(In French, On Cable TV, December 2018) Considering the almost endless amount of trouble that New York City experienced between (roughly) 1965 and 1995, there would be something almost prescient in the urban hellscape portrait that 1970’s The Out-of-Towners gives to NYC. Except that most of the terrible things in the film were inspired by real-life events of the late 1960s—strikes, mountains of garbage, urban decay, rising crime rates, exploding manholes and so on. In that dystopian vision of Big Cities step in a couple of Midwesterners considering a job offer. The nightmarish events of the film do much to dissuade them, but not before propelling an entire film’s worth of humiliations and disastrous setbacks. Nothing goes right for those travellers as their luggage is lost, their hotel reservations cancelled, they experience dental emergencies, get mugged and other indignities. It’s also raining, of course. Jack Lemmon is not bad as the target of those humiliations, accompanied by the somewhat blander Sandy Dennis and his much more stoic wife. Part of The Out-of-Towners are amusing, many feel similar and the overall effect is a bit tiresome as there is nary a respite and a definite limit to the amount of misery that even comic characters should experience –screenwriter Neil Simon may have overplayed his hand here. I strongly suspect that film influenced a lot of attitudes toward big cities in the following years. It does work as a time capsule of a miserable era in NYC history, but as a comedy it’s hit-and-miss.
(On VHS, June 2001) Midwest yokels come to New York City and are quickly out of their depth! How funnier can it be? A lot funnier, easily. Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin reprise their usual screen personae, adding nothing and screaming a lot with scarcely any indication of how good they can be in other types of roles. John Cleese is a hoot as usual. The various plot points are pretty much predictable in advance, and aren’t all that skilfully executed either. For a film about New York, there isn’t a whole lot of scenery. There have been worse films, there have been better films, so there isn’t any cause for concern if ever you pass by The Out-Of-Towners and don’t pick it up.
(Second viewing, in French, on Cable TV, December 2018) Watching The Out-Of-Towners remake right after the 1969 original only underscores how much more slap-sticky is the remake. Gone are the more serious undertones and barely-repressed desperation of the original. Instead, we get Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn hamming it up as much as they can stand. The result actually is reliably funny, although unsubstantial to a point where I didn’t even realize I had seen the film seventeen years ago. One good point in favour of the remake: the much more active role given to the female lead — it sure helps that Hawn can be reliably funny on a dime. There’s a surprising cameo appearance from pre-America’s-Mayor, pre-Crazy-Pundit Rudy Giuliani.