Saturday, March 25, 2023

#2,902. Barefoot in the Park (1967) - 1967 Comedies Triple Feature


On October 23, 1963, Neil Simon’s play Barefoot in the Park opened at Broadway’s Biltmore Theater, and ran for 1,530 performances. It proved to be Simon’s longest running hit, and in 1967 he transformed it into a screenplay.

Directed by Gene Saks (the same guy who tackled Simon’s cinematic version of The Odd Couple), Barefoot in the Park stars Jane Fonda and Robert Redford as newlyweds who have very little in common. Fonda is Corie, a free spirit who loves trying new things. Redford (reprising his role from the play) is Paul, an up-and-coming lawyer who loves his new bride, even if she does get a bit out of hand sometimes.

After a 6-day honeymoon at the Plaza, the couple moves into a tiny 5th floor apartment in Greenwich Village. There’s no elevator; everyone has to walk up five flights of stairs to visit them (six if you count the stoop out front). Also, there’s no bathtub (just a shower); a double bed likely won’t fit in the tiny bedroom; the heat doesn’t work; and there’s a hole in the skylight. Still, Corie loves her new home. As for the reserved Paul, he’s too focused on his first big case to pay the poor living conditions much mind.

Their first guest (aside from Harry, played by Herb Edelman, who installed their phone) is Corie’s mother (Mildred Natwick), who, despite the long climb and lack of furniture (it won’t be delivered until the next day), says she likes the place, though she tends to agree with Paul that it’s a bit… cramped!

Later that night (actually, early the next morning), Corie and Paul meet their upstairs neighbor, Victor Velasco (Charles Boyer), an older playboy who, like Corie, gets a kick out of life.

The first hiccup in their very short marriage comes when Corie sets her mother up with Victor, and he treats them to a meal at a very exclusive Albanian restaurant. Paul is none too pleased that Corie tried to hook her poor mother up with their boisterous neighbor, while Corie thinks Paul should loosen up. She chastises him for, among other things, not agreeing to walk barefoot in the park the other night (Paul points out it is February, and it was 17 degrees outside at the time).

All at once, the couple realizes they may be poorly matched. But will love win out in the end?

As with any play, or indeed any screen version of a play, it’s the cast that makes Barefoot in the Park so damned entertaining. Redford is stiff yet likable as the serious-minded Paul, while Charles Boyer lights up the screen as the eccentric neighbor.

That said, it’s the ladies who steal this particular show. Fonda is so bubbly, so wonderfully flighty as Corie that, by the time the film is over, every guy in the audience will have a crush on her; her cheery disposition and unbridled optimism are infectious. Even the guy from the phone company, who was none too pleased to have climbed so many flights of stairs, comes to like Corie before his job is done.

Matching Fonda every step of the way is Mildred Natwick as Corie’s mom, whose sensitive constitution is given a workout during her “date” with Victor (she’s so wiped out from the spicy food and alcohol that Paul has to carry her up the stairs!). Yet while they often don’t see eye-to-eye on some things, Corie and her mom have a genuinely loving relationship, and the scenes in which the two are chatting are among the movie’s best.

This isn’t the first filmed version of Barefoot in the Park I’ve seen. In the early ‘80s, HBO produced a made-for-TV version of a performance at Seattle’s Moore theater, which starred Richard Thomas as Paul and Bess Armstrong as Corie. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I have to say 1967’s rendition is even better. With its strong cast and Simon’s patented wit (the running joke about the number of stairs never gets stale), Barefoot in the Park is a real charmer!
Rating: 9 out of 10

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