2017 TCM Classic Film Festival
Introduced at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival by Alicia Malone, Barefoot in the Park (1967) is a romantic comedy starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. Malone called it one of her “all time favorites” and described the journey from stage to screen of the Neil Simon play. She noted that Elizabeth Ashley starred in the play on Broadway with Redford.
The story contrasts button-down lawyer Paul Bratter (Redford) with his free-spirited new bride, Corie (Fonda). As the film begins, the newlyweds honeymoon in a luxury hotel. After a week in their room, duty calls Paul back to the office. Corie wants to keep the party going. Wearing a pajama top and little else, Fonda is the American Bardot!
Directed by Gene Saks, that luxuriousness ends when the couple moves into their fifth floor walk up apartment in Greenwich Village. The beginning of the movie opens up the play considerably with location shots around the city. Unfortunately, once they’re in the walk-up, they rarely leave the building with running gags about the flight of stairs and the lack of heat. We also meet a series of New York types including the quirky neighbors and a put upon telephone installation guy (Herb Edelman).
Charles Boyer sends up his continental image as neighbor Victor. Mildred Natwick is the meddling mother-in-law. Natwick and Edelman reprised their stage roles.
Simon’s script has little to do with the societal changes happening in 1967. From the same year, The Graduate also concerns traditional topics but feels more relevant. For example, Ben and Elaine, a Berkeley student, visit clubs on the Sunset Strip during their courtship.
Simon keeps it traditional, recycling old vaudeville skits and mother-in-law jokes. Fonda and Redford are the reason to keep watching. There’s an innocence to their character’s relationship that’s appealing. It’s pre-feminist, however, with hints of what’s to come in society with Corie’s frustration as a stay-at-home wife. The pairing is comfortable and the public responded. They made several movies together including The Chase (1966) and The Electric Horseman (1979).
Hal B. Wallis produced. Neil Hefti composed the score. Veteran cinematographer Joseph LaShelle makes the most visually of Barefoot in the Park’s deliberately dull-looking sets. Costume designer Edith Head outfitted Fonda in earth-toned suede jackets and boots.
Bosley Crowther in the New York Times savaged the film.
For Mr. Simon has decided to try to jazz up the film script with some of the silliest, sloppiest intrusions of sexual ardor ever put in a so-called family film; and Gene Saks, directing his first movie, has paced it so unevenly and allowed such glaring mismatches of scenic backgrounds and even of gag sequences that it looks as though his costly picture was made by people who didn’t know their way around.
I don’t disagree entirely about the construction. Watching today, however, the film benefits from nostalgia and the joy of watching Fonda and Redford relatively early in their careers.