Title: The Out of Towners
Release Date: May 28, 1970
Director: Arthur Hiller
Production Company: Jalem Productions
I don’t know where I got the idea that The Out-of-Towners was a comedy classic, but I guess I figured the combination of Jack Lemmon and Neil Simon would be good for a few laughs. It turns out the movie offers very few laughs indeed. Lemmon plays George Kellerman, a businessman from Ohio who travels to New York City with his much put-upon wife Gwen (Sandy Dennis) in order to conduct an interview for a prestigious job. Naturally, every thing that can go wrong goes wrong including a delayed flight that is rerouted to Boston, a crowded train to New York, the inability to get a meal anywhere, losing their hotel room, being robbed, and then abducted, and even getting caught up in an anti-Cuban protest.
There are a few good moments. I particularly like when Gwen and George celebrate finding half-a-box of Cracker Jack to eat for breakfast. The topical references – sanitation and transit strikes, Cuban hijackings – make it a good time capsule for 1970. The movie was also filmed on location in a lot of places in New York and Boston, so I really enjoyed seeing what places looked like 50 years ago.
The main problem with this movie is that George and Gwen aren’t very likable. Lemmon and Dennis are so talented that I was never totally able to hate them, but I also wasn’t really on their side. The running gag with George creating an Arya Stark-like list of people he is going to sue is just one of the many things that are plain not funny. My sense is the New Yorker Neil Simon created his stereotypes of what an awful pair of out-of-towners from the midwest are like without considering that the protagonists are someone you should actually want to root for. This movie, like the latter-day comedy Quick Change, falls into the “New York is Awful” genre, but I couldn’t help thinking that at the end of the movie when George and Gwen decide to (spoiler) stay in Ohio, that it is New York City that dodged a bullet.