Sometimes when I watch movies today, I miss the days of clever repartee between the characters, and it makes me long for the days of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. But recently, I watched an old movie on TV written by Neil Simon, and once again I was reminded what a talented playwright can do with his choice of words. Below are my picks for the best Neil Simon plays which have been made into movies.
Barefoot in the Park
Neil Simon wrote this play in 1963, and later in 1967 it was made into a movie starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford as Corie and Paul Bratter. The newlyweds move into a small Greenwich Village apartment building where she meets her eccentric neighbor, Victor Valasco, played by the marvelous Charles Boyer. Corie begins to realize that her new husband is too serious and conservative, and the humor unfolds as they go through the challenges of beginning their lives together.
The Odd Couple
One of the more popular film versions of Simon’s plays is The Odd Couple. This movie was released in 1968 and starred Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau as Felix Unger and Oscar Madison. This play was also later developed into a TV show. When Felix leaves his wife and moves into his friend’s Oscar’s apartment, the two men find living together difficult because Oscar is a slob, and Felix is a compulsive cleaner. Like any new couple, their contrasts create havoc for each of them.
The Sunshine Boys
One of my favorites of the Simon plays is The Sunshine Boys. The play is loosely based on the comedy team of Lewis and Clark who were extremely popular in the days of Vaudeville, but grew to hate each other during their forty-year career. George Burns and Walter Matthau star as the two crotchety old comics who are asked to reunite for a TV retrospective. The two bantering throughout their reunion and their attempts to irritate each other makes this movie very entertaining.
More on a serious side is Plaza Suite. Walter Matthau stars with Maureen Stapleton, Barbara Harris and Lee Grant in this Simon movie. The story involves interaction between couples while staying in a Plaza Hotel suite. Not only is their laughter, but as is the case with many Simon plays, there is truth in the lines as well as pathos.
The Goodbye Girl
Although The Goodbye Girl was released as a movie in 1977, I prefer the version made for Turner Network Television in 2004 starring Jeff Daniels and Patricia Heaton. Heaton’s character is a woman dumped by her live-in boyfriend, who then sublets his apartment to Jeff Daniels’ character without Heaton’s knowledge. Eventually, the two fall in love, but Heaton is unsure of Daniels because of her former boyfriend. There is a lot of great comedy while the two are learning how to cohabitate, and some really good scenes involving Heaton’s on-screen daughter.
So next time you find yourself locked in by bad weather on a Saturday afternoon, any of these Neil Simon classics would be an entertaining way to spend the day. Just remember to keep the popcorn and tissues handy.