Sunday, September 25, 2022

#2,821. Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972) - Paula Prentiss Triple Feature


Nobody talks like the characters in a Neil Simon production. I’ve never met anyone as quick-witted as Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple or even Ira Parks in Seems Like Old Times. Yet Simon infuses his characters with enough personality that we have no problem believing they are 100% genuine.

Such is the case with Barney Cashman, the focal point of 1972’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Played to perfection by Alan Arkin, Barney leads a humdrum life. A middle-aged businessman (he owns a Seafood restaurant in New York City) with a wife and kids, Barney feels as if he’s missing out on all the excitement, and decides to have an affair.

Using his mother’s apartment (she spends every Tuesday volunteering at Mount Sanai Hospital), he will, over the course of several weeks, invite three separate women - customer Elaine Navazio (Sally Kellerman), pretty stranger Bobbi Michele (Paula Prentiss), and his wife’s friend Jeanette Fisher (Renée Taylor), whose husband cheats on her regularly - to join him for an afternoon tryst. Alas, none go according to plan, leaving Barney to wonder if he’s really the cheating type, or if he’s just unlucky.

Arkin is in top form as Barney, who, despite being a successful restauranteur, comes across as one of life’s losers. The scenes sandwiched between his ”romantic” encounters feature Barney waking up in the morning, driving to work, and dealing with employees. Throughout these moments, he maintains a running internal monologue, lamenting his ordinary existence. “I could rob a bank, nobody would look up”, he says to himself at one point.

Unfortunately, his attempts to break the routine and live a little prove equally unfulfilling. Sally Kellerman’s Elaine is there for sex and nothing more, but the inexperienced Barney feels they should spend some time getting to know one another. Bobbi Michele, played by the always reliable Paula Prentiss, is a flighty actress whose mood changes from happy to angry and back to happy again without a moment’s notice; while family friend Jeanette is depressed, and knows a little too much about Barney and his wife for comfort. All three women are as sharp and funny as Barney, and their give-and-take with him will have you in stitches.

So while I may have never met anyone as quick-witted as Oscar Madison, Ira Parks, or Barney Cashman, I feel as if I’ve known dozens just like them. And that is the magic of Neil Simon.
Rating: 8 out of 10

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