Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Film Review: SO FINE (1981)

"Why the Hell isn't this on DVD yet?" Volume 2

SO FINE (1981 WB) Starring Ryan O'Neal, Jack Warden, Richard Kiel, Mariangela Melato, Fred Gwynne. Written and directed by Andrew Bergman.

Sidesplittingly funny comedy written and directed (his debut) by Bergman (THE IN-LAWS) and starring Ryan O'Neal and Jack Warden (USED CARS). SO FINE always reminds me of those two films, both among my favorites of a rich late 1970's/early 1980's period for outrageous comedy. Like USED CARS, this film features Jack Warden at his most quotable and profane, and features a former MUNSTERS star playing a key, authoritative supporting role. And like THE IN-LAWS, this film has Bergman's wacky touch and he takes you in unexpected directions from beginning to end.

Ryan O'Neal, an experienced straight man for screwball craziness, is a professor up for tenure at his small university who is kidnapped by goons working for 7'2" loan shark Richard Kiel.  Kiel is owed six figures (seven with vigorish) by O'Neal's dad, failing dress designer Jack Warden, and wants "new blood" within Fine Fashions in the person of O'Neal, who knows nothing about the dress business. To complicate matters, Mr. Eddie's trophy wife (hilarious Mariangela Melato) falls for Ryan at first sight, subtly telling him "I f**k around" as soon as Kiel is out of earshot.

Bergman does a superb job with the pacing, keeping you from dwelling on the more implausible plot elements, and as always, he sets up numerous wild and funny situations: O'Neal's repeated attempts to get out from under Kiel's bed without literally waking the sleeping giant; Warden trying to steal customers inside a posh department store ("We call this real cheap sh*t!"); Kiel's gangster making an unlikely stage debut as Othello ("the sonofabitch can sing!" Warden exclaims) and O'Neal's unexpected emergence as a fashion innovator. While updating the classic screwball comedy, Bergman finds space to pay homage to both The Marx Brothers' A NIGHT AT THE OPERA and Shakespeare's MERCHANT OF VENICE.  Not a bad day's work.

As noted above, Warden is every bit as hilarious as he was as Roy L. Fuchs in USED CARS, but most of the really good lines are either his or Melato's, as opposed to Zemeckis' film, where the funniest lines were more evenly distributed. And while the film is consistently funny, it does lose some steam during the too-silly opera finale ("a sudden burst of surrealism!"). These are minor gripes though.

Ryan O'Neal's charmed life at the box office had come to an end by the early 1980's, and SO FINE had disappointing returns in September 1981.  It's still a very underrated film, every bit as funny as Bergman's later THE FRESHMAN and O'Neal's WHAT'S UP DOC?, and worthy of release and rediscovery on DVD.

So, why isn't this on DVD yet?

Ryan O'Neal isn't the biggest name these days (MALIBU'S MOST WANTED, anyone?); the film did poorly during its initial release.

Why it should be available on DVD:

Bottom line: it's very funny.

Almost all of Bergman's other films are available on DVD and this one should be too.

THE IN-LAWS had a terrific commentary with director, writer, and both leads available. All the principals would be available for a similar one here.

If THE DEVIL AND MAX DEVLIN, WHOLLY MOSES! and other box office bombs from the same time period are out on DVD, then this much better film deserves a release too.


Arch said...

I love this movie and remember when it came out.I love the classic line by Jack Warden, when he's looking down on Ryan O'Neal, "that's just the way i used to f**k"! Keep up the good review's.

DavidEhrenstein said...

This movie is an absolute masterpiece -- the only film made in recent memory comparable to the best of preston Sturges.

You can order it on DVD direct from Warner Bros.