Daily Archives: April 8, 2012

Good Neighbor Sam (1964)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be married.

            Sam Bissell (Jack Lemmon) is an advertising executive working for a demanding client (Edward G. Robinson) who is very conservative and insists everyone around him have a clean-cut image and lifestyle. Sam’s wife Minerva (Dorothy Provine) brings home her college friend Janet (Romy Schneider) for a visit and she rents out the neighbor’s place while she is there.  Janet then finds out that she is going to be left a large inheritance, but the will stipulates that she must be married even though Janet is instead going through a divorce. For the sake of allowing her to collect the large fortune, which is 15 million dollars, Sam agrees, with the blessing of Minerva, to pretend to be Janet’s husband by staying at her place until the money is paid out.  A private detective (Louis Nye) is hired to keep a close eye on them and matters become even more complicated when Janet’s ex-husband Howard (Mike Connors) returns.

The concept is original and to my recollection has never been done before, or since, which is amazing when you think about the fact that just about everything else has. It does rely heavily on coincidence and too much of the first hour is spent setting up the plot with some extraneous scenes that could’ve and should’ve been cut. For such fluffy material, even entertaining fluff such as this, a 130 minute runtime is too long.  Three different writers were credited with doing the screenplay and the overall vision seems disjointed as at times it works as a satire, slapstick, and sex comedy, but never coming together completely as a whole. However, there is enough eventual pay off to still make it worth it.

This is one of Lemmon’s better comedy vehicles, if not his all-around best. Sometimes he comes off as too strait-laced and benign in these things, but here it works to the film’s advantage. His best part is when he dreams seeing himself getting out of bed and going over to the bedroom where Janet is and trying to seduce her. She screams so loudly that the entire town wakes up and comes over, which is funny and should have been played-out more.

Schneider though is the best thing about the movie. I loved her bright, beaming smile and effervescent personality. She sparkles in every scene and I was impressed that although she could be pleasant she could also easily get into a shouting match with Howard and the fact that she could switch emotional gears so easily and quickly proves that she had talent. Costume designer Jacqueline Moreau puts her into some snazzy outfits that look great on her including an all red jumpsuit, a strapless evening gown, and a two piece white pajama outfit with pink polka dots that was my favorite. It is a shame that due to her severe depression over the accidental death of her son as well as alcoholism and a three-pack-a-day smoking habit her career and life was cut short as she most assuredly still had a lot of outstanding parts and performances left to do.

Blonde Provine looks almost as good and equally delightful in her role where she tries holding it all together. Connors, best known for starring in the long-running TV-show ‘Mannix’, is surprisingly engaging as the ex. His arguments with Sam are fun and in order to keep the scheme going he pretends to be Sam and stays in the home with Minerva, which culminates with the film’s funniest moment, which is the early morning ‘kissing contest’ the two men have with each other’s wives.

Nye is also amusing as the detective and I got a kick out of his van that was supposedly disguised to be that of a cleaning service with a giant model of a vacuum on top of it that was used as a telescope.

The only one who gets wasted here is legendary actor Robinson who really doesn’t have anything funny to say, or do. However, his dinner party is still memorable simply because everyone gets served on all gold dinnerware, which includes the plates, cups, and utensils.

The music score is bouncy and the climatic sequence that features the main characters defacing area billboards is artsy and creative. On a lightweight, inoffensive level this satisfies and delivers a few laughs along the way.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1964

Runtime: 2Hours 10Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: David Swift

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (The Jack Lemmon Collection)