The Out-of-Towners: Review and Analysis

The Out-of-TownersLast night, I watched Neil Simon’s 1970 hit The Out-of-Towners, starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis. I had only the vaguest memory of seeing it when I was 6 years old. Strangely, I have a fairly clear memory of finding it very funny at that time. So it seemed like a good choice.

The Out-of-Towners Summary

The film is funny. It tells the story of George Kellerman and his wife Gwen. They are going to New York, where George is going to be interviewed for his dream job, which will move them from their quiet lives in Ohio with two young children to an exciting life in the big city. But things go wrong almost from the start.

Their flight is forced to land in Boston. Then, with some effort, they manage to get a train into New York. But once there, they can’t get a taxi, because there is a strike going on. So they walk to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where they find that their room has been given away. And so on. Somehow, George manages to make it to his interview and lands the job. But he decides not to take it; both he and Gwen have decided that they are happy with their lives in Ohio.

Writing and Rendering

I’ve never been a big Neil Simon fan. That’s not to say that I disliked his work. As I said, I liked this film when I was a kid. And I loved the film Murder by Death when I was younger. Today, I enjoy its companion film The Cheap Detective. But overall, Simon is just a dialog writer. And he’s pretty stylized. I really have to be in the mood.

Sexism

A bigger issue is that most of his stuff is dated. And The Out-of-Towners certainly suffers from this. It’s kind of hard to imagine that people like this really existed. The sexism of George is really amazing. On the plane, both at the beginning and end of the film, we find Gwen pleading to be allowed a cup of coffee.

But on a deeper level, Gwen is a very strong character. How it is she puts up with George’s behavior is anyone’s guess — especially at the end of the film. But both of the characters are pretty typical of the insular world of Neil Simon.

Class

Throughout The Out-of-Towners, George collects a list of everyone who he believes has harmed him. He is going to launch a major lawsuit if he manages to survive the night. But the truth is that almost everyone in the film is actually nice to the couple. For example, the guy managing lost luggage does everything he can, but their luggage is in Ohio. There’s nothing more he can do than he already has.

This is a recurring theme throughout the film. And the truth is that the film would only be about a half hour long if George weren’t so difficult. They could have just stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria lobby until 7:00 am, when it would have had a room for the couple (and the luggage would have been delivered at 8:00 am). But George insists upon acting like a child.

There is a nice moment in the film when George arrives at his interview on time and the person he’s meeting with says he’s amazed — that with the strike and the weather, he didn’t figure George would have been there. So all of George’s anxiety and histrionics was for nothing.

Acting

The performances by Lemmon and Dennis are outstanding. And it really made me wonder about the script for this. Obviously, by 1970, Neil Simon was a star. Otherwise, I doubt the script would have been shot. I can only imagine that the dialog lays there on the page. There is very little that is really funny all by itself, but the stars and the impressive supporting cast make it shine.

Directing

The Out-of-Towners was directed by Arthur Hiller, who just so happened to direct probably my favorite comedy ever, The In-Laws. He shot this film in a cinéma vérité style. This adds enormously the feeling of anxiety in the film, and ultimately to its comedic impact.

Music

The score for the film, by Quincy Jones, is unusual. Its only real flaw is in being too good — too interesting. It is rare that the music in a film becomes so compelling that it takes me out of the film. But that happened once here. Just the same, Jones’ use of extreme dissonance also adds to the whole feeling of dread in The Out-of-Towners, which is so import to it.

Summary

Overall, The Out-of-Towners is one of the best things that Neil Simon ever wrote. I may be under-appreciating what he created on the page. Regardless, Arther Hiller and the rest of the gang that worked on it clearly understood what he was going for. At the time of its release, it stood as an excellent example of cutting edge comedy. Today, the edge is worn. But it still works remarkably well.

Yes, Trump Will Cause a Constitutional Crisis

Greg Sargent - Yes, Trump Will Cause a Constitutional CrisisThe Post and The New York Times are both reporting on what appears to be a serious escalation in the Trump team’s intentions to constrain the investigation of special counsel Robert S Mueller III, and The Post is also reporting that President Trump has privately been exploring the possibility of granting pardons to his family members, and perhaps even himself.

Which means the possibility that we are sliding toward a constitutional crisis needs to be take seriously. Now what?

In an interview with me this morning, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon — a hard-charging Democrat on the Intelligence Committee — sounded the alarm in a big way, suggesting it’s time for Democrats to begin serious outreach to Republicans in Congress about sending a united message to Trump: any effort to remove Mueller is unacceptable and will be met with a forceful response.

“What’s important, now, today, is finding a path to send the strongest possible message that firing Mueller without cause would be seen as an attack on democratic values and the rule of law and that there will be negative consequences,” Wyden told me.

[…]

Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that it’s unlikely that Republicans will act to send a forceful message to Trump that such a course of action is off limits. Yesterday, CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that he had talked to a number of GOP senators who are very critical of Trump’s comments to The Times, in which he suggested that he would not have selected Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he had known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia probe. But most of them would voice their concerns only under cover of anonymity.

Still, Wyden insists it is imperative that Democrats try to get Republicans to speak up. We must “send the strongest possible message to the president now, today, that there will be consequences,” Wyden says.

–Greg Sargent
Are We Heading Toward a Constitutional Crisis?

Odd Words: Calumet

CalumetToday we are at page 38 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. Interestingly, I knew a surprisingly few of these words — and some are quite useful! But I’ve chosen to use a specialty word, mostly because I could find quotes and images for it: calumet.

Whole Lot of Ignorance

I knew so few of the words on this page, that it’s hard to know how to make any kind of coherent narrative out of them. There aren’t many shared roots in the words. But I guess I’ll make due.

I’m always interested to see the arcane words of specialists. On this page, we had “caltrop.” It is a word of warfare. The military is always good for odd words. “Caltrop” is “a small spiked iron device used to obstruct the passage of cavalry.” They look kind of like the tokens you pick up in the game Jacks. I feel somehow that these things don’t deserve their own word.

Similarly, “camouflet” is “a bomb, mine, etc, exploded underground, which makes a cavity but does not break the surface.” Now that is a very specialized word! But I can well see that in mining it is one that would be of use. But it still makes me think of Shaw’s idea that every profession was a conspiracy against the laity.

Moving on to religion, we have “callotte.” It is the word for the skull caps worn by Roman Catholic clerics. In this case, of course, the word is hard to justify. It’s not like there would be any confusion if we referred to a cleric’s callotte as a “skull cap,” right?

Other Words

I probably should have chosen “cambion.” It is “the offspring of an incubus and a succubus.” But if you are like me, you don’t believe in demons. So we have two words for mythical creates — and then a third for their spawn. Of course, we need to remember that people have taken these demons to be very real in the past.

In fact, if you listen to Pat Robertson, you will hear a lot of explicit references to demons. This is also true for most of the people on my mother’s side of the family. Just imagine if they ever got to create a society without restriction. It would be a return to the Inquisition. We really haven’t progressed very much.

“Camelopard” is another word for a giraffe. It is a combination of “camel” and “leopard.” This is because it is shaped like a camel and spotted like a leopard. This is one of the silliest words I’ve ever seen.

I’ll end this section with a useful word, which I’m surprised I didn’t know, “calumniate.” It is “to malign; accuse falsely; spread malicious reports about.” I can’t image that I haven’t run into this word dozens of times. Yet I can’t remember it!

Put That in Your Calumet!

But today, our word is: calumet.

Cal·u·met  noun  \kal’-yəmet\

1. an ornamented ceremonial pipe used by North American Indians.

Date: Late 17th century.

Origin: from Latin (via French), calamellus, which means “little reed.”

Example: Incorrectly known as “smoking the peace pipe,” the use of the calumet formed an important part of the ceremonies surrounding many forms of negotiations.Family Life in Native America by James M Volo and Dorothy Denneen Volo

Odd Words: Callet

CalletI’m trying to get Frankly Curious moving again. To help in that, I thought I would get back to my reading through The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. When I last wrote about it, I did the word “caducity.” That brings us to page 37 and the word “callet.”

Is It Hot in Here?!

Roughly half of page 37 is dedicated to “cal—” words: those that come from the Latin calor, which means “heat.” It’s where we get words like “calorie.” But the dictionary doesn’t waste any space on words found on cereal boxes. One word I don’t recall seeing before is “calefacient.” It means: “a medicinal substance producing a feeling of warmth.” On the other side of the page was “calorimeter.” I think you already know what that word means.

When looking at these words in this context, it’s easy to see them in an SAT sort of way. If you were forced to, you could grab hold of “cal—” and figure it was something having to do with heat. And in context, it is always going to be clear. “The doctor used a calorimeter to measure my temperature after they gave me a calefacient.” Kind of boring, really.

Other Words

There were some other interesting words, both known and unknown. One known, but interesting, word, was “caldera.” You can’t have studied much earth science at all and have missed it. It is “a large crater formed by the collapse of the center of the cone of a volcano.”

Two words were completely new to me. And they related to turtles! The first is “calipash,” which is “an edible greenish-colored gelatinous substance lying beneath the upper shell of a turtle.” The second is “calipee,” which is “an edible, yellowish colored gelatinous substance attached to the lower shell of a turtle. Geez, biologists and cooks!

Another interesting word is “callipygian.” It means: “having well-formed buttocks.” Greek-based words tend to upset my sense of what is right in language. This one comes from the Greek word kallipūgos, which is a word that describes a famous statue of Venus, the goddess of love and all that. It is combined with pūgē, which means “buttocks.” So “Venus-like buttocks.” I won’t forget that one!

Onto Callet!

But okay, onto our word for today: callet:

Cal·let  noun  \kal’-it; kā’-lit\ (British dialect)

1. a prostitute.

2. a shrwish, sharp-tongued woman.

Date: Late Middle English (early 17th century).

Origin: I don’t know. It is a regional word, however. It’s hard to keep track of them.

Example: I don’t really have one. The word is obscure. And it is also a common name. And it is more popular in French than in English. But how about something like, “That callet will never be tamed.” That has a good Shakespearean feel to it.

There is something offensive about the word: that it more or less equates a sharp-tongued woman with a prostitute. But what do you expect from such an old word?

Shakespeare on Desire — Or “Fancy”

Shakespeare on Desire -- Or FancyTell me where is fancy bred.
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourish’ed?

It is engendered in the eyes,
With gazing fed, and fancy dies
In the cradle where it lies.

Let us all ring fancy’s knell
I’ll begin it.
Ding, dong, bell…

—William Shakespeare
The Merchant of Venice