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GOODBYE, COLUMBUS(director: Larry Peerce; screenwriters: from a Philip Roth novel/Arnold Schulman; cinematographer: Gerald Hirschfeld; editor: Ralph Rosenblum; music: Charles Fox; cast: Richard Benjamin (Neil Klugman), Ali MacGraw (Brenda Patimkin), Jack Klugman (Ben Patimkin), Nan Martin (Mrs. Ben Patimkin), Michael Meyers (Ron Patimkin), Lori Shelle (Julie Patimkin), Sylvie Strause (Aunt Gladys), Monroe Arnold (Uncle Leo Patimkin), Kay Cummings (Doris Klugman), Royce Wallace (Carlotta), Gail Ommerle (Harriet); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Stanley R. Jaffe; Paramount; 1969)
“This well-observed comedy knows the American Jewish bourgeois scene well.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Philip Roth’s prize-winning novella, a scathing satire of a nouveau riche Jewish family, has been brilliantly adapted for the screen by Arnold Schulman (received an Academy nomination) and directed by Larry Peerce (his father is the great opera singer Jan Peerce). Somehow it slipped under the radar and as far as I’m concerned is both funnier and more perceptive than even The Graduate, an earlier drama about young adults.

Richard Benjamin, in his film debut, is Neil Klugman, the clean-cut handsome but poor and unambitious librarian from the Bronx, living with his Aunt Gladys because his Newark parents retired to Arizona for health reasons. Neil is attracted to the sexy looking Jewish American Princess named Brenda Patimkin (Ali MacGraw, in her first starring role), a Radcliffe coed, he spots by the pool at a fancy country club where he’s a guest of his cousin Doris. Neil calls the Westchester County resident, living on a luxury estate, for a date. Brenda doesn’t remember him or know Doris, but after Neil charms her on the phone with his wit they meet after she has a tennis game. This gets him an invite to her house and a chance to meet the family. Big brother Ron (Michael Meyers) is an amiable, not too bright, backslapping tallish jock who just graduated from Ohio State and is fond of playing a record of Goodbye Columbus to pump him up of those fond memories of his college days he already dearly misses. Little sister Julie is a spoiled brat, who is daddy’s favorite. Mrs. Patimkin (Nan Martin) is a bitchy snob who disapproves of Neil because he’s from the other side of the tracks and has a job that is beneath her daughter’s expectation. The patriarch, Ben Patimkin (Jack Klugman), also disapproves but is not as vocal in his disapproval because he believes time will take care of the relationship. Ben owns a successful plumbing supply business, and is proud that he’s such a good provider for his family and never had to read books.

Warning: spoiler to follow in next paragraph.

Neil stays in the Patimkin house for the remainder of the summer as a guest and talks Brenda into getting a diaphragm, as they manage to sleep together undetected. The summer ends with Ron marrying Harriet. The heart of the film is the beautiful traditional Jewish marriage ceremony and the rich reception, filmed in detail and in all its vulgarity (the guests eat like chazzers and are very loud). The beauty of the film is that it lets you observe what outsider Neil is seeing (he’s both fascinated and repulsed by the upscale snobbish family). Roth’s sharp dialogue remains intact, and provides Neil with a sarcastic wit–his only defense against these monsters. In the fall, Brenda returns to college and Neil to the Bronx. They’ll meet once again when he visits her by bus in college and she informs him that her mom discovered her diaphragm, as the affair ends as abruptly as it began.

The superb ensemble cast couldn’t do anything wrong. This well-observed comedy knows the American Jewish bourgeois scene well and, for that matter, the American Dream. Roth’s work attacks the middle-class for their materialism, conformity and choosing of a love mate based on the superficiality of appearances.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”