A peculiar tonic: The Out of Towners

outotThe Out of Towners, 1970, 101 mins, DVD

With everything that has been going on recently, my clear-out/review of books/discs etc has been put on hold, the garage still full of boxes. Occasionally I make an effort when I can focus on something but don’t have much heart in it.  Curiously though, yesterday glancing through one of the boxes of DVDs I noticed Arthur Hiller’s 1970 comedy The Out of Towners, starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis. I’d forgotten that I even owned it, recently tempted by an Australian Blu-ray release from Imprint… I hate forgetting that I had the film on disc, even an old DVD; I never used to forget that kind of stuff. Either my memory is going, or I just have too many discs: cue Orson Welles impression: what curio lurks in the remotest corners of all those boxes?

Yesterday I had to register my dad’s death, having finally been notified that the hospital had emailed the certificate of death to the district registry office. As I’m his eldest son it seemed right that it fell to me, and as my mom wasn’t up to it, one of my brothers went along with me. Seeing my name printed on my dad’s final death certificate as ‘informant’ looks…. horrible, frankly, as is the finality of my dad’s life (birth date, date of death etc) just summarised like that, like a book being closed, too soon.

So not the best of days; and last night caught mid-evening with a few hours clear after walking Eddie, I recalled noticing the Out of Towners DVD and suggested putting it on. Films are inevitably subject to mood and I’ve been caught a few times over the past few weeks at a loss for what to watch; what’s safe, what isn’t (clearly Field of Dreams is out of bounds for some time yet). I figured a Neil Simon comedy from 1970 starring one of my favourite actors would be harmless enough.

So the damnedest thing happened. When the film ended I suddenly realised that, for the space of a ninety minutes or so, I’d forgotten my woes, drifting off into a safer world. Movies can be an escape, and The Out of Towners proved a surprising tonic.

Its not, in all honesty, a particularly good movie. I know it was popular when it came out, but its never been a particular favourite of Jack Lemmon’s films for me. I much prefer the far superior The Prisoner of Second Avenue, another Neil Simon comedy with, oddly enough, similar locations (both set in New York) and themes.  I think The Out of Towners gets derailed by the increasingly farcical calamities it inflicts upon the husband and wife Lemmon/Dennis characters. Simon’s comedy works best in its sparkling dialogue, and subtly-observed character beats and observations, and The Out of Towners has less opportunity for this as it progresses and gets ever more manic.  Its not a bad film, but comparisons with The Prisoner of Second Avenue does it no favours at all. I simply adore Prisoner, its one of my very favourite films.

But The Out of Towners is safe; its harmless, silly fun and it certainly worked wonders for me: I guess its true, even an average/poor film can be the right film at the right time, its like some strange sorcery at work. I suppose if we could figure that out and we watched the right films at the right time, we’d all be happier even at the worst of times.


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