The Out-of-Towners (1970)

Fifty-one years ago today, the film The Out-of-Towners premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York before a general release on June 24 in 326 theaters in all major US cities. It is impossible to choose my favorite Jack Lemmon film or my favorite Neil Simon film, but this is on the short list. I really love this movie, it is so much fun to watch.

Title: The Out-of-Towners
Directed by: Arthur Hiller
Produced by: Paul Nathan
Written by: Neil Simon
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Sandy Dennis, Anne Meara, Sandy Baron, Ann Prentiss, Paul Dooley, Ron Carey, Dolph Sweet, Anthony Holland, Graham Jarvis, and Johnny Brown
Music by: Quincy Jones
Cinematography: Andrew Laszlo
Production Company: Jalem Productions
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release date: May 28, 1970
Running time: 98 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Box office: $7,250,000

The plot revolves around Gwen and George Kellerman, whose company has invited him to interview for a possible job promotion in New York City. From the moment they depart their home town of Twin Oaks, Ohio, the couple suffers nearly every indignity out-of-towners possibly could experience: Heavy air traffic and dense fog forces their flight to circle around JFK Airport and the New York skyline for hours before finally being rerouted to Boston’s Logan Airport, where they discover their luggage – in which George’s ulcer medication and Gwen’s extra cash are packed – was left behind.

Just missing the train at South Station in Boston, they chase it to the next stop by cab, board it (it is extremely overcrowded), and wait two hours for seats in the dining car, only to discover the only food left is peanut butter sandwiches, green olives, and crackers, with nothing to drink but tonic water and clam juice (“but they ain’t cold”). Upon arrival at Grand Central Terminal in New York by 2:00am, they discover that the city’s subway and bus drivers, taxicab drivers, and sanitation workers are all on strike. Making their way the eight long city blocks to the Waldorf-Astoria on foot past tons of garbage in a torrential downpour, they discover upon arrival at the hotel their reservation, guaranteed for a 10:00pm arrival – it is now nearly 3:00am – has been given away, and the hotel, like every other one in the city, is booked to capacity due to the strikes.

What follows is a series of calamities that includes being robbed at gunpoint by a spurious good Samaritan, a man named Murray; the apparent apathy of the police when the Kellermans report the robbery; kidnapping by armed liquor store robbers after a high-speed chase while the Kellermans are riding in a police car en route to an armory; being mugged while sleeping in Central Park; George cracking a tooth on stale Cracker Jacks left by a rambunctious Great Dane under Trefoil Arch; Gwen’s broken heels; accusations of child molestation; being kicked off a bus because they can’t pay the fare; an exploding manhole cover; expulsion from a church; and an attack by protestors in front of the Cuban embassy. With each successive catastrophe, George angrily writes down each perpetrator’s name and promises to sue them or their company when he returns home.

The only thing that goes right for George is that he somehow manages to arrive on time for his 9:00am interview, unshaven, wearing rumpled clothing, a broken tooth, and virtually no food or sleep in nearly 24 hours. After George returns to the hotel with a very lucrative promotion, Gwen helps George realize an upwardly mobile move to New York City is not what they truly cherish after the urban problems and indignities they have suffered through, and both make the decision to remain in their small town in Ohio, only to be subjected to one more major catastrophe on the return trip—their flight home is hijacked to Cuba. Gwen says “Oh my god!” (which she had said various other times during the movie) ending the film.

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