Retro: our movie & TV vault... a fresh look
at neglected classics and cult favourites
"Break the rules! Make love! Fall over laughing!" - ad-lineNeil Simon is one of my favourite writers. I've never had the opportunity to see his stage work, but I always enjoy the film adaptations. This is one of the best, full of laughs from beginning to end.
Paul and Corie Bratter (Robert Redford, Jane Fonda) are newlyweds. After spending the six days ("and nights," Corie enthusiastically points out) of their honeymoon in their hotel room, they move into a tiny fifth-floor walk-up with no heat, a hole in the skylight, a bathroom with no tub, and a bedroom where just the bed fits. All visitors arrive out of breath, on the verge of collapse.
Jane Fonda is at her most adorably sexy as Corie, often parading around missing either shirt or pants. Redford, meanwhile, with his constant wisecracks, comes across variably as loving or as a jerk. These roles do not require much from the young actors; all the emotion is in the words. More interesting performances come from Mildred Natwick as Corie's mother, Ethel, and from Charles Boyer as Victor Velasco. Velasco, who lives in the attic of the building, cooks eel, wears a kimono, and hooks up with Ethel, is the most interesting character in the film. The aging Boyer gets to, in effect, satirise his former screen image while continuing to portray it. Natwick, meanwhile, gives the film's most subtle performance, playing the many sides of her character using the slightest movement of her eyes.
In the space of three days, the Bratters go through every stage of a young marriage. From spending all their time together, through an intense fight that leads to her demanding a divorce. I was watching this with my wife, and we kept smiling at each other in recognition of the familiar situations being played out on the screen. One of the most admirable qualities of Neil Simon's writing (besides his ability to wring comic elements out of practically any situation) is his insight into the mind of the female. His writing of Maggie Smith's character in California Suite is a prime example of this, and he shows the same ability in the creations of Corie and Ethel.
This is a true classic, not in the terms of being a great film, but in terms of succeeding in its ambitions. As a comedy, it is consistently laughter inducing, and as a portrait of newlyweds, it succeeds admirably, while introducing us to quirky characters that stay in the mind.