Friday, October 19, 2012


One of the things I liked most about film critic Pauline Kael was how much her passion for film mirrored my own. Even when we didn't see eye-to-eye about certain films and performances, I always enjoyed how she poked fun at her own pseudo-sexual obsession with movies in the titles of her books: I Lost it at the Movies, Going Steady, Reeling. Kael, the late film critic for The New Yorker, was in a class by herself when it came to legitimizing the sensual side of that inter-sensory experience we call moviegoing. 
I'm a huge film fan and it’s easy for me to enjoy a (reasonably) wide spectrum of movies from perspectives academic and analytical. But in order for me to truly fall in love with a movie, it has to hit me on some deeply visceral, highly subjective emotional level. It has to contain what I call “the goosebump moment”; a spontaneous physical/emotional response (it needn't last more than a moment) independent of aesthetic qualifiers. A moment in the film that engages my heart, spirit, or imagination in a way that overrides the cerebral. Such a sensation takes me to a place where I’m experiencing a film more than just watching it.
In Goodbye, Columbus, my goosebump moment occurs less than two minutes into the film. It's when this rapturous vision called an Ali MacGraw dives into a sun-dappled pool of water and becomes, right before my eyes and in dreamy slow-motion, the ethereal vision of what “love at first sight” feels like. This almost Freudian commingling of woman, water, and weightlessness (infinitely enhanced by the very '60s sound of the pop band The Association on the soundtrack) rates right up there with Barbarella’s zero-gravity striptease as one of the most magical and erotically-charged title sequences I've ever seen.
Nymph Errant

Of course, I wasn't the only one who fell in love with Ms. MacGraw that spring of ‘69. My infatuation fell somewhere in line behind Richard Benjamin’s onscreen character, Paramount production head Robert Evans (the two would marry later that same year), and what seemed at the time to be the entire male and female population of North America. Although Goodbye, Columbus represented the film debuts of both Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw, it was former fashion model MacGraw who was given the "Introducing" credit and emerged as the instant superstar of the '70s. Revisiting this film 43-years later, it's still easy to understand why.
Richard Benjamin as Neil Klugman
Ali MacGraw as Brenda Patimkin
Jack Klugman as Ben Patimkin
Nan Martin as Mrs. Patimkin
Michael Meyers as Ron Patimkin
Lori Schelle as Julie Patimkin
Goodbye, Columbus (adapted from Phillip Roth’s 1959 bestselling debut novella) is one of the best of the many coming-of-age films released in the wake of The Graduate. It's a seriocomic look at Jewish identity, class conflict, and changing sexual mores as seen through the prism of a heated summer romance between Bronx poor-boy Neil Klugman (Benjamin) and nouveau riche Westchester goddess Brenda Patimkin (MacGraw).
Like the novel, the film release of Goodbye, Columbus was met with controversy related to its frank sexuality (subtle nudity and frank discussion of diaphragms, sex, and the like) and what many perceived to be an offensive depiction of Jewish culture. 
Neil lives in the Bronx with his Uncle Leo (Monroe Arnold) and Aunt Gladys (Sylvie Strause)

The position taken was that Roth's broadly satiric take on the Jewish middle-class leaned too heavily toward caricature and stereotyping, resulting in a vision more representative of antisemitic self-loathing than class commentary. As for the film's once-bold sexual content, Goodbye, Columbus today feels really rather restrained and surprisingly gentle-natured. So much so that the R-rated film was eventually re-rated as PG for DVD release with nary a cut to the original print.
Brenda, a student at Radcliffe spends the summer at the home of her parents,
a shrine to their material success
Goodbye, Columbus was a huge hit in 1969, but over time has somewhat faded from the public's memory. Puzzling, because the film is smart, insightful, funny as hell, and contains the best screen performances of several members of its cast.

Arnold Shulman’s deservedly Oscar-nominated screenplay for Goodbye, Columbus is a slavishly faithful adaptation of Philip Roth’s funny novella - a library paperback copy I remember taking to junior high school with the intention of poring over the “dirty parts” with my friends during lunch period. I've seen many films about poor boys falling in love with rich girls, the girls always WASP fantasy figures serving double-duty as totems of the attainable virtues of the American Dream. In having the working-class Jewish boy fall for a Jewish-American princess, Roth not only revitalizes the familiar tropes of the rich girl/poor boy romance but adds an ethnic perspective to the American Dream fantasy. 
Director Larry Peerce (with a screenplay by Funny Lady writer Arnold Schulman) present the contrasts of Neil  Klugman's bohemian Jewish intellectualism with Brenda's materialism in broad strokes sometimes, but the social satire is keen and behind the at-whose-expense? humor is a great deal of emotional poignancy.
In one of my favorite scenes, Jack Klugman (who's really terrific) gives voice to the film's tagline: "Every father's daughter is a virgin," and expresses the elder perspective of the '60s Generation Gap issue.

Neil Klugman and Brenda Patimkin are no Romeo & Juliet, but they’re certainly a young couple who start out on a romance with several strikes against them. I’ve always thought the intense sexual aspect of their relationship figured so prominently in the film because both Neil and Brenda seem to be working off a lot of repressed resentments and rebellious impulses through each other. Bookish Neil, college-educated, intellectual, almost passive-aggressive in his aimlessness, is a stark contrast to the ambitious, go-getter Country Club types Brenda usually dates. Neil’s humble Bronx background (son of Jewish immigrants) may mirror that of Brenda’s crass-but-sweet father (Jack Klugman), but his lack of ambition (i.e. middle-class assimilation/ Jewish-erasure) represents everything her upwardly-mobile family (who've only recently struck it rich through Mr. Patimkin’s plumbing-fixture business) is trying to leave behind.
One look at the acrimonious relationship Brenda shares with her mother (Nan Martin) is enough to confirm suspicions that perhaps Brenda’s attraction to Neil, a man so obviously unsuitable (ostensibly to her parents, but also, one senses, even to her in the final analysis) feels less like true love than a subconscious act of rebellion against her parent's stifling values.

If Neil represents perhaps a mutinous lark on Brenda's part, beyond a physical attraction to her beauty, it's hard to discern what exactly Neil is looking for in Brenda. Like one of those guys who courts the prettiest, sexiest girl in school only to spend a lifetime berating her for cashing in on her looks; Neil purports to be in love with the rich, spoiled, daddy’s girl, but rarely lets a moment pass where he isn't being critical of what he deems to be her corrupted values and false priorities. Whether it be her nose job, contact lenses, the shallowness of her friends, or the materialism of her parents, there’s a thinly veiled aggression to his jibes that makes you wonder if perhaps he’s not drawn to her out of some barely acknowledged desire to punish American Jews who seek to deny their Jewishness.
Of course, I love that Goodbye, Columbus has a scene where our couple sneaks into a moviehouse playing my all-time favorite film, Rosemary's Baby. At another time in the film, they repeat the ritual at a theater featuring The Odd Couple. No coincidence,  Rosemary's Baby and The Odd Couple are shameless plugs for Paramount films- the producers of Goodbye, Columbus.

The ethnic angle is is why I've always had a thing for Goodbye, Columbus, and why I’m surprised its reputation never remained in step with other seminal films of the '60s. It’s a romantic comedy, yes; a coming-of-age film, certainly. But perhaps its humor did too good a job of masking what I think is a provocative issue related to ethnic heritage, youth, and identity in the culturally rebellious climate of the late-'60s. White American youth was rejecting the materialism and false values of their middle-class parents. But if you were Black, Asian, Jewish, an immigrant, or any member of a historically disenfranchised people, it's likely that your parents, if fortunate, had only recently gained access to the kind of materialistic privileges white youths were finding so distasteful. 
Did assimilation into the American middle-class automatically signal a loss of ethnic identity? Did the progeny of immigrant parents or the ancestors of slaves dishonor their parents if they rejected the fruits of their struggles to attain a piece of the American Dream?  your race? 

There was definitely a Generation and Culture Gap waging in America during the late-'60s, but Goodbye, Columbus was one of the few films to look it through a perspective of the gains and losses of American middle-class assimilation.
The historical exclusion of ethnic groups from country clubs, colleges, and athletics is satirically contrasted with Goodbye, Columbus' wealthy, assimilated Jewish-Americans portrayed as athletics-obsessed members of their own exclusive country clubs and the preppiest of prep school undergrads.

This was certainly an issue for me as an African-American youth. My parents (staunch assimilationists) were realizing the American Dream just at the cusp of the Black Power movement. By the mid-'70s we had moved into a tony, predominantly-white, upper-middle-class suburb and realized all the benefits my grandparents had fought so hard for. Was it my place to confront my parents with arguments about selling out, or accuse them of embracing materialistic values when they had struggled and fought so hard to overcome so much in a racist society that sought to prohibit their access to these very things? And in the pursuit of assimilation into the larger culture, what unique values of character and racial authenticity did we lose or compromise? Goodbye, Columbus has been labeled superficial by many critics, but I have always seen at its core, a terrifically thorny social issue entertainingly addressed.

In her 1991 memoir Moving Pictures, Ali MacGraw makes no bones about her limitations as an actress, and this is of course true (although she’s extremely good in 1980s Just Tell Me What You Want). But being limited isn't the same as being bad. MacGraw may not have range, but she has presence. Real star-quality. And, under the guidance of a particularly strong director — as she seems to have here with Larry Peerce — she can be very effective. She's beautiful to be sure, but the character of Brenda is supposed to convey a sharp intelligence and sense of self-possession which suggests to Neil that she herself seeks an alternative to the stultified life her parents want for her. MacGraw captures this quality extremely well. Perhaps it’s because she’s playing a typed role, but I like Ali MacGraw’s performance in Goodbye, Columbus more than any other in her career.
As Brenda's gentle-natured, jock brother, Ron (here, with jockstrap in hand, lost in bittersweet reverie listening to a recording of his glory days as star basketball player at Ohio State - the source of the film's title) newcomer Michael Meyers makes a scene-stealing impression. Richard Benjamin, who would build a career playing variations on this character in several films throughout the '70s, is a solid lead and near-flawless master of the deadpan take.

With all my comments about the film's ethnic/cultural subtext, I don’t want to give the impression that Goodbye, Columbus is a deeply serious drama. It’s really an at-times hilarious comedy of manners that offers more than the usual food for thought for the typical '60s Generation Gap film. Some characters may seem a tad broadly drawn, but (more's the pity) I can’t say that there’s a single individual or type in this film that I haven’t actually encountered at some time in my life. Some within my own family!
More befitting appetite suppression than stimulation, this line of reasoning has nevertheless remained popular with American parents for generations.
This wedding scene drew a lot of criticism for being over-the-top and more burlesque than authentic. Well, those critics clearly haven't attended enough weddings. In fact, the behavior displayed here at the wedding buffet table is tragi-comically similar to what I witnessed at the reception following my father's funeral. 

I’m aware that many of the things I’m fondest of in Goodbye, Columbus (the Charles Fox music score, the montages, the class-distinction humor, the appeal of Ali MacGraw) are the very things that don’t resonate very strongly with audiences today. Still, there is much in the uniformly fine performances and witty screenplay that makes me categorize Goodbye, Columbus as something of a neglected classic. If the film has any flaws, perhaps its biggest (and ultimately costliest) is in laying on the ethnic humor so heavily that some of the more thoughtful, perceptive points of Roth's novel are lost or at the very least, blunted.
Neil Klugman, a kind of reverse Gatsby, is ambivalent about his feelings towards wealth and the kind of life Brenda leads. He responds to and identifies with an African-American youth who comes daily to the library to stare at the pictures in a book of prints by Paul Gauguin depicting the colorful dreamscapes of Tahiti. Benjamin and the young actor (Anthony McGowan) share a kind of heartbreaking chemistry in these scenes that bring a tear to my eye every time. 

I've written in earlier essays about how You’re A Big Boy Now and The Graduate stick in my mind as my top favorites of the '60s coming-of-age films. But as much as I enjoy and admire those films, I can't deny that Goodbye, Columbus is the one I regard as both the funniest and most emotionally satisfying overall. If one cares to look beyond the occasionally overstressed humor, it's a movie that really has a lot on its mind and a lot to say. Also, I can't ignore the fact that it's the only film of the three to have given me my “goosebump moment.”
If there's a sequence that strikes me as having not aged particularly well, it's the scene where Neil is shocked that Brenda is so cavalier about not taking birth control. For some reason, it never hit me in the same way in past years, but now, as I watch Neil rant and rave about Brenda's so-called carelessness, I always think "Then wear a condom, Mr. Intellectual!"  

That scene presages the film's conclusion. Filmed almost exclusively in two-shot during their romance, Brenda and Neil's eventual estrangement is dramatized in a scene of mounting tension that denies their sharing of the same frame. The couple, miles apart in their ideologies and principles, realize at last that they are from two different worlds.

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2012


  1. I share your affection for this neglected 1960s hit. It captures the look of 1968-69 perfectly, a time when I was just getting ready for college. Along with 'The Sterile Cuckoo' the following year, it's a reminder that lots of young people were more caught up in their own personal issues in the late 1960s than what was going on in the country politically.
    MacGraw is wonderful in the movie and quite fantastic in "Just Tell Me What You Want" a decade later - people who don't think she could act should check out her long final scene (done in one take) in that 1980 Sidney Lumet-Jay Presson Allen gem. It's a shame she never found the right roles during most of her screen career.
    Thanks for the wonderful feeling of nostalgia you provided me today, Ken!

  2. Hi Joe
    Glad you enjoyed the post! Trafficking in nostalgia seems to be a preoccupation of mine. I'm glad to hear you have fond memories of this film too, and you make a good point that films like this and "The Sterile Cuckoo" (a major fave of mine) reflect that not every youth film was political.
    Also, it's great to hear from an Ali MacGraw booster! And you're the only one I've ever encountered to take note of that scene in "Just Tell Me What You Want"! Much appreciate your stopping by here now and then. I visit your blog and marvel at the number of films and plays you see and books you read. How you find the time to write about each so thoughtfully is really inspiring. Thanks, Joe!

  3. It's a testament to your cinematic analytical skills that I enjoy reading your thoughts on a film I've never seen just as much as one that I have. This one has always escaped me. It looks like my type of movie, based on the colors, sets, hair, etc... :-) As someone who has only ever been able to merely tolerate MacGraw, it might be nice to see if this can sway me. (I saw Just Tell Me What You Want many, many moons ago before I was fully cooked, so I can't really recall that. I'll have to see that one again sometime, too.) She certainly does look luscious in these caps!

    1. Looking at that wedding pic of MacGraw with that huge 60's hairdo, you're right, I'm surprised this one escaped you, because I think there is much you would enjoy about it. Even if the film fails to be persuasive as a drama for some people, I think the comic notes hit the mark pretty solidly, making for a fun film to watch if only to enjoy the late 60s vibe. MacGraw is certainly a matter of taste (I really couldn't stand her in "Love Story") but she has a bit of a Candice Bergen vibe about her here, a little smart and sassier than she's given credit for, and she's really good. If nothing else I would love to hear your take on the characterization of Ron. His scenes with Benjamin are comically uncomfortable scenarios highlighting the subconsciously homoerotic "familiarity" of jocks and athletes.

  4. This film possesses one of the most infectious theme songs ever written.

    1. Isn't it, though? You can imagine how it sounded amplified in a movie theater back in the days when that kind of groovy go-go "beat" was still popular. No wonder I fell in love!

  5. And the similarities continue, Ken! Some time ago, I made a trailer for Goodbye Columbus. I couldn't find one anywhere and it's one of my favorite films. Here's my trailer I made:)

    1. Hello Klara
      I've been looking over your excellent site and I see we do indeed share similar tastes in some entertainments!
      Until you brought up the subject, I never realized I'd never seen a trailer for "Goodbye, Columbus" before.How cool is it that you made one of your own! A very nice job, many great scenes and lines of dialog captured. A terrific tribute to a wonderful film.

    2. Thank you Ken, I'm glad you enjoyed the trailer. I'm definitely loving your site! You're very thoughtful in your film writing. And you have great screen capture selections! :) Klara

    3. Thanks very much for your compliments, Klara. Not intending to start a Mutual Admiration Society here, but I get a kick out of your site as well. To read a young person's appreciation perspective of the stars and films from my youth is very enlightening. I've enjoyed what I've read a great deal!

  6. Dear Ken, thanks for your post, which unfortunately I have found only today.
    I was 16 years old when I first saw "Goodbye Columbus" in Tel Aviv. it was in summer 1970, and like you it took me only few seconds to fall in love with Ali MG, a love which continue up today. It is really amazing to see that there is somebody else in the world that shares with you the same feelings about this unforgettable movie.
    Thanks again and warm regards from Israel
    Yair Ben-David

    1. Thank YOU for sharing such a nice memory from your past!
      Your comment illuminates why I so love the global impact of film. Two people, thousands of miles apart, can share a similar reaction to an image on celluloid. Different cultures, different lives, but a shared infatuation with seeing Ali MacGraw dive into that pool for the first time...and it's stayed with us all these years!
      Thank you very much, Yair, for visiting my site. Your comment made my day!

  7. Luckily this great movie is now available at and it can be viewed for free. It's in two parts there. Definitely Ali MacGraw's best movie!

    1. I agree! Thanks for passing on the streaming info!

  8. It reminds me of Marjorie Morningstar.

    1. Stowe Moody!
      Good Lord! How did I miss this for 5 whole years? Perhaps it was because I hadn't seen MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR at the time...? Yikes.
      Anyhow, I've since seen it and I can see what you mean. Especially as it relates to Jewish culture presented to the masses. A rather sharp comparison I'm sorry I hadn't commented on before.

  9. Ken, you describe the "goose-bump" moment. Well I had the same one in the same scene. Ali/Brenda hits the water, the bouncy (and somehow slightly dark) title song by the Association kicks in and we know we are literally in over our heads. You equate the scene with love at first sight. So do I. And I identify with this movie because of my own doomed summer romance back in 1976. It was my first big one. And like Neil in Goodbye Columbus, I got a real education.

    I also echo your sentiments for the library scenes with Neil and the young boy - very poignant in the novella as well. I think the scene where we hear the record finally played to its climatic point, "Goodbye Ohio - Goodbye Columbus" cutting to an exterior nighttime shot of the Patimkin house, imbues all of the little subplots in the film, with a certain significance. It's an import that dialogue alone wouldn't have been able to convey. To me that's a goose-bump moment as well. Yours is one of the finest reviews of this sleeper from the 60s that I've read. You put your finger on exactly what makes a movie more than the sum of its parts - the "goose-bump" moment".

    1. Hi Peter
      Very thrilling to know you had a similar response to the exact same moment in "Goodbye, Columbus"! I love how film has the power to occasionally spark the same emotions in different people from different backgrounds.
      I also love your calling attention to that sequence where we hear the sign off of Ron's Columbus record. I don't recall ever reading a review in which it has been commented upon, but like you, I too think it is a poignant moment in the film full of small, finely observed bits of emotional truth.
      I thank you for that contribution to this post's comments section and hope your enthusiasm for the film and attention to an oft-overlooked sequence will inspire someone to take another look at this gem of a film. I'm humbled by your kind works and thank you for reading this post and taking the time to share your "goose-bump" moments with us!

    2. This is well noted, Ken:

      " the film full of small, finely observed bits of emotional truth. "

      You mentioned you are African-American. I'm white, but I grew up in Warrensville Heights Ohio, a predominantly black suburb of Cleveland. I can recall "love at first sight" when suddenly glimpsing a beautiful young African American girl from my school when I was in 10th grade. She was crossing Harvard Avenue with her mother, carrying a grocery bag - her face in a beaming sun. She may as well have been one of the Gauguin paintings the boy in the library in Goodbye Columbus is obsessed with. "That's a place to go!"

      I mentioned a doomed summer romance a few years later in my life. I identify so strongly with this film because of that experience. The movie (and the Roth novella) through that opening goosebump moment you describe so well, gives the viewer an unspoken harbinger that this will not end well - because it's too dear to lose, and too sweet to last. And the film stays true to itself to that bitter end.

      The naturalistic dialogue; the cadences of how young lovers speak, act, spar, make out, make up and eventually break up are all there in Goodbye Columbus. Romantic? Oh yes. Comedic? Painfully so. Tragic? Unfortunately, that too. In short - it's real. Just like human life.

    3. Hi Peter,
      Your comment perfectly encapsulates the unspoken credo of this blog: that the subjective emotional experience of a film is both a valid and complimentary form of critical assessment.

      In the middle of extrapolating on why this film speaks to your personal experience and individual points of identification, you were also able to comment upon a brilliant bit of cinema vocabulary and how it's applied to this film.

      You cite how "Columbus" is essentially a naturalistic film, thus, that first goose-bump moment glimpse of Gloria we are invited to share from Neil's perspective is a telling stylistic departure from the rest of the film. He's idealizing her and romanticizing the notion of love.But since a dream is not a real person, I agree that this use of fantasy imagery (slo-motion, glare filters) does indeed hint that Neil's romance with Gloria will not end well.
      That's the kind of film analysis I like- where one can enjoy a film emotionally, yet still be aware of the vocabulary of film well enough to understand cinema storytelling.
      If I taught a film course, you'd get an A+ for not only knowing why "Goodbye, Columbus" works for you emotionally, but why it works as a film.
      Thanks again, Peter. I enjoyed reading your take on this favorite of films!

  10. Well God bless you for sayin' so, Ken. You would make a heck of a film prof without question! Forgive me for one last observation in line with that departure of style you mention (and I hadn't really thought about before you did).

    Often in Neil and Brenda's budding romance, one or the other will break the tension of a little quarrel with a quip that leads to a kiss. For example (as best as I can quote from memory):

    Neil: "I'm not a planner, I'm a liver"

    Brenda: "And I'm a pancreas"

    The bittersweet Charles Fox cue swells up, under another idealized montage of the young lovers - strolling hand-in-hand, kissing in a rowboat, etc.

    Yeah that gives me goosebumps in this film, when other "rom-coms" doing ostensibly the same thing would just gag me.

    Like the "Gauguin" library scene in particular, the entire film leaves me both utterly charmed, and a little heartbroken.

    1. My pleasure, Peter. Getting to have people share with me their particular fondness for a film has turned out to be one of the the unexpected perks of blogging.
      Reading your comments has been like rewatching the film through fresh eyes. Thanks!

  11. What Brought me here. I recall at 17 my parents taking the family down to Shaftesbury Avenue one term-time evening in London to see this film. It was amazing like the cinema was full of Golders Green and the other suburbs of North West London as those familiar Jewish stereotypes we all are produced repeated roars of laughter all round. None of us lack in our family those like Jack Klugman when he swiped the head off the chopped liver chicken or the elderly couple listening to the phone-call in the closet then having to make a comment instead of attempting not to be seen. This is clearly a one-off cult film but the thing that bought me here is that I have of late been repeatedly struck by astonishing resemblance between Mark Zuckenberg and Michael Jay Meyers so I had to google to confirm and yes it is very uncanny.

    As often happens one gets hooked on following the google trail and I was astonished to see that it was his first and last film as he changed his career to that of doctor and died nine years ago. Further googling revealed next to nothing and only the odd picture from the film. To add to the dearth of information I was curious to see that the only other two appearances were on David Frost's shows in the UK in 1970. That seemed odd as Our DR Jonathan Miller, also a humourist and doctor was often on David Frost's show and also had a slightly similar look to Meyer's.

    All in all it was a pretty depressing exercise with Meyer almost a google ghost while his legacy is solely Goodbye Columbus. To cap it all, Goodbye Columbus is a reminder to us that the holocaust generation and their children had a sense of reality and perspective and could recognise the humour in our sterotypes and culture and share laughter with others at them and did so without fear of someone taking issue.

    The film was sad but hilarious. It was a great night out and "Eat's Like A Bird" became a family catchphrase for a long time afterwards.

    1. I got a real kick out of reading your memories of seeing GOODBYE COLUMBUS. Wonderful context and perspective on the universality of the ethnic humor. Fascinating too that your Google search for Michael Meyers yielded just enough info to confirm that after making such an impression in this film, it was still rather easy to disappear once returning to "civilian" life. I hadn't noticed the Zuckerberg resemblance, but I see it now.
      Thanks for stopping by and contributing such an engagingly personal take on the film. Much appreciated! (Just reading the words "Eats like a bird!" - and I can hear Klugman's marvelous delivery.)

    2. Thanks so much for a spot on analysis. This is one of my father's favorite films so I have seen it many times. As a teen-ager people used to tell me I looked like Ali MacGraw, which I found flattering. In addition to everything you described, I love the aspect of hilding on to the last vestiges of youth portrayed summer at home between college terms...not a child but not having to support oneself yet and the tensions it created in the household.

    3. Hello Anonymous (I wish I could refer to you by name)- but I thinks it's wonderful you know this film through your father's affection for it, and for your teenage resemblance to Ali MacGraw. Someone most people have to Google now to know whom it is you're talking about, she's so out of the public eye.
      You describe very well a nostalgic aspect of this film that feels both vivid and remote to me now: how well it DOES capture that pre-adult age where summers did feel like the last times one would ever be as free enough to straddle both the lack of responsibilities of youth (no summer job!) and adulthood (school in the fall and thinking of creating a life of ones' own).
      I don't come from a background physically similar to the characters in GOODBYE, COLUMBUS--but emotionally...oh my, yes! Thank you for reading this and contributing your memories to this dialogue about the film!

  12. Ken, first of all I would like to say that I love this movie. Saying that this movie when it came out was already dated. You have to realize that it is based on a novella by Philip Roth written in 1959. This book was autobiographical such as he grew up in Newark nj, served in the army, worked in the library etc. etc. Since the book was based on his experiences in the early 1950's and based on sextual mores and 1950s sensibilities, by the time the film came out in 1969, it was unfortunately dated. Paramount couldnt even use Newark nj since by 1969 the city was ravaged by riots and had no jewish neighborhoods left. By the time the picture was released we had, the summer of love, sexual revolution, woodstock, the beatles, vietnam war protests and the assasination of mlk, rfk and jfk. Before jfk's death this country was still in the 1950's and all its sexual mores by the time 1969 came around brenda/ron/neil would be hippies.

    1. Hi Gary
      Thanks for bringing up an interesting point. From my perspective, to claim that GOODBYE, COLUMBUS is dated due to when the book was written is a valid position to take, but one which presumes the things Roth writes about had changed dramatically since the time it was written.

      I see that as your position, and moving forward from that, you’re right. But my position is that American life didn’t change in ways significant enough to render the setting, story, or characters in GOODBYE, COLUMBUS as dated.
      Case in point, America 2020 has smartphones and tablets and electric cars, but there are protests in the streets because we haven’t advanced very far since the 1950s.

      GOODBYE, COLUMBUS is autobiographical satire, and as such, doesn’t bear the weight of having to be materially accurate (place, appearance) if it is accurate socially and emotionally. And for me it is.

      If anything dates it, it ‘s that it was hoped to be another THE GRADUATE, a film released two years earlier. By the time COLUMBUS hit the screen, the disaffected teen genre was about to be replaced by the antihero.

      But I would argue that rather than being dated, GOODBYE.COLUMBUS just represents a film coming late in a cycle. I can't imagine you're as old as I am, but in 1969 America was still a country very much in flux. At the very same moment in history at hippies roamed Haight-Ashbury and draft cards were being burned, there were young people exactly the same age who were dressed like Ann-Marie and Don Hollinger in THAT GIRL. Nixon's daughters (with their gloves, hats,and modest hemlines) existed contentiously, but side by side with the flower children. Teens were walking around who had internalized their parents’ 50s-based prejudices, economic preoccupations, and obsession with capitalism.

      History makes it seem like all the young were on the same page, but in 1969 there were still plenty of upper middle class Brendas about, just as there were still a lot of floundering young men like Neil. Sadly, I don’t even think GOODBYE, COLUMBUS was really dated even by the 90s. I've no idea of the East Coast experience, but in the West, the country club racism thrives, the nouveau riche gaucheness is in full flower, and class-culture has never died. (Mar-a-Lago, anyone?)

      So while there are no mini-skirts and nobody calls not wanting to participate in society “dropping out”, there are cultural truths that run deep in our country. Those having to do with race, progress, assimilation, and class.Sucha that you can pick up a book by Theodore Dressler written in 1925, and the only thing to date it would be the clothes and cars.

      So as to your point, subjectively speaking, if you find GOODBYE, COLUMBUS to be dated, you’re not wrong. In fact, it’s a well-taken point and a valid perspective. So stopping short of labeling the film as dated (I don’t think it is), I will say that what you’ve provided is an insight into why some might see it as such.
      So, I thank you for reading this blog and contributing another interesting talking and thinking point to this comments section. Cheers!

  13. Poor Larry Peerce...from this and "A Seperate Peace" to
    "The Bell Jar" and "Wired" of the more tragic and uncommented upon directorial downfalls.

    1. True. He's definitely a director who's work out of the gate seems startlingly at odds with that which occupied his later years. And indeed, he's a director whose name never comes up...even in articles about '70 filmmakers.

      But as I get older, I tend to think the idea that a successful career is less marked by consistent success or quality, but in creating (if briefly or just once) one masterpiece, enduring effort, or influential work in one's chosen field.
      Larry Peerce may have gone out with a whimper, but few directors even get to lay claim to one my eyes ONE POTATO TWO POTATO, GOODBYE COLUMBUS, THE BIG TNT SHOW, and A SEPARATE PEACE constitute a grand and successful career. The rest is employment. And there's certainly no shame in that.
      Thanks for reading this Barry, and your comment drawing attention to Peerce almost counts as a tribute. I hope your words inspire a reader or two to seek out some of his other films. Much appreciated!

  14. The Roth interview is compelling: the fact is all attempts to film his work were horrible failures,including The Humbling,Indignation,and American Pastoral. The Plot Againist America, with its timely and searing analogy to the Trump era: An HBO series rather than a feature film? Wonder if Roth would have found something that he finally may have unequivocally admired?

    1. I've heard only good things about the HBO series, but it will be years before I'm in any frame of mind to watch it. If the long-format adaptation afforded a more faithful vision of Roth's dense work. I'd like to think that he would have found ONE screen translation of his books to his liking.

  15. Ken: due to your great article on GBC, had a fascinating experience comparing Richard Benjamin under Peerce's direction to that of his successive performance in "Portnoy's Complaint"; subtle and true in the former and disastrously over-inflated in the later....although Lehman's film is a true case study in one the most legendary train-wreck adaptations in Hollywood history. And yet, much is to be gleaned from such fiascos, often even more than from the canon of accepted classics.As to your remark about Peerce ("briefly, if not just once"). How insightful. How better off would we be in even the general social sense if we upheld that kind of compassion and understanding towards an artist's body of work, rather than "How do you top this?/Keep winning!"...the ultimate maxim printed over the gilded doors of the capitalist Hollywood death mills.

    1. Your experience comparing Richard Benjamin in his two Philip Roth roles had me looking back to the piece I wrote on PORTNOY to reacquaint myself with my thoughts on the very flawed adaptation.
      Though I was largely preoccupied with my fave Karen Black, I have to agree with you about Benjamin. Certainly Alexander Portnoy is a different character, but for some reason Benjamin appears to have been directed to play it as unsympathetically as possible.
      Adaptation misfires on the scale of PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT are rare, but in those instances when a film is a walking catalog of bad decisions (SHOWGIRLS comes to mind) the films hold a weird fascination for me. Maybe it's like you say, there's much to be gleaned from the fiascoes.

      Thanks for mentioning the comment about Peerce vis a vis our country's maddening success ethic. No field of employment is exempt, but the whole mania for always topping oneself, always winning, seems especially faulty in the arts. What a creativity killer, I would think.
      Thanks for sharing your findings from your Roth comparison experience. I appreciate your deep interest in movies and enjoy your having strong, impassioned opinions about them. Whether we agree or butt heads (politely, I hope), being excited about movies is one of my favorite things.

  16. As per the new biography on Roth:" all of my work was compromised by Hollywood, much to my distaste, if not outright contempt.... especially actors who were cast as me were always too weak, putzes, never forceful enough, no gravitas....."

    1. Ha! Great quote.
      Well, the man has a point. One I'm sure he'd find few in disagreement with.And as he's speaking about his own work, he's entitled to feel very strongly about the compromises taken in bringing his books to the screen. The point taken about the casting of Roth surrogates is especially acute.

      But whenever I read the words of authors disparaging the film versions of their books and bemoaning their lack of faithfulness, I also search the article or interview in the hope that they end it all with a statement acknowledging that films and novels are two separate art forms and that, in adaptation, a new "author's vision" should be allowed free rein. I also look for a concluding admission statement along the lines of: "But I'm the one who sold the rights, I cashed the checks, and therefore should recognize that it's honest but ungallant of me to complain too vociferously."

  17. To wit: "You'll only have one problem with me in terms of your adaptation of my work. When I find out the check didn't clear".

    But he DID express some affection for Peerce's film; however it was in the form of wanting to take Ali McGraw out on a date, as he attempted to do again with Nicole Kidman from the adaptation of "The Human Stain". Thought you get a kick out of THAT!

    1. Now, that sounds like the Philip Roth I know from the anecdotes told to me by someone who knew him during the 80s!

  18. For me the nostalgia evoked by the film is less for the late 60s than for 2000 when I was living on Saipan and this film was played on AMC. I had never even heard of the film before let alone seen it, but it captivated me. Or, more accurately, I should say Ali McGraw captivated me.

    Anyway, rewatching the film yesterday I'm reminded of a time in my life that has long passed but that intertwines with how I figured others must feel about the time when it was fresh in the theaters.

    This blogger is an example of that:

    1. Hi Sean - Thanks for the link to that terrific memory blog. An enjoyable read heightened considerably by the writer's contrasting her past impressions of GOODBYE COLUMBUS with her contemporary perspective. The clarity and specific nature of her memories (poor Richard Benjamin) adds a great deal to feeling one is reliving her original experience. And thanks for sharing your own, considerably more recent impressions. Nice to know Ali MacGraw still captivates more than 50 years after she won my heart.