BYE BYE BRAVERMAN (director: Sidney Lumet; screenwriters: Herbert Sargent/from the novel To An Early Grave by Wallace Markfield; cinematographer: Boris Kaufman; editor: Gerald Greenberg; music: Peter Matz; cast: George Segal (Morroe Rieff ), Jack Warden (Barnet Weinstein), Joseph Wiseman (Felix Ottensteen), Sorrell Booke (Holly Levine), Jessica Walter (Inez Braverman), Phyllis Newman (Miss Mandelbaum), Zohra Lampert (Etta Rieff), Godfrey Cambridge (Taxi Driver), Alan King (The Rabbi), Anthony Holland (Max); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sidney Lumet; Warner Bros.; 1968)
“Satiric bittersweet funeral pic with a healthy dose of Jewish humor and a droll travelogue look at the NYC landscape.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Satiric bittersweet funeral pic with a healthy dose of New York Jewish humor and a droll travelogue look at the NYC landscape. It blends together tasteful jokes with vulgar ones in long vignettes, which gives it an odd feel because it seems so determined not to be compromised by conforming to expectations. It doesn’t seem to care that none of the characters are likable, only that they have something shockingly funny to say. Director Sidney Lumet (“Q & A”/”Gloria”/”Guilty as Sin”)makes it a wittykvetching piece about four small-time intellectual literary figures unable to come to grips that one of their own, Leslie Braverman (who is never seen), a 41-year-old minor intellectual Jewish writer (described by them as “a second-rate talent of the highest order”), also living in Manhattan, died. Even though they profess love for him they are unable to articulate their own grief, which becomes more acidly funny than insightful. It’s based onthe acerbic novel To An Early Grave by Wallace Markfield, and is written as a dark comedy by Herbert Sargent.
Early Sunday morning married literary publicist Morroe Rieff (George Segal), a disenchanted man who daydreams frequently about death, receives a call from Inez Braverman (Jessica Walter) that her husband died and when he goes over to her place to console her, the bitchy widow tries to make love to him in front of her daughter. Before he escapes unscathed, Morroe is given unclear directions to the Brooklyn funeral of her hubby Braverman. Morroe then contacts the deceased’s other close-knit friends to go together to the Sunday afternoon funeral, at an Ocean Parkway synagogue. The three friends are the uptight commercially successful bachelor pop culture writer Holly Levine (Sorrell Booke), a mama’s boy aging womanizer writer Barnet Weinstein (Jack Warden), and the older embittered professor and vicious-tongued Norman Thomas admirer and judgmental widow Felix Ottensteen (Joseph Wiseman). They meet in Greenwich Village and cram into Holly’s red Volkswagen (which is ridiculed by Felix as a “legacy from Hitler”). They begin squabbling and joking around, and Holly talks about his hunger pangs for Chinese food. Lost in Brooklyn (as in life), the quartet are all too self-absorbed to express their grief, that is if they feel grief. Holly gets into a fender-bender with a Yiddish-speaking African-American cabbie (Godfrey Cambridge), then they end up at the wrong synagogue and hear the long-winded sermon by the rabbi (Alan King) for a stranger (an episode that bothered many, who thought the rabbi figure was a mockery), and finally they arrive at the right grave-site just as their friend is being buried. The only tears that appear, are when Morroe is home with his unsympathetic wife (Zohra Lampert) and he tries to explain his crazy day.
It’s not for everyone–the offbeat comedy might register more with New Yorkers, Jews and those not afraid to look at death unlike the fearful characters in the film. Before one dismisses this pic as a vulgarian work, as many did (it was refused a release date in England), bear in mind that Lumet said this was “the most personal picture I’ve ever made. These four post-Depression Jewish intellectuals are everyone I grew up with. Me, in fact.” Even though it never rises above its episodic gag levels, what I appreciated was how real these characters were, how natural they seemed and how Orthodox Jewish in spirit it was despite appearing so sacrilegious.
REVIEWED ON 4/21/2011 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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