Tag Archives: Sid Caesar

Over the Brooklyn Bridge (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hoping to buy restaurant.

Alby (Elliot Gould) is tired of slaving away as a cook at a small Brooklyn diner run by both he and his mother (Shelley Winters). He dreams of owning a swanky restaurant in downtown Manhattan and finds the perfect place, but he needs help with the financing. He goes to his rich uncle Benjamin (Sid Caesar), who at first is reluctant to loan him the needed money, but eventually agrees. However, it comes with one big stipulation; Alby can get the money, but only if he ends his relationship with his live-in girlfriend Elizabeth (Margaux Hemingway), who his uncle has never liked since she’s not Jewish.

From the outset I internally groaned when I saw that it was produced by Cannon Pictures, which was notorious for making a lot of cheesy action flicks during the decade, but this one is approached differently. The script, by Arnold Shulman, who died at the young age of 48 before filming of his screenplay had even begun, is much more personal than the usual Cannon fodder as it delves into the close-knit, extended Jewish family who can be both a source of great support and hindrance.

I was happy too, at least initially, to see Hemingway get another shot at a co-starring role. She was a model, and granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, who broke into the movie scene with the controversial hit Lipstickwhere she played a rape victim, which was too demanding of a part for someone with so little acting experience. This role here was more reasonable, but without sounding too harsh, I couldn’t stand her voice. Her famous sister Mariel has a very pretty sounding one, so why Margaux got stuck with such an unusually raspy one that belied her otherwise young age I didn’t understand. I know when I watched Lipstickwhich was released 8 years earlier, her voice was only slightly raspy making me believe her smoking caused it to get worse and in my opinion the reason why her onscreen career never took-off.

Gould’s presence doesn’t help either. During the 70’s he was a cinematic counter-culture hero taking it to the establishment, but by the 80’s that persona was no longer in vogue, so he had to settle for benign, nice-guy parts, which is clearly not his forte. He tries hard, and at one point tells-off a few people in semi-classic Gould-style, but for the most part he’s quite boring. His attempt to portray a 36-year-old even though he was actually 45 doesn’t quite work and there’s no explanation for why this frumpy guy with a limited income is able to snare such a young, good-looking babe.

Winters, who seems born to play the meddling, overly-protective Jewish mother, which she did to great success in Next Stop, Greenwich Village, but here her character is too subdued making her presence transparent. Ceasar is a surprise. After his work in the 50’s TV-show ‘Your Show of Shows’ his later parts couldn’t quite match his unique talents, but he scores both on the comedy and drama end here. Carol Kane is a delight as she courts Gould and talks breathlessly about philosophy as she hurriedly walks in a New York subway and then later at her place reveals some very bizarre sexual fetishes. Burt Young has some very funny scenes too as Gould’s cynical friend who doesn’t shy away from expressing his low opinion of marriage.

The story though is too simple for such an a relatively long runtime and by the second-half becomes strained. The idea that Gould had such a great relationship with Hemingway as the movie wants us to believe is dubious as she immediately dumps him the second his uncle tells her to leave him and then callously throws Gould out of the apartment instead of being honest and telling him about her meeting with the uncle and then talking it out like a truly close couple would. Later when Gould, who still doesn’t understand why the break-up happened, calls her to get an explanation and try to make amends, she coldly hangs-up making it seem like he was way more into her than she was into him and thus causing this to be a weak romance instead of a strong one.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Menahem Golan

Studio: Golan-Globus Productions

Available: VHS, DVD-R

Fire Sale (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Burn down the store.

Benny Fikus (Vincent Gardenia) is the elderly owner of a struggling clothing store, who has decided the only way to recoup costs will be to have it burn down and then collecting money on the fire insurance policy. He has convinced his mentally ill brother Sherman (Sid Caeser), who still believes that WWII is happening, that the store is really a front for the Nazi Headquarters and thus motivating Sherman to destroy it. To make his alibi iron-clad Benny takes a trip with his wife Ruth (Kay Medford) to Florida when the arson is expected to occur. During the trip Benny has a heart attack causing his son Russell (Rob Reiner) to take over the business. When he realizes that the place is bankrupt he decides to cash-in the fire insurance policy and use those funds to help regenerate the place. When Benny recovers from his heart attack and realizes what Russell’s done the two, along with Russell’s older brother Ezra (Alan Arkin), go on a mad dash to stop Sherman from setting the fire before it’s too late.

It’s hard to imagine just how badly botched this thing is as I approached it with high expectations. Arkin had already directed the brilliant Little Murders, which is one of the best dark comedies ever made. Robert Klane, who wrote the screenplay and book of the same name that the movie is based on, had also 6 years earlier written the screenplay for Where’s Poppa?, another cult masterpiece. So, with those great films already under the filmmaker’s belts you’d expect good things from this and yet it’s pretty awful right from the beginning.

The main problem is that there’s no running theme. Little Murders centered around the isolating effects of urbanization and Where’s Poppa? dealt with the harsh realities of caring for elderly parents.  This film though has no point to it. Lots of sloppy, slapdash comedy as director Arkin and writer Klane seem more concerned with getting a cheap laugh than telling a story. The sets have no cinematic style making it look better suited for a low-grade sitcom. The score by Dave Grusin, is too generic with overtones more on-par with a cartoon. A good movie should have music that is distinct and matches the tone of the script, which this one doesn’t.

I’ve always considered Reiner the weakest link from the classic ‘All in the Family’ TV-show and while his talents have been much better served as a director this movie was made when producers were still trying to turn him into a star, but the attempt fails. That only thing that he does that could be considered ‘comical’ is the running joke of him going into wheezing fits from his asthma every times he gets stressed-out, which gets overdone. He shares no chemistry with Arkin and they’re too far apart in age to be a believable brotherly pair.

Anjanette Comer, who was married to Klane at the time this was filmed, gets wasted in a thankless bit as Arkin’s beleaguered wife and the scene where she tries to commit suicide by locking herself inside a refrigerator is pointless because it never shows how she got rescued. Caeser as the would-be arsonists relies too heavily on  zany slapstick that is inconsistent in tone with the rest of the film.

Medford, as Arkin’s and Reiner’s put-upon mother, is alright, but the person that impressed me most was Gardenia whose frantic, over-the-top delivery as the exasperated father/business owner is quite good and his energy, even though he is not the star, helps propel the film. He’s even good when he’s in a comatose state and doesn’t move at all. I was particularly amazed during a segment where Reiner and Arkin crawl over him during an altercation and Arkin accidently kicks him in the head, but Gardenia does not flinch and remains very much in character.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 9, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan Arkin

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD-R (Fox Cinema Archives)

The Busy Body (1967)

busy body

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Find the dead body.

George Norton (Sid Caesar) is a nebbish mama’s boy who, for whatever reason, gets taken in by Charley (Robert Ryan) a Chicago mob boss. Charley even gives George a seat on his board of governors. When a fellow crime boss (Bill Dana) gets killed in a freak accident it is George who selects a blue suit for the corpse to wear at the funeral. Unfortunately that blue suit was lined with a million dollars and Charley demands that George dig up the body and retrieve the money, but when he does he finds that the body is gone and thus begins a long, winding, ‘madcap’ search for the missing body and money.

Noted horror director/producer William Castle decided late in his career to give comedy a stab and this is the result. The beginning is mildly amusing, but the humor gets terribly strained and a 100 minute runtime is just too long for such trite material. Everything gets suppressed into silliness with an overplayed music score that has too much of a playful quality to it making the whole thing thoroughly ingrained on the kiddie level from start-to-finish.

Dom DeLuise has an amusing bit as a mortician that would really rather be a hairdresser and Kay Medford is quite funny as George’s doting mother, but the rest of the supporting cast is wasted, which includes Richard Pryor, in his film debut, playing in a role that does not take advantage of his comic skill. Caesar is just not leading man material and his vaudeville-like shtick is quite passé and predictable. His co-star Ryan is far funnier and without having to try half as hard.

The plot goes off on wild tangents until it becomes impossible to follow and quite pointless. The whole production is horribly dated and will not appeal to kids or adults. In fact the film’s intended audience has long ago passed away making this thing a silly relic of its time and nothing more.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 12, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Not Rated

Director: William Castle

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video