(director: Carl Reiner; screenwriter: from the book by Robert Klane/Robert Klane; cinematographer: Jack Priestley; editor: Bud Molin; music: Jack Elliott; cast: George Segal (Gordon Hocheiser), Ruth Gordon (Mrs. Hocheiser), Ron Leibman (Sidney Hocheiser), Trish VanDevere (Louise Callan), Barnard Hughes (Col. Hendriks), Vincent Gardenia (Coach Williams), Rae Allen (Gladys Hocheiser), Paul Sorvino (Owner of Gus & Grace’s Home), Rob Reiner (Activist), Garrett Morris (Mugger); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jerry Tokofsky/Marvin Worth; United Artists; 1970)

“It’s the Mother of all Jewish-mother joke films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Carl Reiner (“Enter Laughing”/The Comic) directs this off-the-wall black comedy, specializing in gross-out humor, that’s adapted from the book by Robert Klane, who also provided the screenplay. It’s the Mother of all Jewish-mother joke films.

It opens with Manhattan apartment dweller bachelor Gordon Hocheiser (George Segal) awakening in the morning, listening to the “Rambling with Gambling” radio show while taking care of his usual sanitary body routines. He then goes into his elderly mother’s bedroom donning a gorilla suit as he tries to scare her to death, but she takes it as an amusing antic and punches him in the balls. Gordon’s a New York City attorney whose love life is ruined by interference from his senile, coarse and rude mother (Ruth Gordon), but he refuses to put her in a nursing home because of a deathbed promise to take care of her at home he and his married brother Sid (Ron Leibman) made to their poppa. All the home nurses quit after contact with the impossible mother, but there’s hope when Gordon hires a sweet inexperienced nurse from the same hometown as Jack Benny, Louise Callan (Trish VanDevere). The virginal Louise was married for 32 hours to a sweet man before securing a divorce, because on their honeymoon the groom took a dump in the bed after intercourse and felt good about it. Louise is thrilled about getting the job and promptly falls in love with the smitten lawyer.

The batty Mrs. Hocheiser fouls things up over dinner by embarrassing the nurse with her vulgarity (biting Gordon’s tush, in the film’s most talked about scene), so she runs out in horror. The desperate Gordon calls up Sid to come over immediately or he’ll throw momma out the window, and he has to go through his angry wife (Rae Allen) by threatening to choke their child to get out of the house. In Sid’s rush, he cuts through Central Park and meets the same group of black muggers who always hassle him and he always tells them he has no money on him, except this time they make him do a Cornel Wilde move he did in The Naked Prey (1966).

The filmmaker draws in many neurotic NYC characters into the drama: such as a Colonel back from the Viet Nam War pressing charges against Gordon’s activist client who cut off his toe in a protest to all the military ribbons on his chest, and when questioned on the stand by the prosecutor the Colonel delivers a loony oration of how he loves to kill gooks; a cabbie skips by a black lady to pick up Sid dressed in a gorilla suit even though he’s making wild stabbing gestures at the cab; an undercover cop dressed as a woman is raped in Central Park by Sid–who was forced to by the muggers–but the cop refuses to press charges because he enjoyed it so much and instead sends roses; and, the final hilarious search for a nursing home that leads to Gus & Grace’s Home, where the sole worker in charge of the 73 seniors is the crazed proprietor (Paul Sorvino), who runs a nursing home from hell that Gordon would only be too glad to dump his mom in if there was an opening.

The offensive comedy is delightfully irresistible, and if it weren’t censored it would have probably been even more hilarious.

Where's Poppa? Poster