tend to project contemporary concepts on them, and assume things about a film's content that ignores,say a certain celebrity's popularity, or the cultural shift that prompted a director's choices.
      Thanks for the very nice compliment, Wille! You make me feel my for-now-functioning memory can serve to enrich what you already know about films from this era.

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  14. This interesting discussion prompted me to buy yet another DVD. I did see the film in the theater, many years ago. It was well received. Lots of laughs. But a large audience is an important part of a comedy. Watching the film at home is another experience entirely. Me and the dog... we weren't laughing much.

    I loved the cool and breezy jazz playing at the top of the picture and that long, serene shot of the Kellerman home. Clearly, that can't last. And in a moment, the Kellermans step out of the house and the first thing we hear is George stridently hectoring his wife. Uh-oh.

    Simon's idea for this film isn't well developed. The flaw is George's character. Simon could have written about any number of men visiting NYC, but he chose to write about a man who was powerless and inflexible. One can be inflexible in NYC, if one has lots of money and power. They are generally monstrous people, but there are lots of them. However, to be powerless and rigid is an automatic disaster. The city has too many challenges and those in it must be resilient. So, no matter what new crisis befalls George, there can only be that one blowhard response. We know the end of the scene before we get there and we do so no matter how the scene starts.

    Perhaps Simon, Heller and Lemmon could have made some different decisions up front about how George would be played. Some variety. Some range. Let him suffer quietly. Let him explode. Let him hyperventilate. All of it and more. For some reason, it's the same response again and again. Always, and only, an indignant buffoon. Frankly, I rooted for the mugger with the gun.

    Sandy Dennis is a favorite. Yes, she's quirky. But she explores life in ways that most other actors never consider. She's a miracle with inventive, unique readings of "I can verify that," fully communicating her understanding of the absurdity of the reply, even as she lets us know that it's really a small sacrifice and it keeps peace in the house. No one has ever gotten more mileage out of "Oh, my God!" Her speech in the hotel room after George returns from his interview saves the entire movie. She delivers it with such heart and simplicity and clarity that we don't even notice it's just rehashed, "If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard." She gives performances one can watch again and again. They are always so very rich with humanity.

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    1. Hi George
      Your comment is a great little essay in and of itself. I like that you had the experience of seeing this at a theater (I envy you that), for it helps to know that it was well received. To follow that up with an in-home viewing yielding a different experience is enlightening.
      Sometimes watching a comedy with a crowd allows one to get swept up in it, and you find yourself laughing and joining in. But I think a good comedy is funny whether alone or with a hundred, so your impression of "The Out of Towners" at home offers a lot of clarity about what doesn't work for you in the film.
      I think your comment could open a terrific discussion about comedy and structure (the immovable object: funny or not?) and the rhythms of repetition (does it make a scene funnier because you know just how George will respond, or less?).
      Best of all, you've extracted and expressed precisely what Sandy Dennis brings to the table which can be so easily overlooked. I've often thought that "The Out of Towners" would be insufferable with a more conventional actress in the role. Can you imagine? Her character would be like Marjorie Lord in "Make Room for Daddy"
      Dennis' oft-discussed quirkiness is a marvelous contrast to Lemmon's rigidity, and I really like how you noted the character subtleties she's able to bring to her responses. My favorite is her surprised and offended gasp when George chides her about not taking her gray suitcase with her (after he expressly told her to leave it to the airline).
      I think one of the reasons Lemmon's George Kellerman is so funny to me is because I live in Los Angeles and you run across his type every single day...only in the shape of a Brentwood housewife throwing a fit at a Starbucks.
      Thanks for contributing such an interesting comment, George!

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