Cinema: Income & Pattable

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Barefoot in the Park is one of the few plays to be reincarnated on-screen while playing on the Broadway stage. Happily, it loses little in transition.

Essentially, Author Neil Simon has taken a plot as bland as a potato, sliced it into thin bits—and made it as hard to resist as potato chips. Two spoiled young honeymooners (Robert Redford and Jane Fonda) settle into a six-flight walkup in Greenwich Village. In Ogden Nash's phrase, "a little incompatibility is the spice of life, particularly if he has income and she is pattable." And so it proves in Barefoot. The puny pad she has chosen has no heat, no bathtub, and a hole in the skylight.

When Redford remonstrates, Fonda starts sniping—only to sign a false charmistice when her middle-class mother (Mildred Natwick) arrives. Before long, they are joined by a randy reprobate of a neighbor (Charles Boyer) known as "the Bluebeard of Tenth Street." Bluebeard leads the way to an Albanian hash house that serves such delicacies as black salad and ouzo. The foursome eventually wend their way home, whereupon Fonda and Redford drunkenly declare all-out war.

She is a nut, he declares, whose idea of fun is walking barefoot in the park in 17° weather. "Your laundry arrived," she simpers. "They stuffed your shirts beautifully." But if the couple's happiness seems as short as their tempers, their misery is just as temporary. By the final reel they are neck and neck in a race for the bed, and even Natwick and Boyer have found something in common-stomach trouble.

The film is not an original-cast production. Sly substitutions have been made, notably Fonda for Broadway's Elizabeth Ashley. Jane's performance is the best of her career: a clever caricature of a sex kitten who can purr or scratch with equal intensity. Among the tastiest leftovers from the stage are Redford as the harassed groommate and Mildred Natwick, skittering on the edge of hysteria as she articulates the film's philosophy to her daughter: "Make him feel important. If you do that, you'll have a happy and wonderful marriage, like two out of every ten couples."