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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
California Suite (1978)

Billy: Well, except for an extremely critical decision that's still to be made, it's been a nice day. What do you say, Hannah?
Hannah: I'm out of cigarettes.

- Alan Alda, Jane Fonda

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: January 08, 2002

Stars: Alan Alda, Michael Caine, Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, Walter Matthau, Elaine May, Richard Pryor, Maggie Smith
Other Stars: James Coburn, Herbert Edelman, Dana Plato
Director: Herbert Ross

Manufacturer: DVDS
MPAA Rating: PG for (language, sexual themes)
Run Time: 01h:42m:29s
Release Date: January 02, 2002
UPC: 043396077270
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-A-B+ D-

DVD Review

While it's often said that comedy comes from conflict, I get extremely tired of 1970s' and 1980s' comedies that try to find humor through incessant screaming matches. Neil Simon's take on west coast life, through the eyes of a number of couples from elsewhere all staying in a single California hotel, is such a failed comedy, though it is occasionally salvaged by its excellent cast.

Five couples are dealing with their difficulties in various California suites. Actresss Diana Barrie (Maggie Smith) and husband Sidney (Michael Caine) are in town for the Oscars, for one of which she's nominated (oddly enough, Smith won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar ® for this movie). Scriptwriter Billy Warren (Alan Alda) is meeting with ex-wife New Yorker Hannah (Jane Fonda) to decide what to do with their daughter Jenny (Dana Plato), who has fled from Hannah's shrewish clutches to the arms of her touchy-feely dad. Of course, no one could do that better than Alda. Marvin Michaels (Walter Matthau) ends up with a young blonde hooker in his bed, and desperately tries to hide her when his wife Millie (Elaine May) shows up. Finally, doctors Chauncey Gump (Richard Pryor) and Willis Panama (Bill Cosby) and their wives are at each others' throats because their vacation is endlessly getting botched up, at Chauncey's expense.

As noted above, much of the time is spent in arguing and backbiting, none of it particularly amusing. While the jabs that Fonda gives the doughy Alda sometimes approach wit in their caustic character, it's like making fun of the mentally retarded; it just comes off as mean-spirited and unfunny. Cosby and Pryor can be funny, but they're not here. Someone should have recognized that using Pryor in a vehicle that is heavily scripted is a bad, bad idea. Even their climactic slapstick battle comes off as awkward and calculated, which is utterly terminal to comedy. Maggie Smith isn't exactly hilarious, but she does indeed turn in an excellent performance with a multitude of facets in a fairly brief screen time. She really stands out here as the one person giving a well-rounded performance. The great Elaine May is pretty much wasted in a tiny role nearly the end; when she is on the screen, things perk up, but that's all too brief. Walter Matthau, as always, plays Walter Matthau, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Although I found this distinctly non-gut-busting, at least director Ross kept things moving at a fairly decent clip for the most part. The Alda-Fonda story bogs down a bit at times, especially with improbabilities: would a woman that hates her ex this much really go to the beach with him in his girlfriend's bikini? I may not know much about women, but that seems just a shade improbable.

Neil Simon is definitely a taste I've never acquired; he doesn't much make me laugh. Maybe folks on the east coast (like Jane Fonda's character) will find this funny. However, here in the Midwest I can't say this is worth more than a rental and then only if Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo is sold out.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is generally acceptable; hardly any frame damage is visible at all. Colors have a tendency to be pastel, but that's an intentional part of the color scheme here and perfectly adequate. Grain tends to be fairly heavy much of the time. Black levels are excellent. Edge enhancement is quite limited.

The full-frame side is an open-matte presentation of the picture, which looks quite good and the compositions aren't harmed too badly by the additional materials above and below the frame.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is quite good. The sound is clean and has good range. Claude Bolling's jazz score (sadly underused) comes through quite well with very appropriate bass. The opening sequence sounds a little shrill, until we realize that we're watching a film within a film, so this is clearly an intentional choice. The music on the French mono track sounds muffled and unpleasant.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Other than a plethora of subtitles (rather odd for a region-coded disc), there's absolutely nothing at all here. Chaptering is the Columbia standard 28 stops, which is more than adequate here.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Yet another unfunny Neil Simon comedy, given a barebones treatment. Presentation is okay for those who love the picture, but most others can give it a pass.


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