Tag Archives: Neil Simon

Madeline Kahn, Comedienne

 

Madeline Kahn’s first role was as the dowdy fiancee to Ryan O’Neal’s professor in Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? and she steals the movie right out from under him and the film’s star Barbra Steisand. In defense of Barbra, she has stated in interviews that she didn’t get the comedy…but it’s obvious that Madeline did, because she nailed it. I talk about that film here. It’s no surprise that she would become a star in her own right and a permanent fixture over the next 20 years with the biggest comedy filmmakers, like Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Burt Reynolds and Neil Simon.madeline-kahn-whats-up-doc

Her next follow-up film was again for Peter Bogdanovich and Ryan O’Neal in Paper Moon. She would go up for an Oscar nomination, but in that film, 9 year old, Tatum O’Neal, Ryan’s real-life daughter steals the show and walks away with the Academy Award, to boot. Madeline is good as always. She soon found more comedians to work with when she did Blazing Saddles the very next year with Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. They really loved her and would spent the next ten years casting her in Young Frankenstein, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother, High Anxiety, and History of the World, Part 1.paper-moon-madeline-kahn-1973

Burt Reynolds would work with her the year after that for the first time in Peter Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love, which was a musical. It played to Madeline’s strengths as she was an Operatically trained singer. The film failed at the box office, however, I believe because no one wanted to see Burt sing, although he does it well. She would work again with Burt in City Heat along with Clint Eastwood.  Neil Simon would work with her for the first time in 1978 in The Cheap Detective, with Peter Falk. Madeline Kahn’s Mrs. Montenegro character is a spoof of Mary Astor’s Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon. She would do another Neil Simon years later for London Suite in 1996. The third of Neil Simon’s “Suite” movies, the others being Plaza Suite (1971) (remade as Plaza Suite (1987)) and California Suite (1978). It’s the fourth made of Simon’s “Suite” movies counting the TV remake.madeline-kahn-in-cheaper-detective

Now all of these films of hers are worth watching, but my favorite of hers is the movie Clue, which came out in 1985. If you haven’t seen this movie based on the board game, it’s fantastic. The cast is amazing and was given some leeway in improvising some of their dialogue. An example of this is Madeline Kahn’s improvising of “flames, flames…” which is just brilliant. It’s been said that the cast of great comedians loved working together on that film and it’s no wonder that Madeline is a favorite of everyones. Many directors, writers, actors and filmmakers would recast her time and time again. She was that good.  She’s definitely missed.madeline-kahn-in-clue

The Goodbye Girl

 

I love this movie. That’s my main thought as I think about The Goodbye Girl (1977). I can thank my sister, Page, for introducing this and Chapter Two (1979), another Neil Simon written film, to me when I was much younger. And The Wiz (1978) and Chorus Line (1985) for that matter. That’s what you get when you have a sister that is 4 years older than you and influences your early film experiences…sometimes I regret the last two, when I get razzed by my buddies about my specific favorite films, but not with Neil Simon’s stuff. There’s something to be enjoyed there by any gender and tastes…especially his brilliance in writing the perfect argument. From the Odd Couple (1970) on, he has been the master of hilarious arguments. According to Neil Simon, no one expected anything special at the box office from the film. “It had only one real star, Richard Dreyfuss; one rising star, Marsha Mason; and one cute ten-year-old, Quinn Cummings, with a slight love story directed extremely well by Herbert Ross and a rather nice script by me, if I have to say so myself…it probably wouldn’t have been made were it not for Ray Stark’s faith in it.”the_goodbye_girl_lobby_card

The movie is about an unemployed dancer and her 10-year-old daughter who, after being dumped by her live-in boyfriend are reluctantly forced to live with a struggling off-Broadway actor. My sister was a dancer growing up and now a retired dance teacher, so I can see where her interests drew her to this movie. It was directed by Herbert Ross, who directed 5 of Neil Simon’s movies over the years but also the classics (well, they’ve held up over time, anyway): Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969), The Turning Point (1977), Footloose (1984), Steel Magnolias (1989) and one of my other forgotten favorite’s, Undercover Blues (1993). What’s interesting about Goodbye Girl and Turning Point is they were both released in 1977 and unusually enough, he won Best Drama at the Golden Globes for Turning Point and Best Comedy for Goodbye Girl. Nobody has ever done that before and also not since.the-goodbye-girl_marsha-mason

Other than a brilliant script and a wonderful director, the real spark is between Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss. They were both nominated for Oscars from this film, but only Richard one, which is a shame because Marsha was amazing as well. When Richard Dreyfuss was asked in a 2000 interview what made the film so special, he replied, “Goodbye Girl was a wonderful script. Wonderful. And as actors we never got tired of it. Never…It was funny and loving. And the actors and actresses in the show–especially Marsha and Quinn–were perfect. Like God had said these are the actors to work with. I once said that I’d like to play Elliot until I retired and got a Swiss watch because he was great. I wanted to be him, and I wanted to acquire his personality for my own.” Marsha Mason also recalled later, working with Richard Dreyfuss – “Richard was fast and funny. I was thoughtful and more serious. Richard was wild and free. I was a responsible wife and mother and an actress. I wanted so much to be like him. He was so sure of himself, so sure of his place and space, and he moves forward accordingly. He’s bright, bright, bright, incredibly well read, and comfortable with his intelligence.”1977-goodbye-girl-the-02

Another thing of note is that this film has just about the finest ending credit song there is. The film’s theme song “Goodbye Girl”, was sung and written by David Gates, and went to No. #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1977.

Top 15 Romantic Comedies of the 90’s

 

If you are like me, you are probably missing the good old romantic comedies we used to have. All we ever seem to get are gross out comedies or sleazy rated R comedies these days. I was thinking back and I think I enjoyed the romantic comedies of the 1990’s the best! Granted that was when I was dating the most and is also when I fell in love and got married, so it’s a very distinctive period of wonderful courtship and romance in my life. It seemed to be a perfect time for rom-coms.

Now, with that said, my list would probably be different than your list! Right off the start, you’ll probably be wondering why Pretty Woman didn’t make my list at all and wondering why some films did, but that’s the wonderful things about lists…they are versatile. (Just to answer that question in your head, I just didn’t like Pretty Woman, that’s all, it was a fine film, just not one of my favorite’s for top 15, that’s all.) Now, this list is supposed to get your mind thinking about your favorites and maybe discovering a few new films you probably just never got around to watching.  If that’s the case, then I’ve done my job effectively.

15. Clueless (1995)clueless

A modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. I’m going to tell you a secret only my family knows…I’m a huge Jane Austen fan…OK, I admit it. I’m a sucker for the movies that have been adapted from her courtship novels and I love it when one gets the modern treatment. Directed by Amy Heckerling and starring Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd, it’s a fun little movie. This movie had a cleverly written screenplay that included a wide array of completely made up lingo. One of the promotional items distributed to tie-in with the film was a booklet called How to Speak Cluelessly; in it was a lexicon of many of the invented terms used for the Clueless world (some of which became part of real teen lingo at the time). An example: a Baldwin is a very handsome male, as in the famous sibling actors.

14.  Defending Your Life (1991)defend

This is an incredibly creative film about the after-life. Written and Directed by Albert Brooks and starring Albert and Meryl Streep, it’s a great examination of a person’s life and it carries with it the idea that life and especially LOVE carries over with us. It struck me very hard when I first watched in and I instantly fell in love with Albert and Meryl’s characters.

13.  I Love Trouble (1994)I_Love_Trouble_1994

I’m a huge fan of the films of Nancy Myers and Charles Shyer, and will run out to see one of their films the day they come out. This one was a box office bomb for some strange reason, and I just love it. It reminds me of the old Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn movies with Nick Nolte in the Tracy role and Julia Roberts in the Hepburn role. Truth-be-told, they both do a good job in this movie, but Roberts definitely steals the show.  She’s mesmerizing in this. Roberts and Nolte reportedly did not get along throughout filming, although I don’t think you can tell with the final result. Roberts later described Nolte as “disgusting” whereas Nolte said she was “not a nice person.” Roberts disliked Nolte’s macho act, and was not shy or polite about letting him know. He, in turn, began deliberately engaging in it to piss her off. Regardless, neither one of them ever worked together again.

12.  Doc Hollywood (1991)Doc_Hollywood-1991

I wonder how many movie posters show Michael J. Fox pulling his sunglasses down…that’s like his signature move. This film was directed by Michael Canton-Jones and stars Michael J. Fox and Julie Warner.  I thought this movie was awesome, but it comes with a caveat…although it’s rate PG-13, it does have full-frontal nudity by Julie Warner when she walks out of the lake. It seems out of place for a light romantic comedy, to be honest. In this movie, Fox stars as a Doctor who gets into a car accident on his way through town and is forced into staying and working as the town Doctor.

11.  Housesitter (1992)

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Great movie directed by none-other than Miss Piggy’s alter-ego, Frank Oz and stars Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn. I love these two actors and when you get them both together…magic. They loved working together so much they found another project years later by remaking the Neil Simon hit, The Out-of-Towners (1999). In this one she plays a con-artist that takes over his home.

10. Don’t Tell Her it’s Me (aka The Boyfriend School) (1990)

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This is one of those films that appear on lists, that blow people’s minds. It had a very small theatrical release originally and then my brother and I found it on HBO late at night when we were in college and completely loved it.  We called it the best straight-to-HBO movie we ever saw, for years…before HBO started to produce their own stuff of course. It’s definitely a HIDDEN GEM, if you’ve never had the chance to see it. Directed by Malcolm Mowbray and stars Steve Guttenberg and Jami Gertz, it was originally released under the great song featured in the opening credits, but then changed later on video to the original source novel title. Guttenberg plays a guy who just survives cancer, only to find that he has let himself go and needs help making him more desirable to women. He recruits his romance author sister, Shelley Long, to help him get the girl of his dreams. Perfect setup for a rom-com.

9. The Cutting Edge (1992)

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This film doesn’t hold up as well over time, just simply due to the fact that neither actor does their own skating and there is a cheesy and fake ice skating trick they use to win the whole competition, BUT– with that said, the chemistry between Moira Kelly and D. B. Sweeney is awesome and so much fun to watch.  The true joy in this movie is seeing these two actors go head to head. That’s why it makes my list. Directed by Paul Michael Glaser, who played Starsky in the original Starsky and Hutch!

8. Runaway Bride (1999)

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Ok, yes, I like this film waaaaay more than Pretty Woman…I just do, okay? Same cast and crew, different characters and storyline. Directed by Garry Marshall and starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. Also, this is the second time Julia Roberts has a movie on this list (but not the last). Let’s be honest, we’re talking the 90’s…where Julia Roberts was queen of the rom-coms…but they were so good. This one is about a woman who runs away from several weddings, and then tries to avoid a reporter who comes to town to do a story about her.

7.  You’ve Got Mail (1998)YouveGotMail

This movie is a remake of the fantastic Jimmy Stewart movie, The Shop Around The Corner, but written and directed by the incredible Nora Ephron. It stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, who own competing bookstores, in the same block. Ryan’s store is named The Shop Around the Corner, the two main characters are latter day (mail) and present day (email) “pen pals”; they both know they are falling in love with their respective pen pals; when the man realizes who the woman really is, he pursues her, but is not sure the love match will work; in the end, they find they belong together. It’s cute.

6.  While You Were Sleeping (1995)whileyouweresleeping

This is the first movie that put Sandra Bullock in a romantic comedy, and for years there was a race to see who would become the queen of the romantic comedies between Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts and Sandra…in the end I think it’s a tie between Sandra and Julia. Directed by Jon Turteltaub and starring Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman, the film is about a woman who pretends to be the fiancee of a man in a coma. It’s a charming movie and I just realized that it’s set around Christmastime. It’s alarming how many movies on this list are set around Christmas, it’s a romantic time of year, I guess.

5.  Sleepless in Seattle (1993)sleeplessinseattleposter

Another Nora Ephron movie and it also is with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The 2nd of 3 movies that Meg Ryan and Nora Ephron did together the 3rd one being When Harry Met Sally, which was directed by Rob Reiner.  Rob Reiner plays Tom Hanks best friend in this movie. All around great people to be making movies with.  Sleepless in Seattle is about a recently widowed man whose son goes on a radio talk show to try and find his dad a new wife. The premise that the two lead characters meet at the Empire State Building comes from the Cary Grant Deborah Kerr movie An Affair To Remember. That film made another list of the top 15 for me, The Top 15 Cary Grant Movies. 

4. Speechless (1994)speechless

This was another bomb when it came out to the theatres, but is such a good movie. Directed by Ron Underwood and starring Gena Davis and Michael Keaton, and is about two opposing speech writer’s during an election. The main reason to like this movie is because Keaton truly rocks in it.  He’s extremely funny and charming in this movie.  I think it’s my favorite of all of his movies…and that’s saying a lot because he’s done a lot of fun movies. It also has Christopher Reeve in it and he’s always great to watch as well…it’s strange to think that around this time they were both still portraying Superman and Batman respectively and if they were to do a Justice League together it would have made for a highly entertaining movie. Gena Davis is tall and good enough to have played Wonder Woman back then, what do you think?

3.  The American President (1995)the-american-president

I keep wanting to yell out, “I Love That Movie, ” as I write this blog. I have to keep telling myself, you know that, afterall you are reading my top 15 list. This one is directed by Rob Reiner and stars Michael Douglas and Annette Benning, and is about a US President and a lobbyist dating while he is in the White House. This one is written by the amazing Aaron Sorkin. I rewatch this movie quite a bit and it’s a little sad every time I do, as Michael Douglas doesn’t actually act or impersonate any President that’s ever been in office and yet he personifies the perfect President that we have all always wanted in real life.

2.  Tin Cup (1996)tincup-movie-post

Is this a sports movie or a romantic comedy? Why, it’s a bit of both! It’s about a failed golf pro that hires a psychiatrist to help him qualify for the US Open. It’s directed by Ron Shelton and stars Kevin Costner and Rene Russo.  Kevin Costner is very good in this and was always a pretty good athlete in his own right.  A lot of the shots in the movie of his character playing golf is really Costner, playing golf. The scene at the end of the movie where Roy hits the shot into the water hazard again and again was based on an actual event. Gary McCord, the commentator with the handlebar mustache in the movie, is an actual commentator and pro golfer. In a 1987 tournament he had a shot similar to Kevin Costner’s. He needed a birdie to win and went for it. He hit the water over and over again and finally made the shot, but it cost him 15 strokes. In the movie Costner gets it in 12. The scene where Roy wins a bar bet by hitting a golf ball at a pelican also was based on a real life incident from McCord’s career.

1.  Notting Hill (1999)nottinghill

My favorite romantic comedy of the 90’s.  Directed by Roger Michell and stars Julia Roberts (again) and Hugh Grant. It’s about a quiet travel book story owner who meets and falls in love with the most famous film star in the world.  Roberts and Grant are wonderful together. Hugh Grant got to play in a movie opposite Sandra Bullock a few years later, so Win/Win for him. Now all he has to do is find a way to get in there with Meg Ryan to get the trifecta…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None

 

This original novel by Agatha Christie has become the number 1 mystery novel of all time, selling over 100 million copies. Written first in 1939, it went on to become a smash hit.  It’s no wonder really that it’s had multiple versions and imitations of it on film over the years.

The main plot device of using the 10 figures to showcase each death has changed over time, with good reason. Originally Christie wrote them as well as the title as, “Ten Little Ni**ers” (I can’t even write it, it’s so offensive) and then to “Ten Little Indians” and then changed to “Soldiers”. The title that is retained most commonly at that point is the end of the nursery rhyme, “And Then There Were None“, which I think fits perfectly.And_Then_There_Were_None_1945

Now as for my favorite version of the film, it would still have to be Rene Clair’s version from 1945. Interestingly, enough it’s not based on the book but rather the play by Christie that was written a short time later and has a difference in that the two main protagonists Lombard and Claythorne are innocent and manage to survive the whole affair. In the book they were guilty and die like everyone else. This version is just fantastic, however, with a very strong cast and great dialogue. It’s in the public domain, and so it is difficult to get a hold of a quality copy.nine suspects - Ten Little Indians (1965)

The next version worth noting is the George Pollock version (1965), titled, “Ten Little Indians” and is fantastic in it’s own right.  I have to point out at this time the plot seemed to inspire a lot more films that are fantastic as well, my first being the very well written Neil Simon’s “Murder By Death” (1976).  He added a flair to the proceeding by making all the guests themselves world-famous detectives modeled after a slew of my favorite all time literary characters! Characters modeled after Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, Sam Spade, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple. The works of Earl Derr Biggers, Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett all in one movie is just too good to pass up!Murder+By+Death+Dinner+with+Truman+Capote

Another one that my brother and I just love is the movie made from the board game, “Clue” (1985). The game itself, ironically enough is also inspired by Agatha Christie’s book and originally featured 10 characters as well when it was first created in 1944. Anyway, the movie Clue is great fun and features one of the best comedic casts to ever be gathered for one film. The last one film to note is the most recent, “And Then There Were None” (2015). The most recent one is done by the BBC and is the only one to retain the original ending of killing Lombard and Claythorne.clue-blu-ray-still-550x285

Seems Like Old Times For a Foul Play

 

How about the perfect Double Feature…for a comedy set I would enter for consideration, Foul Play (1978) and Seems Like Old Times (1980), both featuring Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase.

After a pair of successful screenplays like Harold and Maude (1971) and Silver Streak (1976), the studio decided to give Colin Higgens his first shot at directing and he came up with Foul Play.  It was a hit and he would go on to have two more soon after with 9 to 5 (1980) and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982).  That’s a pretty good line-up of films for any writer-director in Hollywood, it’s very sad that he died at a young age, as he could have gone on to do so many more great films.foul play 2

Foul Play made bankable Stars out of Goldie Hawn, Chevy Chase and Dudley Moore. Dudley Moore was not the original choice for Stanley Tibbs as the role was originally written for Tim Conway, but he declined due to the sexual nature of the role. Dudley Moore was thrilled, however, because he was able to shine in the role and it started his American career with later films like 10 (1979), Arthur (1981) and Unfaithfully Yours (1984).

I love everything about this film, including all the music from the Mikado and I also remember that Barry Manilow had a huge hit with “Ready to Take a Chance Again” that is featured at the beginning of the movie. I was interested to learn that Steve Martin originally read for the role of Tony Carlson but lost the role to Chevy Chase. Steve Martin would go on to star with Goldie Hawn in 2 films later; Housesitter (1992), and The Out-of-Towners (1999). The Out-of-Towners is ironic as it was written by Neil Simon, who also wrote, Chevy Chase’s and Goldie Hawn’s next match-up, Seems Like Old Times.seems_like_old_times_chevy-chase

I read a very interesting story on how Neil Simon prefers to work. Since he’s a play writer as well as a screenwriter, he prefers to do all rewrites as the actors rehearse the script/play, giving the actors news scripts before each rehearsal. This movie had a two-week rehearsal period in which during this time writer Neil Simon customized the screenplay to tailor the lead stars’ personalities. During the two-week rehearsal period, Simon observed the needs of his stars and was able to re-write portions of the script to better suit their individual personalities. “There is a terrific quality about Chevy [Chase],” says Simon, “He’s the bad boy in class. You never know what he is going to do. I tried to capture that in the script and in each day’s rewrites”.

This Neil Simon movie was written directly for the screen and was not based on a Neil Simon play as many of his other movies have been. For writer Neil Simon, working with Goldie Hawn, was a delight. Simon said of Hawn that she was a “…rare combination. She can be very funny and very sexy. She has a true appreciation of what’s funny and what’s bleak in life” and “She has the two main ingredients for a film comedienne: she’s funny and very sexy. Audiences respond on two levels to that. They are taken by it. She’s terrific to work with”.  It’s interesting to note that Goldie Hawn’s role was originally written for Neil Simon’s wife, Marsha Mason and she was set to do the film originally with Burt Reynolds in the Chevy Chase role.seemsThis would be my favorite of the Neil Simon movies, but I very much liked the movies; Murder By Death (1976), The Goodbye Girl (1977), and Chapter Two (1979). Charles Grodin was fantastic in this movie as Goldie Hawn’s husband, and interestingly, has 2 other movies with Neil Simon, The Heartbreak Kid (1972) and The Lonely Guy (1984) which ironically as well, is a film starring Steve Martin.

Emmy Award-winning TV director Jay Sandrich was drawn to Neil Simon’s script because of the finely crafted writing. Sandrich said: “It’s the type of comedy that I had been doing for years, I understood it completely. I think it has a certain flair and the madcap quality that some of those 30’s pictures had, With writing as good as this, I knew that everything else would fall into place. In this particular script, although it’s very farcy and fast-paced, there are times when the relationships are very valid and very human; and that’s the important thing . . . that the audience care about these people and really believe that they can exist. I think Neil’s script is so well crafted that you could take out the jokes and play it as a drama”.

So now if you are wondering what two films to rent for a great double feature (in this day and age, download) try these two, as you won’t be disappointed with either.  Great films! I would consider them, modern-day classics.

The Amazing Writing Team of Your Show of Shows

 

Your Show of Shows was a live 90 minute  variety show starring comedy legends Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.  It ran from 1950 to 1954.  The writing staff had a staggering talent pool that included; Mel Tolkin (All in the Family), Carl Reiner (Dick Van Dyke Show, The Jerk), Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Space Balls), Michael Stewart (Bye Bye Birdie, Hello Dolly!), Joseph Stein (Fiddler on the Roof), Lucille Kallen (worked on Broadway) , Danny Simon (The Carol Burnette Show, Diff’rent Strokes) and Neil Simon (The Odd Couple, Murder by Death).

Wow.  Now that’s a writing staff.  Each one has done so much to shape comedy through the years.  Their influence is like ripples in a pond.

Your Show of Shows 2

A widely spread misconception is that Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H) wrote for the Show, when he actually wrote for the Caesar’s Hour that followed years later.  Another misconception was that Woody Allen (Annie Hall) also wrote for the Show, when he actually wrote for several Sid Caesar TV Specials later on.

Your Show of Shows inspired many great productions through their talented staff for years to come.  My favorite TV show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, was based off of Carl Reiner’s time as a writer for Sid Caesar.  Mel Brooks cited My Favorite Year as being inspired by his time working as a writer on the Show.  Also, Neil Simon says that his award winning play, Laughter on the 23rd Floor was also inspired by his time there.

So, here’s to Your Show of Shows for helping to mold comedy thanks to a very special team of writers!

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner