Some movies have fantastic ideas and the premise lends itself to strong remakes. Most people don’t realize that “The Maltese Falcon”, perhaps the greatest example of hard-boiled detective film-making, was a remake. Humphrey Bogart was not the original Sam Spade, and he was not the first Sam Spade to go in search of the black bird. “A Star is Born” has been remade at least twice and both films were successful, the Judy Garland version is actually the one most people remember, although it is a remake. “King Kong” has been remade twice and while not the classic that the original was, the do overs have been solid. There are of course a lot of miserable failures when it comes to remakes; “Halloween”, “The Heartbreak Kid”, and “Psycho” are a few recent examples. A few years ago, Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks were featured in a re-make of today’s movie. It was critically lambasted and a box office dud. I can’t jump all over it because I never saw it. The reason I never saw it is that I had already seen the perfect realization of this movie. Michael Douglas is a fine actor, but he does not have the devil may care charm of Peter Falk. In casting Albert Brooks, they certainly were trying to find an appropriate sardonic replacement for Alan Arkin. Neither of these guys is replaceable, and their chemistry seems like it had to be unique.
The 1979 version of “The In-Laws” has a reputation among film buffs as one of the funniest films of all time. Mind you I said of all time, not just the 1970s. This reputation is well deserved and accurate because of the work of the two leads, and the brilliant script by Andrew Bergman. Bergman is a writer that has been very good (The Freshman) and very bad (Striptease). When he is on, it goes like a hurricane and this movie blows in a good way. There are aside comments that come from both leads that are better than anything in whole entire films.[On working for the CIA]
Vince Ricardo: Are you interested in joining? The benefits are terrific. The trick is not to get killed. That’s really the key to the benefit program.][Sheldon: There’s no reason to shoot at me, I’m a dentist.] The story gets a little surreal when they arrive at the South American Island nation and the General in charge is nuts, but he has great lines too.
The premise is simple, the parents of the bride and groom are meeting for the first time, and the father of the groom, a CIA operative ends up dragging the father of the bride, a dentist, into a dangerous plot. Of course it is silly, but it is not slapstick type silly. They have funny lines, but they grow out of the situations and personalities of the two characters. This is not like a Naked Gun movie where it is joke,joke,joke,and joke; and then you hope that two thirds of them hit. This movie is funny because the people in the story are funny. Falk is the single-minded but also absent minded spy, who dangerously improvises his missions. Arkin, is a straight-man with the deadpan delivery that makes the lines he is given just kill.
As usual, there are a lot of supporting players in the movie that add to the film in ways that just help it along enough. James Hong, is an actor I may have mentioned before. If you see “Big Trouble in Little China” you will know him, he is also the sympathetic houseman in “Chinatown”. Here he has a small part as a charter plane operator, and all of his lines are in Chinese. Still Funny. David Paymer is an Academy Award Nominee, a guy everyone will recognize but few will be able to name. Paymer is a very young version of himself, playing a cab driver that takes good direction when tipped appropriately. Richard Libertini, had a part in another film written by Bergman, “Fletch”. In the “In-Laws” he is the dictator with unusual taste in art, and some really strange talent. This is the one place where things seem a bit over the top, but by that point, we are ready to follow these performers everywhere they want to take us.
I have seen the last half of this movie a half dozen times over the years. I don’t think I have seen the whole thing since the first time I saw it in theaters, until today. This is the third movie that I have done for the summer blog here that I watched on my ipod. I am running a bit low on the films in my stock for the blog, in fact I have only one left currently in my possession. So I have had to rent from itunes the last two days. I am running a little low on cash until the end of the month, but I think I have found a solution, and since we have only a week or so left we should be in good shape. I wish I had bought “The In-Laws”, the DVD it is currently available in has both versions of the film. I would be interested to make the direct comparison now, after having watched the original. Douglas and Brooks could not dodge the bullets shot at them from critics, maybe they just don’t know…Serpentine, Shel! Serpentine!