The People Next Door (1970)

the people next door 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daughter is on drugs.

Arthur and Gerrie Mason (Eli Wallach, Julie Harris) are a middle-aged couple living the comfortable suburban existence, which comes tumbling apart in a matter of only a few short weeks. It starts when their daughter Maxie (Deborah Winters) dabbles in acid and is sent to a mental institution. Acrimony and in-fighting commence and even with family counseling nothing helps. As both Maxie’s and Gerrie’s mental condition deteriorates it seems like their family unit is doomed while their neighbors David and Tina Hoffman (Hal Holbrook, Cloris Leachman) have issues of their own including the shock at finding out that their son Sandy (Don Scardino) is a drug dealer and was the one that gave Maxie the acid that sent things spiraling out-of-control.

There were many movies about the drug culture made during the 60’s and 70’s and many of them weren’t very good, but this one I have always liked. It is not that it doesn’t have its share of flaws like the others although not as many, but it is the performance by Winters (no relation) that knocks this to a whole new level.  Although only 17 at the time she exudes an amazing amount of composure and tackles some difficult scenes with ease and naturalism. Her blue eyes penetrate the screen, which director David Greene takes full advantage of especially during her acid trips, which get pretty freaky.

Two scenes of hers in particular really stand out and are worth catching. One is where she takes some acid and then strips off all of her clothes and goes running outside in the nude through the snow banks of their suburban neighborhood while singing and dancing to some strange song. Another is when she runs away from home and Wallach tracks her down living in squalor in a seedy, rundown apartment building with her boyfriend. When Wallach finds her she hops out of bed stark naked and walks over to him and plants him a deep kiss, which makes him violently slap her to the ground.

There are a few other interesting moments including one that takes place during a group counseling session where a young man of 20 named Wally (played by Matthew Cowles who later went on to marry actress Christine Baranski) berates in front of everyone his elderly parents who had him at a late age and he now finds them to be too old and embarrassing. The scene where David and Tina confront their son late at night about his drug dealing is also compelling.

The script by J.P. Miller has some emotionally high moments and hits on the issues of family strife head-on in a way that I felt is still impactful and relevant. Some critics argued that because Miller and director Greene were already 50 at the time that they were ‘out-of-touch’ with the youth generation, which to some extent may be valid, but the drama itself is strong and in the end that is what counts.

The only weak link is that of Wallach and Harris two very good actors who become wasted here. Both are locked in caricatures that are too broad and rigid and at times turn the thing into a heavy-handed soap opera. The correlation to the fact that while the daughter takes drugs they continue to smoke and drink becomes a bit too obvious and overplayed.

The story was originally made as a TV-movie that was broadcast on October 15, 1968 on CBS. Winters, Scardino as well as Nehemiah Persoff who plays the doctor at the institution play the same roles on that one that they do here. Lloyd Bridges and Kim Hunter played Winters’ parents and Fritz Weaver and Phyllis Newman were the Hoffman’s.

the people next door 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 26, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Greene

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: None at this time.

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