BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, 1967
directed by Gene Saks
Starring: Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Mildred Natwick, Charles Boyer
Review by Virginia DeWitt
Paul and Corie Bratter are newlyweds in mid-’60s New York, who have just moved into a walk up in Greenwich Village and are trying to cope with all the problems that come with living in an old building in New York City, including the eccentric neighbors. Their biggest problem, though, is their distinctly different outlooks on life. Paul is a buttoned down attorney who insists that every problem must have a logical solution. Corie is a free spirit who insists that Paul has to learn to walk “barefoot in the park”.
“Barefoot In The Park” was the first Neil Simon play to be made into a movie. It was a major success on Broadway in 1963 and Simon adapted the play for the screen himself. He worked with Gene Saks, who was better known as a television actor, and who made his feature film debut as a director with “Barefoot”. Saks would go on to direct other Simon adaptations such as “The Odd Couple” (1968), “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” (1972) and “Brighton Beach Memoirs” (1986). Saks’ television background shows through in this film. His direction of the actors and the staging of the action are straightforward, with nothing original added to the concept of a filmed play. The look of the movie, its use of colour and lighting, is just marginally better than a TV show of the era.
|Saks is good at directing his actors for comedy, however. Pacing and timing is everything in delivering Simon’s dialogue. The repartee requires rapid fire delivery because, funny and sharp as he is, Simon’s effects are all on the surface. This exchange between Paul and Corie is a good example, beginning with Paul saying to her:|
“You want me to be rich and famous don’t you?”
“During the day. At night, I want you here and sexy.
“I tell you what, tomorrow night – your night – we’ll do whatever you want.”
“Something wild and crazy and insane?”
“I’ll come home early. We’ll wallpaper each other.”
Or, a later argument where Corie gets to air her feelings about Paul’s inability to loosen up:
“You’re always dressed right. You always look right. You always say the right thing. You’re very nearly perfect!”
“That’s a rotten thing to say.”
“Before we were married I thought you slept with a tie.”
“No, just for very formal sleeps.”
Over forty years later, the film still works well and it is largely due to the terrific chemistry between its two stars. A very young Robert Redford and Jane Fonda each exhibit a wonderful naturalness in their performances. Given their later, much more serious work, both Redford and Fonda are surprisingly funny and relaxed here and their handling of the verbal and physical comedy is expert. Redford makes the uptight, anxiety ridden Paul sympathetic. In the early scenes where he spars with Corie, his exasperated reactions to her often impossible demands are perfect. In the final scenes, where he is drunk and wandering barefoot through Washington Square Park, Redford matches Fonda’s earlier exuberance with ease. For her part, Fonda is fun, sexy and spontaneous as Corie. She makes Corie’s capriciousness and emotional immaturity attractive, which is no small feat.
The cast is completed by two well known character actors. Charles Boyer, a big star in an earlier era of the movies, makes for a charming eccentric as the upstairs neighbour, Victor Velasco. Mildred Natwick, as Ethel Banks, is endearing as Corie’s slightly confused mother, subject to the same kinds of anxieties which Paul suffers from. In fact, in the scene that is the centre piece of the film – a double date at an Albanian restaurant – Simon gets a lot mileage, and laughs, from pairing off Paul with his middle aged mother-in-law. Paul, born middle aged, and Ethel commiserate with each other over the crazy night they have had to endure at the hands of Corie and Victor, both maddening in their unpredictability. Nothing comes from any of this, of course, as the couples inevitably realign, each paired off appropriately and happily once again.
“Barefoot In The Park” is still a fun movie largely due to the highly successful casting of its two young stars and Neil Simon’s writing, which is both light hearted and sharp at the same time.