By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Jump off the bridge.
Based on the play by Murray Schisgal the film follows the exploits of Harry Berlin (Jack Lemmon) a hopeless neurotic who tries to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge only to be saved by his long lost friend Milt (Peter Falk). Milt wants to use Harry to have him fall in love with his wife Ellen, so that way she will agree to a divorce and free him up to get with a hot young blonde named Linda (Nina Wayne). Things initially work as planned. Harry and Ellen fall in love and marry and Milt does the same with Linda, but then Milt and Ellen find that they are not compatible with their new mates and long to get back together. The problem is that Harry refuses to grant a divorce forcing them to try and coax him back out on the bridge, so he will finally jump off it and get out of their way.
Lemmon’s performance is the best thing about this otherwise strange experiment. He is like his Felix Unger character put on speed. His weird quirks and idiosyncrasies help propel the story to newer and more absurd heights. In his more straight comedies Lemmon has always seemed a bit benign and showing a nervous energy that is more annoying than funny. Here though he falls into his comic niche bringing out the bizarreness of his character with an almost creepy clarity. I thought it was interesting that although he was a leading man he chose to do an ensemble comedy. Although this film can be deemed a failure I still found it commendable that he was willing to test his acting range and image by taking on an unusual role.
Falk doesn’t fare as well. I thought it was great that he reteamed with Lemmon after performing with him in The Great Race, but his character really isn’t all that funny. May is usually great with sardonic material and has made a career out of performing and writing this kind of stuff, but she really isn’t given all that much to say that is amusing. I liked her charts that she creates for both Milt and Harry measuring all the hours they have been married with all the hours that they have had sex, which has a nice goofy element. Wayne is attractive, but her high, squeaky voice can quickly become annoying. Her acting abilities are limited and she clearly seems outclassed by her supporting counterparts. Had a stronger more established actress been cast in the role it certainly would have helped.
Director Clive Donner doesn’t show a good feel for the material. There are certain parts that are funny like when Ellen and Harry spend their honeymoon at Niagara Falls attacking and physically hurting each other just to see if the other will still love them afterwards. I also liked some of the potshots at modern day suburbia, but other than that this thing falls flat. There are too many scenes that go on forever with jokes and comic bits that are more stupid than clever. The opening sequence has a nice distinctive jazz score along with a montage of kitschy artwork and there is interesting camera work and editing during a sequence at an amusement park, but the rest of it becomes a filmed stage play. The pacing is slow and devoid of the unique directorial flair that could make an offbeat thing like this work. The climactic scene at the bridge is particularly strained and helps cement this as a hopeless misfire.
This movie is probably best known for being the film debut of Harrison Ford who has one word of dialogue and appears as an irate motorist who punches Harry in the face. I wished there had been more of him as although it is very brief he is one of the best things in it.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: July 26, 1967
Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes
Rated NR (Not Rated)
Director: Clive Donner
Available: VHS, DVD