The Warner Archive has reissued Paramount's DVD release of Goodbye, Columbus as a burn-to-order DVD title. The film caused a bit of a sensation in 1969 with its rather graphic- if comical- examination of a young couple's attempts to have a fulfilling sex life and the obstacles they encounter along the way. Based on Philip Roth's best-selling novella, the movie was released at an opportune time when such coming-of-age stories were able to speak to a new, rebellious generation. It was a sizable hit with critics and the public. Yet, the film never comes close to matching the impact of The Graduate, the movie it almost desperately tries to emulate. Richard Benjamin plays Neil Klugman, a young Jewish man living with his over-bearing aunt and uncle in a lower middle-class section of the Bronx. Invited to a swanky country club as a guest of a wealthy cousin, he lays eyes on Brenda Patimkin (Ali MacGraw), a stunningly beautiful college student who is home from Vassar on summer vacation. The two meet cute and before long Neil finds himself awkwardly introduced to Brenda's upper-crust family who reside in a lavish Westchester home, complete with live-in maid. Although Brenda is also Jewish, her parents disapprove of Neil from the outset. He is an ex-army veteran who seems to have no ambitions and is content with his job as a desk clerk in the local library. Brenda's father Ben (Jack Klugman in a fine performance) is a self-made man who can't understand Neil's lack of desire to make his own fortune. Even worse, Brenda's mother (Nan Martin) is a sneering snob who makes it obvious that Neil's social status will never allow her to accept him. Despite these challenges, Brenda and Neil use surreptitious means to make love wherever and whenever they can, including a daring gambit in which he sneaks into her bedroom while staying at the family house as a guest. Ultimately, as the date draws nearer for Brenda to return to school in Boston, the couple begins to worry if their love can survive being separated. The situation becomes rather grim when Neil discovers that Brenda has not been using any birth control methods, which puts a dent in his libido until he convinces her to get a diaphragm. This type of scenario in a film can be found in family comedies today, but back in '69 it was fairly ground-breaking stuff. The rather downbeat and realistic ending was also in contrast to most love stories of the period (even The Graduate ended on a high note.)
The film represented the big screen debuts of Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw (though Benjamin had been a familiar face on television for years and had starred in his own short-lived sit-com, He and She with real life wife Paula Prentiss.) Both give fine performances with Benjamin's every day guy appeal in full swing along with his ability for deadpan comedy. The problem is that both actors were far too old for the roles the character they portray. Benjamin was 30 years old at the time and MacGraw was 29-- and they look it. Thus, the film takes on a sense of absurdity to see the couple trying to sneak into the woods so they can make out. Benjamin in particular always looked older than his age and at times it appears as though he is starring in a May/December romance instead of a story about two-love struck kids of college age. Director Larry Peerce handles the proceedings adequately, if not exceptionally. He doesn't strive for big belly laughs but does overdo the Jewish ethnic types, especially in the film's climactic wedding sequence. Most of these characters are out of Central Casting, though there are some genuinely funny moments. Michael Meyers is memorably amusing as Ron, Brenda's affable older brother. He's a college jock with a brain the size of a pea- and despite being a lady's man, seems to have a penchant for touching Neil whenever possible. (Despite getting great reviews, Meyers apparently never acted again.) Arnold Schulman's Oscar-nominated screenplay takes the anti-Establishment aspects of the story to an extreme. Virtually every character other than Brenda and Neil are depicted in a grotesque or absurd manner in a rather pretensious bid to appeal to the youth market. The exception is Klugman's character who is given a beautifully written sequence in which he tells Brenda just how much his family means to him.
Another aspect of the movie that makes it look like a lite version of The Graduate is the use of a contemporary group to provide a hip musical score. However, while Simon and Garfunkel's masterful songs for The Graduate spoke to a generation, the soundtrack songs for Goodbye, Columbus are provided by The Association, the epitome of a white bread band from the 60s who specialized in memorable, but emotionally vacant tunes. This is borne out by the fact that none of the tracks the group sings in the film, including the title song, are the slightest bit memorable.
The Warner Archive DVD is the same transfer as the previous Paramount release, including the rather sloppy photo montage on the sleeve which seems to emulate the feel of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The film's original poster was far more haunting.The picture quality is fine but there are no bonus extras.
Goodbye, Columbus doesn't resonate today as it once did to audiences in 1969..but it can be recommended as an interesting comment on a generation struggling to come to terms with the lightning-fast pace of the societal changes during that era.
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