Friday, March 11, 2016

Love, American Style: "Love and the Good Deal" (1969)

My ground rules for this blog are that I’m reviewing every screenplay or teleplay Neil Simon ever wrote, and every TV or screen adaptation of one of his theatrical works. 1969 saw the release of Sweet Charity, Hollywood’s version of the 1966 Broadway musical with book by Neil Simon. I’m not including this film for several reasons – the first being that Peter Stone wrote the screenplay. Second, it’s a musical, so I’m not sure to what extent Simon’s humor was showcased in said medium. Also, the story is based on Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria, and therefore not entirely original at Simon’s pen. Hey, if I had all the time in the world, would go all-out to include everything, I might give it a shot – I’ve always wanted to see it. But I have to make some executive decisions: Charity doesn’t make the cut, so sue me.

Having said that, it sounds like I’m treading perilously close to violating my own ground rules by looking at the next work: an episode segment of the TV show Love American Style which aired 11/25/69 entitled “Love and the Good Deal.” It was apparently based on one of Simon’s plays, but it seems pretty close to its source material, so that’s why it’s here.

Now, having actually seen the episode, I can comment thusly. The credits claim it is “suggested” by a play by Neil Simon. The play is clearly Barefoot in the Park, and it’s more than suggested: it is the play. Or more accurately, it uses all the characters (Paul, Corie “Brader,” Ethel, and Mr. Velasco) in a sequel of sorts (think of it as Barefoot 1 ½). Why they didn’t say, “based on characters created by Neil Simon,” I have no idea. Perhaps they wanted people to think it was more original than it was – although I wonder why, given the huge success Barefoot was. I also wonder why Simon didn’t make a stink about this clear case of false accreditation. But given the fact that American Style was a Paramount production, as were all three Simon film adaptations, he probably wasn’t in much of a bargaining position.  

So we have Paul and Corie, again on the 6th floor, again heavily in love, but having a hard time with their 3 foot wide bedroom with only enough room for a very single bed. The cash-strapped couple opt for a route slightly less than legitimate – buying a specialty bed from a wholesaler named J.K., (from a lead by the always shady Velasco), who promises to save them 100 dollars for his under-the-table dealings. Oh, and one other caveat – they need to pick up the bed themselves, a taxing task that takes a toll on Paul’s back. But good news – they discover how perfect Paul’s hospital bed is – way better than the dud they picked up from J.K. All in a week in the life of a happily married newlywed couple, sitcom-style.

Before I get into the vignette itself (of which each hour-long episode has three), I’d like to comment on the writing style of all three. One word sums it up: Simonesque. I haven’t seen much else from the series, but it’s clearly in the comedic style of the playwright; understandable, given his winning streak on Broadway. And, unlike future Simon imitators, this isn’t half-bad. The show opens with a story about a couple about to be married – 12,000 feet in the air! Her idea: to recite the vows while skydiving. He (Rich Little, of all people) has a serious case of the jitters, not abetted one bit by a stuttering minister. She (Jessica Waters, the villainess in Play Misty For Me), has a bout of shaky nerves herself, but ultimately they both go through with it, sans minister, who ironically can’t do it himself. 

The third installment is by far the strongest of the three, about a divorced man whose ex-wife has now remarried, and is still completely dependent on him. In the middle of the night, she calls him up to come over because their 18-year old daughter is out with a “hippie” and plans to marry him. The writing here is sly and sharp, reminiscent of a one-act play with its economic dialogue and situational humor. Perhaps I should be blogging about this series – it seems to be more “adult” than just about any recent TV fare about relationships and the like.

The Neil Simon segment? It’s okay. It’s fast paced and charming with standout performances by Skye Aubrey as Corie (sort of a less quirky version of Carrie Snodgrass) and Norman Fell as J.K., the bed salesman, whose lines are the only thing that could pass for actual Simon dialogue. No offense to Garry Marshall, who wrote the teleplay; he did a good job. And while we’re on the subject, this marks the first time Marshall’s career intersected with Simon’s; the following year he would produce the TV version of The Odd Couple. 

Worth a look for the Simon completist. Otherwise, you’re better off just watching the aforementioned last segment, entitled “Love and the Former Marriage,” which also features an early role for Harrison Ford, who’s actually quite good here as the hippie. 

Rating: **1/2

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