Popi (1969)


(director: Arthur Hiller; screenwriters: Les and Tina Pine; cinematographer: Andrew Laszlo; editor: Anthony Ciccolini; music: Dominic Frontiere; cast: Alan Arkin (Abraham/Popi), Rita Moreno (Lupe), Miguel Alejandro (Junior), Ruben Figueroa (Luis), John Harkins (Harmon), Arny Freeman (Mr. Diaz), Joan Tompkins (Miss Musto); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Herbert B. Leonard; MGM; 1969)
“Charming tearjerker sitcom comedy on the Puerto Rican experience in Spanish Harlem.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Charming tearjerker sitcom comedy on the Puerto Rican experience in Spanish Harlem. It tells of a widowed father struggling against all odds to give his two adolescent sons a better life. Though it’s charming and well-acted, it loses its ability to explore the Puerto Rican experience in America when it suddenly descends to an off-the-wall Hollywood sentimental screwball comedy. Arthur Hiller (“Love Story”/”Plaza Suite”/”The Hospital”) competently directs this amiable ethnic urban fairy tale with an assured touch, even though it eventually sinks from its leaky script. Les and Tina Pine write the illogical screenplay, that falters in its far-fetched climax. Alan Arkin is appropriately zany and heartwarming in his ethnic characterization, as he offers his offbeat version of realizing the American dream. The Arkin character is someone who might mean well, but is a bit off his noodle for us to directly relate his trip to the Puerto Rican experience.

Abraham ‘Popi’ Rodriguez (Alan Arkin ) is a middle-aged Puerto Rican widower raising his eleven and nine-year-old sons (Miguel Alejandro and Ruben Figueroa) in New York’s crime-ridden Spanish Harlem ghetto. He has two aims in life: to marry his hottie sex partner Lupe (Rita Moreno) and move to Brooklyn to a two bedroom apartment and, secondly, to find a way to ensure his sons have a good future. For years they have survived on Popi working at several jobs, but he fears he will one day lose the kiddies to the ghetto and to give them a better life while he still can work he’s willing to sacrifice everything for the kiddies–even his love for Lupe.

Popi schemes to pass the kiddies off as Cuban refugees, as he gives them rowing lessons in Central Park. He will set in motion his absurd plan by setting the kiddies adrift in a stolen motor boat off the coast of Florida, where he hopes they’ll be rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard, get a responsive media coverage when on US turf and be adopted by wealthy foster parents. Naturally, things go wrong with such a cockeyed plan and the climax leads to an unpredictable and bittersweet ending.

It was generally well-received by critics, but only did a modest box office.