Paramount Studios presents
Goodbye, Columbus (1969)
Neil: How can I make you understand? You want to know what my plans are for the future—I'm not planning anything. Besides, I'm not a planner, I'm a liver.
Brenda: I'm a pancreas.- Richard Benjamin, Ali MacGraw
Stars: Richard Benjamin, Ali MacGraw, Jack Klugman, Nan Martin
Director: Larry Peerce
MPAA Rating: PG for (suggestive scenes, brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:41m:43s
Release Date: 2004-06-08
DVD ReviewIn many ways, Goodbye, Columbus is little more than a poor man's The Graduate. Both are late-1960s tales of aimless young men who find bittersweet love in upper-crust suburbia. Yet instead of Dustin Hoffman in the lead, Columbus stars the bland Richard Benjamin; instead of Mike Nichols directing, workmanlike Larry Peerce takes the reins; and instead of a soundtrack by Simon & Garfunkel, songs are supplied by The Association. Don't get me wrong; I'm a huge fan of author Philip Roth, and regard him as one of America's finest contemporary writers, but Goodbye, Columbus works much better as a novella than a film. Maybe it's Roth's marvelous narrative style, his ear for dialogue, or his deft comic flair, but the cinematic adaptation of his incisive story of an average Jewish guy's love for a pampered JAP somehow falls flat.
From the moment Brenda Patimkin (Ali MacGraw) asks him to hold her sunglasses while she takes a dip in the country club pool, she intoxicates Neil Klugman (Benjamin) with her statuesque beauty, aristocratic aura, and come-hither attitude. But Neil is merely a guest at the club, an outsider looking in. He longs to join the ranks of the social elite, but disdains the empty-headed prattle and superior airs that distinguish it. Nevertheless, he pursues Brenda, who finds Neil's bookish background and working-class roots refreshingly attractive. Her nouveau-riche parents (Nan Martin and Jack Klugman) disagree, believing their princess daughter deserves much better than a schmuck from the Bronx. Yet Brenda relishes their disapproval, and enjoys rebelling against them by brazenly flaunting her relationship. As the summer progresses, Neil ingratiates himself into the Patimkin household, and his liaison with Brenda blossoms into a full-blown affair.
But where can their love possibly lead? After all, the Bronx and Westchester just don't mix.
It's always tough to adapt a great literary work for the screen, and while the film version of Goodbye, Columbus exhibits flashes of the novella's flavor, it never captures its spirit or tone. Peerce follows the blueprint of late '60s filmmaking, relying on choppy edits, quick zooms, and a jerky camera—instead of the story's satirical elements—to give his movie an edgy attitude. He also relishes the era's newfound sexual freedom, and tries hard to push the envelope. A scene featuring Neil and Brenda showering together seems specifically designed to titillate and shock, and the film surely holds the record for most uses per capita of the word "diaphragm."
At age 31, both Benjamin and MacGraw are too old for their parts, but still manage to evoke the elation and angst of young love. Benjamin won't win any swimsuit pageants, but the actor's lanky build, jell-o physique, and unrequited desire for the all-American girl makes him a very relatable hero. Neil Klugman stands as Benjamin's finest acting hour, and he files an engaging comic portrayal in his feature film debut.
Few major movie stars possess less talent than the cringe-inducing MacGraw, yet she too contributes her best work (which isn't saying a whole lot), also in her film debut. One can see why MacGraw made such a huge splash as Brenda, with her patrician looks, dazzling smile, and cool demeanor stealing focus in every scene. She can pout, sulk, giggle, and bat her eyes with the best of them, but when the film turns dramatic during its last act, her pitiful ineptitude takes center stage. MacGraw crashes and burns, and, sadly, takes the film down with her.
Peerce acutely lampoons both Jewish and Westchester stereotypes, and the supporting cast wrings plenty of chuckles from their exaggerated characters. The social commentary, however, doesn't possess the necessary sting to make it memorable, and though the film tries to faithfully follow the written story, many of the best moments get lost in the translation. As a pleasant summer diversion and stroll down memory lane, Goodbye, Columbus fills the bill. But to really experience this humorous and touching story, take Philip Roth's book to the beach instead.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Paramount has once again produced a superb transfer for one of its catalog titles. Although Goodbye, Columbus is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, it looks as fresh as the proverbial daisy, thanks to a spotless source print, lush and vivid colors, and terrific clarity. Fleshtones remain true and stable throughout, and just a hint of grain maintains the 1960s period flavor. No evidence of edge enhancement or other digital tinkering distracts from this very fine effort.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The top-notch picture deserves equally bright sound, but sadly, the mono audio shows its age. Dialogue is often muffled and a flatness of tone pervades the track, robbing it of any fullness or depth. No surface defects or distortion intrude, but the audio never comes to life like it should, even during the songs by The Association.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: True to form, Paramount includes no extras on this catalog release. Reuniting Benjamin and MacGraw for a commentary track would have been priceless, but, alas, remains a fantasy.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsGoodbye, Columbus evokes the flavor of the 1960s and possesses some amusing moments, but lacks the flair and bite of Philip Roth's novella. Paramount honors the film with a fine transfer, but it can't make up for the story's lackluster treatment.
David Krauss 2004-06-06