Saturday, September 15, 2018

My favorite Neil Simon movie

TCM in tribute to Neil Simon played a number of his movies last night.  A few years ago I hosted a month-long Neil Simon film festival on TCM.  Although they didn't use my intros and outros last night, TCM says a Backlot website that is replaying some Simon movies with my wraparounds.  You can find the site here.  

But my favorite Neil Simon movie was THE HEARTBREAK KID.   In case they don't show it, or they do but you missed it, here is the transcription of my INTRO and OUTRO to that film.  

INTRO:

Hi, I’m Ken Levine – a TV writer, playwright and a blogger – quick plug: Ken Levine dot blogspot dot com – and I’m back for the final night of hosting TCM’s “Friday Night Spotlight” on Neil Simon. And right now we have my all-time favorite of his films. It’s “The Heartbreak Kid,” from 1972 starring Charles Grodin, Cybil Shepherd, also Eddie Albert and Jeannie Berlin.

This is a very atypical Neil Simon film – quite dark – with a screenplay based on a short story by Bruce J. Friedman. There aren’t a ton of Simon jokes and wisecracks here. It’s very satirical, very dry, very Jewish and the humor comes mostly from hypocrisy.

Grodin plays a total cad – a guy who only gets married because his girlfriend – Jeannie Berlin – won’t sleep with him until they’re legal. But of course, their first night together is horrible – at least, according to him.

They drive to Miami for his honeymoon anyway, and while there he proceeds to fall in love with a wasp-y beauty, played by Cybil Shepherd.


And he spends the entire honeymoon figuring out how he can be with her instead of his newylwed bride and convince Cybil’s father Eddie Albert that he’s worthy of his daughter’s hand. There’s clearly a level of Anti-Semitism in the Eddie Albert character, and Grodin is hardly a sympathetic character on any level, but you’ve got to give him credit for salesmanship, perseverance and moxie.

You’ll find yourself laughing at his sheer audacity.

And Eddie Albert steals absolutely every scene he’s in.

Jeannie Berlin is also fantastic as the jilted wife – and both Jeannie and Eddie Albert were nominated for Academy Awards for their supporting performances. The film is directed by Elaine May, who – as you may know – in the late 50’s and early 60’s was one-half of a comedy team with another one of Neil Simon’s long-time collaborators, Mike Nichols. Elaine may is also Jeannie Berlin’s mother.

Here’s the film, with Neil Simon himself in a cameo as one of the wedding guests. From 1972 – “The Heartbreak Kid.”

OUTRO:

I love that movie. It’s sick and twisted – but the absurdity is played so straight, so dry, so earnest. I think a lot of the credit goes to director Elaine May for establishing the tone.

There’s also that scene with the egg salad – i mean, will you ever eat an egg salad sandwich again? Or not use sunblock?

In 2007, there was a remake of “The Heartbreak Kid” done by the Farelly Brothers starring Ben Stiller, but it was not faithful to the original story by Bruce J. Friedman and it was, I have to say, awful. For the record, Neil Simon was not associated with it.

Up next is another great Neil Simon movie – with a screenplay based on one of Simon’s own Broadway productions. On stage, it starred Peter Falk and Lee Grant – on film, it’s Jack Lemmon and Ann Bancroft. (The Prisoner of Second Avenue)

18 comments :

scottmc said...

It is a little unusual to see the title credit as 'Neil Simon's Heartbreak Kid'. You'd expect it to be Elaine May's Heartbreak Kid'. The post reminded me that Charles Grodin has had a rather unique career. In the 70's he was in movies like 'Kid', Catch-22, 11 Harrowhouse and Heaven Can Wait. He worked with Simon again in Seems Like Old Times. He was wonderful in Midnight Run. On Broadway he stepped in at the last minute to save Herb Gardener's play Thieves. He has written several books. I heard that he and Mel Brooks visited Gene Wilder often during Wilder's final months.

E. Yarber said...

I've mentioned elsewhere that when a remake was first considered, a suit sent me the original Simon script asking me how it could be improved. Instead I explained to the client just why the script was as impeccably crafted as it was. Some nights I shudder to think what a fool I'd have made of myself if I'd had the ego to think I could have said anything else. Believe me, many of my peers would have gone there.

E. Yarber said...

I've mentioned elsewhere that when a remake was first considered, a suit sent me the original Simon script asking me how it could be improved. Instead I explained to the client just why the script was as impeccably crafted as it was. Some nights I shudder to think what a fool I'd have made of myself if I'd had the ego to think I could have said anything else. Believe me, many of my peers would have gone there.

VincentS said...

GREAT movie.

Fred Vogel said...

"There's no deceit in the cauliflower."

Janet Ybarra said...

Hi Ken, You mentioned how the absurdity of the film is played straight. But other than that--given that you are such a student of Neil Simon--what specifically makes this one your favorite?

Alex said...

Can you please post a list of what you consider to be the top 10 comedy movies.

I always wondered if you like sex comedies like 'American Pie' or 'Superbad' sort of movies.... Do you? You don't mention them much.

Tom Lawrence said...

Eddie Albert was a marvelous actor, excellent as a heel, a comic foil or a wide-eyed good guy. Plus, a war hero and an early environmental activist who lived to be 99. Quick, somebody write his bio.

Lemuel said...

As a Jeannie Berlin fan, let me recommend BONE, which also came out in 1972. Also PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT.

gottacook said...

Tablet Magazine has published (legitimately) Friedman's original and very short story:

www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/954/a-change-of-plan

k said...

I have not seen the HeartBreak Kid in either incarnation but now I know which one to see.
A question.
I have read of the superstition of mentioning, by name, "the scottish play" ( MacBeth) backstage in live theatre.
Is there any parelell superstition in TV/ movies of the mention of a particular show/movie during production. Such as, a speculative example, "Ishtar" cursing the efforts of those that are working?
A Corollary is what has been the most star crossed TV series/ movie you are aware of?
I remember the movie "The Twilight Zone" which led to the deaths of Vic Morrow and 2 children which led to greater sfety rules for stunts.
Perhaps the Conquorer ( John Wayne as Genghis Khan) may qualify with all the cancers after filming in the shadow of a recent nuclear test?


Todd Everett said...

It is a little unusual to see the title credit as 'Neil Simon's Heartbreak Kid'. You'd expect it to be Elaine May's Heartbreak Kid'.

Just proves that (a) Simon had a better agent, and (b) his name is going to sell more tickets than hers, anyway.

sueK2001 said...

Just wanted to express my condolences on the loss of Thad Mumford. I recall seeing his name on a lot of MASH episodes...I'm sure a great tribute from you in forthcoming.

Cap'n Bob said...

I saw it in the theater when it came out and didn't care for it one iota. Maybe I need to give it a second chance, but I have a feeling my dislike of Charles Grodin won't change my reaction.

Justin Piatt said...

I love this movie because it's hysterical, but I have also never felt so uncomfortable in my life watching a film. I wanted to yell at the screen, "Stop. Just stop. What are you doing? Stop!!!"

Tom Tully said...

Eddie Albert never really caught on to what Elaine was doing with the picture. In Grodin's book he claims that because Charles was underplaying his role so much, Eddie was convinced that he was just filling in until the real leading man showed up. Also he was very critical of Jeanie Berlin, and had not been told she was Elaine's daughter!

AndrewJ said...

Simon later said he wrote the movie envisioning Diane Keaton as the Jeanne Berlin character; he (and the writer of the original short story, Bruce Jay Friedman) saw the comedy in a guy whose second wife was, at the end of the day, identical to the first. It was Elaine May who turned it into a Jewish/WASP conflict, and several critics saw Berlin's role as an anti-Semitic caricature (i.e., the "Jewish princess").

"There's no deceit in the cauliflower."

I think of that line every time a big-city reporter parachutes in to Middle America to file a story sucking up to Trump supporters.

mickey said...

A longtime favorite. I've been dropping "No pecan pie" references in conversations for 40-plus years (very few place the line, sadly).

What surprised me when TNT ran the movie a couple of years ago is how poor the quality of the print looked. Could the network not find a better-quality print of it, or was it filmed in a low-quality method? If that's the best version around, can it be remastered or restored?