House Calls (1978)

house calls

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playboy tries mending ways.

Walter Matthau is by all means an incredibly talented performer and a joy to watch. However, in the looks department he rates pretty low and may be one of the ugliest leading men this side of Don Knotts. Yet this film practically shoots itself in the foot from the very beginning by portraying, with a straight face, Matthau as a doctor who has become a super hunk/chick magnet. All the hot young women are chasing after him! His locker is filled with their love letters and he actually beds a different one each night!!! Problems ensue though when he falls for Ann (Glenda Jackson) who is one of his patients. She is a middle- aged woman who is a bit ‘rough around the edges’. She wants him to drop his playboy ways and commit solely to her, yet he is not sure he can.

This is an overly smug, ‘sophisticated’ comedy that is too light and easy going and in desperate need for a fuller story and little more conflict. The comedy should have been broader instead of just being a long precession of glib one-liners. There’s a few comic set ups that are never even followed through on. However, Art Carney’s eulogy to a dead baseball owner and their subsequent burial of him underneath home plate is good.

The casting of Jackson is one of the few inspired things about this film. Her sharp British wit is a perfect foil to Matthau’s laid-back style, but it doesn’t play it up enough. Their one true ‘confrontation’ doesn’t come until the very end and although the spat is definitely contrived it does at least offer the lively fun you expected of this from the very beginning.

Another problem with this film is that it tries to mix the old fashioned romantic comedy with modern day sensibilities. The silly ‘goof ups’ at the hospital really don’t seem so funny when only a few years earlier these same problems were shown in the excellent film The Hospital with much more serious ramifications. It also looks awkward to have such ‘old school’ middle-agers suddenly jumping into the trendy ‘70’s lifestyle of casual sex and one-night-stands.

There is also the stilted habit of referring to sex as ‘humping’. This seems like a very dated, antiquated term even for back then. Let’s face it this is a slow moving comedy made specifically for adults and kids really wouldn’t want to see it anyways, so striving for the ‘PG’ rating was futile. They should’ve sucked it up, accepted the ‘R’ rating and called sex ‘fucking’ like everybody else.

Jackson and Matthau were later reunited in the 1980 film Hopscotch.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 15, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD

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