Sunday, May 26, 2013

Film Classics of the 20th Century

One of our regular features is going to be a look back at great films from the last century.  As Betty noted earlier this month about film:

Film is visceral.
It's hollering for Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett in "Set It Off" or for Angelina Jolie in "Wanted."  It's screaming when someone steps out from the shadows, it's knowing that Tony and Maria belong together ("West Side Story") and that Angie Dickinson should not get on that elevator ("Dressed To Kill"), it's rooting for Gale Sondergaard to kill Bette Davis ("The Letter"), it's the moment in "Terminator 2" when Linda Hamilton fixes the doctor with the look.

movie montage

Gwen:  I slept with Boomer Bower?

Newton:  Yes, but it's not -- it's not like you were being promiscuous.  He's your old boyfriend and you bumped into him one day and you got to reminiscing and it just happened.  Except now, you don't know where we stand.

Gwen:  You gave me an old boyfriend?  And you named him 'Boomer'? 

Newton:  I'm a little new at this, okay?  But that's the beauty of it.  That's why you left our apartment in Boston -- to come up here and decide between me and Boomer.

Gwen:  I can't believe you told her that.

Newton:  Well I can't believe you can't believe it.  You've told a few whoppers yourself, you know.

Gwen:  I told nice ones.

And she did.  Gwen (Goldie Hawn) told nice and lively lies.  Newton (Steve Martin)?  As Gwen tells him later in the movie,  "The problem is if I might say is that you stink at lying and every time you try it, you get us in trouble."

In 1992's House Sitter, Newton Davis is an architect who designs a home to share with the love of his life Becky (Dana Delany) who has absolutely no interest in him.  It's a grand gesture that backfires creating problems for him and tension between him and his parents.


In Boston, a depressed Newton meets Gwen on a rainy night he ends up spending with her.  He tells her about his love for Becky and the house he built and how it just sits there now, empty, mocking him.  The next morning, she finds the sketch of the house he did on a napkin.


Arriving by bus in the tiny town, Gwen makes herself at home and is soon introducing herself as Mrs. Gwen Davis . . . to George Davis (Donald Moffat) -- Newton's father.

George and Edna (Julie Harris) embrace their new daughter-in-law especially when Gwen's done spinning a Newton they haven't seen.


Those are the nice lies.

And things are going great.


Until Newton shows up.  As Gwen points out, "Boy, for awhile there it was a really great marriage.  Well it was -- until you came into it."

Newton's ready to kick her out and correct the record except suddenly Becky's interested in him.


And he decides they can both get something out of this, Gwen can get a place to live and he can't get Becky.  They just have to stage the end of their marriage in such a way that Becky wants him.


Along the way, Gwen charms Newton's boss, setting him up for the big promotion Becky thinks he's already gotten.  Of course, that did mean creating a father who was in WWII and served with Newton's boss but . . .

Chinese take out, punched out Hungarians, clothes that excite, soon even Gwen's buying into it.

Gwen:  I want this marriage to work.

Newton:  What marriage?


To get the promotion, they stage a belated wedding reception and invite Newton's boss so he can see the house Newton designed and hopefully be blown away thereby getting the promotion.  To pull it off, they grab two people off the street to pose at Gwen's parents.


At the reception, with everything building, Becky makes rude comments about Gwen at the reception, Gwen stages a dramatic break up.  Newton is thrilled.

And then as Gwen leaves for him to be with Becky, Newton suddenly realizes he had already found everything he needed.

This is director Frank Oz's masterpiece.  The rhythm, the set ups, it's all amazing and the way the camera circles to indicate the lies that wrap and wrap and wrap around Gwen and Newton is wonderful.  Mark Stein's script (from a story by Stein and Brian Grazer) is in the tradition of Preston Sturges.  And each role is perfectly cast including Roy Cooper as Newton's boss.

Best of all, the chemistry between Goldie and Steve really works making you wish they'd team up for another romantic comedy.  (The Out of Towners was not a romantic comedy and Goldie's barely in the film.)  The two have magic together.

Gwen explains at one point why she did it, why she moved in to begin with, "I just wanted to see what it would be like to live in the picture."  It's a sweet moment but the sweetness is never laid on thick and it never interferes with the belly laughs.  One of the best American comedies in the second half of the 20th century.

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