Sunday, August 3, 2014

THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS (1970) - A Review
Or, in a sense, The Purge for two, in a film that is really just one joke played out in multiple ways.

The set up is simple. George Kellerman (Jack Lemmon) has to fly from the Midwest to New York for a job interview. His wife, Gwen (Sandy Dennis), goes with him. And from the moment their plane lifts off, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. Rerouted landings, missing luggage, missed trains, canceled room reservations, a transit strike and a garbage collectors strike, crooks, conmen and a really big dog - these are but a few of the things to plague the unlucky couple.
So yes, it's one joke, offered up in a variety of ways, for an hour and a half. In most cases, this would probably be a fairly effective recipe for boring or annoying an audience. But in this case, with the truly great Jack Lemmon in the lead, the film manages to be funny nearly all the way through, as Lemmon does a feature film-length slow burn, before finally melting down completely. His comic skills save the day, and elevate the script (by Neil Simon) to a higher level. (He had already done this same trick a few years earlier, in 1967, in Simon's The Odd Couple - a DVD of which I picked up just this weekend at a thrift shop.) I personally think that a little Neil Simon goes a long way, and I fail to completely understand his sterling reputation as a writer. But this is a case of "It's the singer, not the song," as Jack Lemmon tucks into the simmering fury of the ever more frustrated George Kellerman.

Further adding to the fingernails on the chalkboard fun is Sandy Dennis. A nasal, toothy presence, she adds immeasurably to the aggravation Lemmon's character is visibly feeling every time she whines his name - "George." Though in the end she manages to maintain her composure better than Lemmon, it's only because he has to bear up under everything she is also experiencing, while also bearing up under her. And, while she may not get as many laughs as Lemmon does, she does manage to perfectly nail several laugh lines, including one or two ("Oh my god, the children!") that aren't necessarily, in and of themselves, that funny, save for her delivery.
I would never call this a great film, but it does offer a fairly choice leading role to the great Jack Lemmon, who more than makes the most of it, ably supported by Sandy Dennis. It's no stone cold comedy classic, but you could certainly do much worse than this for entertainment. (Say, for example, watching the remake of this? Hmmm?)

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