'The Out-of-Towners': THR's 1970 Review

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Sandy Dennis and Jack Lemmon in 'The Out-of-Towners' (1970)
It is the closest the sound film has come to recapturing the genius of the silent movie chase comedy.

On May 28, 1970, Paramount unveiled the Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis comedy The Out-of-Towners in theaters. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.

Inevitably, Neil Simon will flop on his toches, but more and more, it appears less and less likely to happen in our lifetime. What he has done before, with Barefoot in the Park, with The Odd Couple, with Plaza Suite and the rest, he does again with his first original screenplay, The Out-of-Towners, a Paramount Pictures presentation, a Jalem production, produced by Paul Nathan and directed by Arthur Hiller. 

It does for — or to — New York just what Midnight Cowboy did, but with non-stop laughs. It is the closest the sound film has come to recapturing the genius of the silent movie chase comedy. It succeeds, where The Great Race or It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World did not, by craftsmanlike simplicity which places characterization foremost, sustaining plausibility and logic in the ascending improbability of its situations. 

Its humor grows out the basic frustration of those characters' exaggerated common situations, not out of set design or special effects. Simon, who has the best ear of any comedy writer working today, and the most compassionate regard for the middle classes he views and who view his work, again manipulates running gags, delayed action gags and those bonus toppers with scarcely a moment of wasted effort.

The out-of-towners of the title are Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis, who set out from their suburban home in Ohio for an interview in New York which will determine Lemmon's promotion and transfer to the New York home-office. Persisting by plane, train, taxi and foot, they encounter 97 minutes of incredible complications which threaten to keep them from their destination at the appointed hour in strike-bound, mugger-infested, rain-soaked, bureaucracy-bound, inhospitable Fun City. The film is G-rated, pure pleasure, primed for plenty of profit. 

The film has wisely been entrusted to director Arthur Hiller, who has a special facility with location filming in New York, from television's Naked City to his Popi last year. With Out-of-Towners he scores on the feature screen with the sort of sharp comedy direction that was long-confined to his selling work on television pilots. 

Lemmon is excellent, Simon again doing for him what Wilder once did. Defying the compounded aggravations of the big city, raging helplessly, whistling desperation through a chipped tooth, taking the name and number of every attendant to his delay and disturbance, he surpasses his performance in The Odd Couple. But it is Miss Dennis who profits most. Most of the annoying mannerisms have been scrapped. Those that persist are employed perfectly in the construction of a delightful comedy performance. Miss Dennis has a special gift for comedy, one that has been neglected in a succession of whimpering, lip-chewing, twitching soap operas ever since Virginia Woolf

Supporting performances are brief, but each is a specialty. Most notable are Anne Meara's despairing robbery victim, Ann Prentiss's condescending airline stewardess, Ron Carey's Boston cabdriver, Billy Dee Williams's complaint-retardant airline clerk, Anthony Holland's implacable hotel desk and Graham Jarvis's stick-up man. 

Cinematography is the work of Andrew Laszlo. It not only manages to capture the city with extraordinary mobility, as well as claustrophobic involvement, but is blessed with maximum night for night authenticity and appropriately gritty color. 

The operator is not credited, but rates praise for some exceptional follow work. Fred Chulack's editing is sharp. However, he should have been directed to delete or crop frames in the hotel room sequence in which the boom man is clearly reflected in the mirror and thereafter takes another bow by dipping a boom shadow across the wall. — John Mahoney, originally published on March 23, 1970

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