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Monday, March 4, 2013

HOUSE CALLS (1978)

Howard Zieff’s neatly played comedy is as much ‘shaggy dog’ story as romance, happy to hang about as its talented company work thru a series of light gags without much in the way of goals or consequences. But living in the comic moment accounts for much of its unforced charm, along with the blissful, odd couple pairing of a prickly Glenda Jackson & a rumpled Walter Matthau. He’s a recent widower, playing the field in late middle-age for the first time in his life. She’s younger, but touchy from a messy divorce and unwilling to share the wealth. It's a latter-day Beatrice & Benedict . . . well, Tracy & Hepburn, and it gives Zieff cover for the sort of ensemble comedy he preferred. Here, at a private hospital where Matthau ‘meets-cute’ with Jackson who’s under the demented care of senile chief of staff Art Carney. Richard Benjamin is a stand out as Matthau’s cynical pal, but there are hidden land mines of comic scene-stealers all along the hospital halls. And if the film winds down rather than builds to an ending, good spirits & a blessed lack of hysterics & chases make up for Zieff’s wayward story sense & undeveloped visual style. Though why so many comedies from the ‘60s & ‘70s had to be as brightly lit as operating rooms remains a mystery.

DOUBLE-BILL: After this surprise hit, Jackson & Matthau reteamed for HOPSCOTCH/’80, a farcical spy romp that gave Jackson little to do. Instead, try a much darker comedy on similar subjects, Paddy Chayefsky’s THE HOSPITAL/’71 which has a rumpled George C. Scott & a prickly Diana Rigg . . . and an equal lack of visual style from megger Arthur Hiller.

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