Alan Arkin in 'The In-Laws,' Making a Comedy Classic
Serving as executive producer, the actor spearheaded a comedy classic, teaming with Peter Falk, director Arthur Hiller and writer Andrew Bergman.
Alan Arkin recently passed away at the age of 89, after a remarkable career that began in the late 1950s. I first saw him in Norman Jewison's The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966). As I wrote about his performance in Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins (1975):
"Appearing opposite strong actors, Arkin always appears to mesh well. He manifests his characters quietly; they are always convincing and come across as quite authentic."
Previous to that film, Arkin made the wonderfully rambunctious Freebie and the Bean (1974) opposite James Caan, which comes up in the audio commentary that is included in the Criterion Collection edition of The In-Laws (1979), released last year on Blu-ray. The audio commentary is a fabulous conversation between Alan Arkin, Peter Falk, director Arthur Hiller and writer Andrew Bergman.
In a separate interview, also included on the disc, Arkin says that he read Bergman's original script for Blazing Saddles (1973), which he thought was better than the film, and kept him in mind for future projects. Arkin is the one who talked to Peter Falk about possibly working together -- Falk says that Arkin suggested it as a sequel to Freebie and the Bean, which Arkin doesn't remember -- pitched an Arkin/Falk movie to John Calley, Warner Bros. studio executive, recruited director Arthur Hiller, and then asked Bergman to write a comedy in which Falk would be tormenting Arkin.
Bergman struggled, and then hit upon the idea that they could be in-laws. Three months later, the 145-page script (?!) was done, Arkin loved it, Falk agreed to do it, Hiller loved it, and they were off to make a comedy that, the four agreed, was entirely enjoyable to make and produce.
By June 1979, I was a movie fan, but not yet very adventurous. Earlier in the year, I'd seen Milos Forman's Hair, James Bridges' The China Syndrome, Jonathan Kaplan's Over the Edge, but that was it, as I recall. (Later, I'd catch up with many more from the first six months, in repertory screenings and on home video when that became a thing.) I wasn't even aware of The In-Laws, in particular, but a group of friends was heading to see it in Westwood, so I jumped in the van too.
With no expectations at all, and with no idea what I was about to see, except that it starred Alan Arkin and Peter Falk, I didn't expect much, which was a great set-up to be bowled over by one of the funniest movies I'd ever seen. Years later, I went to see the remake with Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks, which was the exact opposite; it felt like strained torture, which I allowed to color my memory of the original.
Browsing The Criterion Channel the other night for something to stream, Alan Arkin in Conversation caught my eye. It's a lovely conversation between Alan Arkin and his son, actor/filmmaker Adam Arkin, in which father tells son about the first movie he watched with his father, son tells father about the first movie he watched with his father. It's a fabulous interview, made poignant by the elder Arkin's recent passing, and reminded me, of course, of my own father, and watching movies with him.
It also reminded me that I bought The In-Laws on Criterion Blu-ray during a flash sale last year, and prompted me to pop it open and pop it into my 4K player, which nicely upscaled the image to my 4K television, and soon I was in 4K heaven.
The film has the look of warm, subdued color that I associate with celluloid and the 1970s, and so that was pleasant. (The disc features a new 2K restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.) Even better, the film is better than I remembered, and all the jokes are still funny. Andrew Bergman is a great writer. Alan Arkin and Peter Falk are superb actors. Arthur Hiller is a better director than I realized.
Listening to the audio commentary, recorded in 2003, was like sitting at a table with them as they relaxed and watched the movie with you, recalling all the good times, as well as the occasional doubts or challenges. Criterion's edition also includes a newly-recorded, 18-minute conversation with Alan Arkin, and In Support of The In-Laws, a newly-recorded 24-minute segment, featuring supporting actors Ed Beglay Jr, Nancy Dussault, James Hong, and David Paymer. Both are excellent features that are full of insights and nuggets of valuable information.
A printed booklet (not a fold-out) is also included, featuring an essay by Stephen Winer, a comedy writer, who superbly dissects the how and why the film is a great comedy. The booklet also features director Arthur Hiller's recollections on the movie, from his unpublished 2011 memoir.
"Serpentine! Serpentine!" [Now available on Blu-ray and DVD from The Criterion Collection.]