1967 in Film: Barefoot in the Park

1967 proved a pivotal year in the movies as it marked the beginning of what was in essence a film revolution.  It was also a great year for standard entertaining fare.  While tensions of war and racial unrest grew throughout the country American audiences were making a definitive shift toward truth in media, but they still enjoyed pure entertainment as well.  Testament to both of those is the fact that what is considered by many to be the best film of 1967 is Arthur Penn’s ultra violent BONNIE AND CLYDE while the box-office champ of the year was Disney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK.

Well, somewhat lost in the fray between landmark and perpetual classic is a charmer hit straight from the Broadway stage and the pen of one of the country’s most popular playwrights, a relative newcomer in the medium at the time, Neil Simon.  The stage production of Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” opened in October 1963 and closed in June 1967 after 1,530 performances, a hit directed by Mike Nichols. Audiences still showed up to watch the Broadway play for about a month before it closed when the film version of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK directed by Gene Saks opened in Radio City Musical Hall on May 25.  This marks the first movie in which Neil Simon adapted his own play for the screen. No disrespect to Saks, but I’ve often wondered why Nichols wasn’t given the job to helm the movie version when his play was such a hit.  If you know the reason let me know.  

barefoot

BAREFOOT IN THE PARK tells the story of the first week in the life of newlyweds Corie (Jane Fonda) and Paul Bratter (Robert Redford).  Corie is free-spirited and a little air-heady while Paul is conservative and practical.  As the story begins the newly married couple who are madly in love move into a small, fifth floor walk-up apartment in New York City, the height of which is cause for the movie’s running joke.

Corie is eager to begin her life as a married woman and is excited about decorating their new home.  Paul, however, is less than enthusiastic about the apartment as he discovers the five-plus flights he has to climb to reach it, finds a hole in the skylight that allows it to snow inside, there is no bathtub, their bedroom is in truth a closet and meets the odd character who lives in the attic above their apartment – all things Corie considers life’s little adventures.

Paul points out the hole in the skylight
Paul points out the hole in the skylight

BAREFOOT IN THE PARK is an amusing romp of little substance.  It is typical Neil Simon fare in that it is a New York-centric, semi-autobiographical, old-fashioned romantic comedy replete with snappy dialogue.  Except, as I suddenly discovered during my latest viewing, this one feels particularly dated with situations that seem contrived.  For instance, the newlyweds who initially can’t keep their hands and lips off each other are soon in a huge fight because Paul’s too much of a stuffed shirt for Corie’s liking.  That’s where the title of the movie/play comes from – the fact that in contrast to Corie, Paul’s not willing to go around barefoot in the park or live life to its fullest.  The entire troubled marriage thing in this case is just not plausible, a reason without merit if you will by today’s standards, which accounts for the entire conflict in the story.  I mean, how could she not have known he was a stuffed shirt before they were married or that it bothered her so much?

Pau's none too thrilled with the 30+ degrees in his new apartment
Pau’s none too thrilled about the 30+ degrees in his new apartment

Anyway, even given the problem with plausibility, the cast in BAREFOOT IN THE PARK make it entertaining enough to allow for a decent time.  The chemistry between Fonda and Redford is great and although it’s not easy to buy Jane Fonda as naive a character as is Corie Bratter, she still manages a good performance as does Redford in what was his first box office hit.  BAREFOOT was the third of four films in which the two co-starred and despite the fact that Jane was the bigger star at the time, Bob got top billing.  In the TCM introduction to the movie Robert Osborne attributes that to Redford having had a better agent.

couple

The best part of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK for me is Mildred Natwick who plays Ethel Banks, Corie’s lonely mother.  Natwick’s terrific comedic timing brings the delivery of her lines to a level eons above everyone else’s.  The scenes during which we see Ethel struggling through the effects of the climb up to her daughter’s apartment still make me laugh heartily.

Ethel: I feel like we’ve died and gone to heaven – only we had to climb up.

Mildred Natwick was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Actress in a Supporting Role category for playing Ethel Banks, a nomination I think was well-deserved.

After the climb up five flights Ethel needs help
After the climb up five flights Ethel needs help

Also worth mentioning is Herb Edelman who you might know best as Murray the cop in Simon’s THE ODD COUPLE (1968) or as Dorothy’s ex-husband Stan on television’s The Golden Girls. The always entertaining Edelman plays telephone repairman, Harry Pepper in BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, a small role he reprised from the Broadway play, which by the way also starred Redford and Natwick.

Harry Pepper and Corie
Harry Pepper and Corie

My least favorite part of the movie is Victor Velasco played by Charles Boyer.  Velasco is the bohemian, middle-aged playboy who lives in the attic above the Bratter apartment.  I must admit I’m not a huge Boyer fan to begin with probably due to the fact I don’t understand everything he says. My favorite of his performances being his portrayal of the murdering scoundrel Gregory in George Cukor’s GASLIGHT (1944).  In any case, Velasco and Corie take a liking to each other and it occurs to her almost immediately that he’s just the kind of man who could get her lonely mother out of her shell.

Ethel Banks meets Victor Velasco
Ethel Banks meets Victor Velasco

The set-up occurs when Corie plans a dinner for the foursome (Corie, Paul, Ethel and Velasco) and allows Victor to pick the place, which ends up being an Albanian restaurant that features belly dancing.  That’s all fine and dandy except the two who enjoy it are Corie and Victor.  Paul is outraged by Velasco and by the fact Corie so enjoys the man’s lifestyle.  She, in turn, is outraged that Paul can’t seem to let loose.  Meanwhile Ethel is on Paul’s side as she stares in both embarrassment and awe at the behavior of Corie and Victor.  The evening ends with Ethel drinking way too much and spending the night with the playboy.  And that’s when the blow-up between Corie and Paul happens.

Ethel and Paul in the Albanian restaurant
Ethel and Paul in the Albanian restaurant
After an evening with Velasco
After an evening with Velasco

As a result of the dinner out with Velasco and the fights that ensues Paul ends up sleeping in the living room under the hole in the skylight with snow falling on him through the night.  The fight endures into the next day with a now fevered Paul thrown out by Corie who wants a divorce, which is just ridiculous.  But anyway, shocked by Corie’s sudden demand for a divorce Paul gets drunk and ends up in Washington Square Park where Corie finds him a while later – foolish, carefree and barefoot.

bob
Paul – barefoot in the park

Considering the many landmark film releases of 1967, many of which you’ll read about in the “1967 in Film” Blogathon for which this post is intended, BAREFOOT IN THE PARK is quite inconsequential.  And it certainly is not among the best in the careers of its stars, but I still recommend it.  Even though the movie is dated it still delivers enough humor to entertain.  Not to mention it stars beautiful people dressed in Edith Head creations.

The “1967 in Film” Blogathon is hosted by Silver Screenings and The Rosebud Cinema. You simply must visit the host sites to read a fantastic array of posts on films released that landmark year.

1967_in_film_6

 

 

 

 

 

 

22 thoughts

  1. I have to give it a try based on cast alone. It happens to be streaming on Amazon Prime right now too, so it’s a must watch here in the near future. Thank you for the review!

  2. Although I haven’t seen this, I’m willing to speculate that perhaps what seemed endearing and cute to Fonda about Redford when they were single looked completely different when they got married and actually had to live together. Such things are not unheard of, or so I’m told.

    1. I think also we forget that most people didn’t live together before marriage back then. (It’s heavily implied that they hadn’t even slept together until the honeymoon.) Corie is also portrayed as extremely idealistic, and people like that can become disillusioned very quickly.

      I like the film. That apartment is very New York. The difference now is you’d pay over $2,500/month to live in it.

      1. Agree on all. As I mentioned above the conflict seemed “light” to me only at my last viewing for some strange reason and I’ve seen the film countless times. Definitely worth a look.

        Aurora

    2. It was only in this last viewing that the lack of substance in the movie’s conflict bothered me. I have loved it otherwise for many years. To me Simon plays can’t miss because they are – for the most part – so typically New York and of course they’re also funny. Definitely take a look at this though!

      Aurora

  3. I can’t put into words how much I love this film, silliness and all, so it was lovely to read this! What you said about it being unrealistic and, at times, contrived, but that’s what makes it so fun! Thank you for participating in the blogathon, this was a joy to read!

    1. Contrived usually never bothers me. I guess it was the mood I was in when I watched the movie. In any case, it’s still funny and fun and the cast is great. Thanks so much!

      Aurora

  4. The film has dated since it came out but Fonda and Redford made for a good team with she as the free spirit and Redford as the uptight husband. As I mentioned on my FB comment I always had a soft spot or two for this film (Neil Simon and Jane Fonda) ever since I saw it at Radio City Music Hall way back when. Enjoyed reading this!

  5. I have never seen this one which is odd because I’m usually all over romantic comedies. I love the look of this film, as presented in your screen caps. And costumes by Edith Head, too!

    Thanks for choosing this as part of the blogathon. 1967 is proving to be a more versatile year than I initially realized!

  6. If given a choice between something of consequence or some Neil Simon chuckles, I’ll choose Simon every time. I don’t think anyone would disagree with your assessment of Mildred Natwick in this movie. She is absolute tops and lesson for all aspiring comedic performers.

  7. I have to agree with you: Fonda, Redford and Natwick make this. In fact, they were the only reason I made it too the end as I was convinced there had to be something more. It’s not that I disliked it, it’s just a bit ‘meh’. I prefer a stronger reaction either way! Head’s costume’s are great though – I love the strong colours, reminds me of a couple of Hepburn’s outfits in Charade.

  8. I saw a small part of this film once and never finished it. Your review makes me want to give it another chance, if only to see Redford’s and Fonda’s chemistry, which is always a joy to watch! Leah

  9. By 1967, Mike Nichols had directed several Broadway plays, including two by Neil Simon: “Barefoot,” and “The Odd Couple.” His first film, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” came out in 1966, and his second was released at the end of 1967. It was “The Graduate.” “Barefoot” came out in the spring. Nichols had an incredible run of creative and market success in the mid-to-late 1960s; if he had also been able to add a film version of “Barefoot” to this list … . I do not know why Nichols rather than Gene Saks was not the director of the film, but it may have come down to something as mundane as scheduling.

    Thank you for this great review of a family favorite.

  10. Love this movie, I don’t think it’s that dated, though it hasn’t necessarily aged as well as many a classics.
    But I had no idea Mike Nichols directed the stage adaptation. I love his films. True, I wonder why he didn’t direct this movie, maybe because he was quite new to film industry at the time.
    And you’ve mentioned one of my all time favourite movies as well, ‘Gaslight’, one of my favourites, especially when it comes to film-noir.
    Great review!!!

  11. I have not seen this movie, but enjoyed reading your post about it. I will be keeping an eye out for it. I do like movies that take place in New York, and would like to see these actors as well. I appreciate your caution that it isn’t going to be one of the most profound movies, but it sounds like a lot of fun to watch.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s