The In-Laws (1979)
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The plot is that a CIA operative and a dentist, played superbly and respectively by Peter Falk and Alan Arkin, are about to become in-laws because their two children are to be married. But Falk, about to retire from his clandestine duties, needs Arkin's help to pull off one final mission. From beginning to end the antics of these two will leave you in side-splitting humor. And the performance by Richard Libertini as a South American dictator is equal to Falk and Arkin's contribution to this classic comedy.
If you want to see an intelligent and realistic film that is extremely funny from start to finish then this is it. Don't miss it!
Serpentine, Shel, serpentine!!!
If you have no idea what I'm talking about, treat yourself to this classic. If you like Monty Python, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and the like, you will absolutely enjoy The In Laws.
I think the character of Vince (Peter Falk) is the key. At the start of the film we are convinced that he is a loud-mouthed schmuck with criminal tendencies, embarrassing and unpleasant to be around. This image slowly begins to crack, and although his behavior doesn't change one iota from start to finish, our perception of him does. So much so that by the close of the film we come to see him as a man of heroic qualities, gracious, and modest to boot. It's a very clever transformation and it's achieved via a plot that spirals hilariously out of control at dazzling speeds.
And of course the other joy of the film is the unlikely relationship which develops under fire between the zany CIA operative Falk and Alan Arkin as the dull but respectable dentist.
For me, this film carries the same buttoned-down lunacy of a great Bob and Ray routine, only sustained for 90 minutes, with hardly a sagging line or note. Get through the first five minutes, a fairly routine armored car robbery and a protracted stairwell run, and you will not be sorry, because the rest of "The In-Laws" is so funny, it will take you three or four eager viewings before you appreciate just how brilliant beyond belief it is. At least that's what happened with me.
It's a strangely genial film, its approach personified in Peter Falk's "friend of the world" interpretation of Vince Ricardo. There's nothing that phases him, or is too minute to warrant some breezily cheery comment, like "Is this coffee freeze-dried? It's very good." Or "The benefits [for belonging to the CIA] are terrific. The trick is not to get killed. That's the whole key to the benefits package."
Ricardo's approach is exemplified in an apron he is seen wearing at a barbeque: "I'm loaded with options." That he is, and screenwriter Bergman, too. In a somewhat desultory but still necessary DVD commentary for "In-Laws" fanatics like me, it is revealed by Bergman and director Arthur Hiller reveal the key moment for the screenplay is a fairly straight and jokeless scene between Alan Arkin's Dr. Kornpett and his daughter, where she urges him not to reject Ricardo because of his subliminated sexual jealousy about losing his daughter to Ricardo's son in marriage. Okay, maybe that does read funny, but it doesn't come across as funny.
The way the scene works, once the hapless dentist hears this, he is screwed. He has to help out Ricardo, in an inane flight from the government into the arms of the only Latin American dictator who's national flag features a topless woman, and whose apparent deputy is a Senor Wences hand puppet. You just follow along the same way Dr. Kornpett does, never knowing what to expect next, and, unlike him, enjoying it all the way through.
This film isn't laughs for everyone. Senator Jesus Braunsweiger's next-of-kin and BMW enthusiasts will find plenty to mourn. But for everyone else seeing it for the first time, it will be a joy forever, and a bit of a puzzlement: Why isn't this comedy better-known? Why don't people quote it as readily as "Caddyshack," "The Blues Brothers" or other lesser, contemporary fare?
One last thing: Alan Arkin's performance is maybe the best thing in the movie. I only realized this after repeat viewings. He's not the funniest comic actor around, frankly I never found his stuff that good in the other films of his I've seen, but here he makes the thing work. I wanted to say something about this containing the best straight-man work since Bud Abbott, but the more I see it, the less I'm sure who's the straight man. So many of the great lines are his: "There are flames on my car." "Flies with beaks?" "A Zee? A Zee?" "What flow? There isn't any flow." And to think his first line in the movie is a complaint about the viscosity of his dental bibs.
Just shut me up and go see it already. Or see it again. There's worse things you could do with your time, and not much better.
The reason that Kornpett is suspicious is he is not quite certain what to make of Ricardo. They only met at Kornpett's house the night before, for a dinner party introducing the families of the bride (Kornpett's) and groom (Ricardo's) to each other. Ricardo acted...well oddly. He told tales of his business travels in Central America, including how in one country babies are being carried off by huge bats that are protected by the Guacamole Act of 1917. Kornpett hears this with a blank face, although his eyes do bug out a little in disbelief. Later, when Ricardo gets testy with his son over a comment about the former not being home enough, Kornpett can't believe the near rage that Ricardo demonstrates at the table. So his suspicions about his future in-law seem well based.
Shortly, after being chased and nearly killed by two men who are after the items that Kornpett picked up, the suspicions seem confirmed. Ricardo explains to him, over pea soup in a restaurant, that he actually is not a successful salesman but a C.I.A. operative (a photo in Ricardo's office confirms this: it is of President Kennedy, and the autograph refers to the Bay of Pigs Invasion). He is in the middle of a critically important mission in Latin America dealing with international finance and a conspiracy against the richest nations. Kornpett hears him out, and is upset to hear that there is more material that Ricardo hid in Kornpett's home the night before. He wants no part of it, and leaves to go home - only to find the police there. He flees, and does evade capture - at the cost of having his car repainted in a way he never would have wanted it to look.
Soon Kornpett is forced to join forces with Ricardo, and enters the deadly serious but (here) quite farcical world of international espionage and intrigue. At the end of the road is the ringleader of the conspiracy, General Garcia (Richard Libertini) who has a special little friend that makes Al Pacino's little friend in SCARFACE lethal but sensible in comparison.
THE IN-LAWS is funny. Arkin with his tight-ass repressive personality works well against the free-wheeling, anything goes Falk. Libertini appears only in the films last twenty minutes, but he does equally nicely as the ultimate in screw-ball dictators. Well supported by a cast including Nancy Dussault, Arlene Golonka, Penny Peyser, Michael Lembeck, and Ed Begley Jr. the film is just a laugh fest until the happy ending. As mentioned elsewhere in these comments Arkin and Falk should have made several films together. They have only done one other movie together since THE IN-LAWS. Pity.
The story is wild and off the wall. Peter Falk's secret agent guy is too, and he has you and co-star Alan Arkin guessing whether he is a legitimate government agent, or some kind of schizophrenic maniac. The two are the respective dads of two soon to be wed kids, and their shenanigans take precedence over their offspring and the upcoming nuptials. Arkin's straight-laced everyman who rapidly waxes panicky, then neurotic due to being suddenly cast in the bizarre world of Falk makes for brilliantly hilarious contrast between the two.
Needless to say, Falk is on a case and gets Arkin inexorably caught up in the situation, which soon degenerates into a wild romp with loud explosions, shootings, and other confusion. The "Serpentine!" routine is a classic of riotous buffoonery.
Falk and Arkin understand comedy, and manipulate it well. Their comic chemistry is worthy of comparison to some of the classic duos over the years, as they ping-pong the lunacy back and forth with expert timing and delivery. This original is far better than its recent remake, and is recommended.
Although exaggerated for humor, the small dictatorship where much of the film occurs was much more like the banana republics, which were more a part of Central America and the Caribbean during this era, than one might assume today.
Falk and Arkin were absolutely outstanding as a comedy duo, and one wishes that perhaps they had been coupled in other work as well.
Unlike most other films - even among the best - this picture had no slow or dull parts. The entire period on-screen was a continually interesting and humorous presentation.
I liked the "re-make" of this film better than most seemed to, perhaps because of liking Michael Douglas' and Albert Brooks' work so much. But it was re-made in name only, and like most fell short of its predecessor (Martin and Hawn in "The Out-of-Towners" is an even better example).
Catch this film when possible, not only for its humor, per se, but as a fine piece of nostalgia.
From the improbable opening of the film through the first contact the two principals, the film gives few hints to a first-time viewer where it's going.
Possible spoilers follow.
To me, one highpoint in the film is the dinner, where Vince relates his experiences in the jungle. His explanation, "There's a lot of red tape in the bush," is the capper to an unusual tale.
Subsequent viewings of the film show just how well crafted it is. Little items that seem random take on meaning when a viewer knows what's coming next.
As soon as I saw it was available on VHS, I picked up a copy. The same when I found it on DVD. Doubtless the best comedy of its decade.