[box cover]

Goodbye, Columbus

In what was almost surely a botched attempt to manufacture "the next The Graduate" — a phenomenon two years earlier that has since become the definitive coming-of-age film — 1969's Goodbye, Columbus, and adaptation of Philip Roth's award-winning novella, feels manhandled and underdeveloped. Richard Benjamin stars as Neil, an unambitious Bronx librarian who strikes up an unlikely summer romance with Brenda (Ali McGraw), the rich daughter of a new-money businessman (Jack Klugman). While Brenda is preoccupied with dissolving her working-class Jewish background in favor of her assumed identity as a country club princess and Radcliffe debutante, Neil snobbishly mocks both the wealthy and working stiffs, stranding himself in proto-slacker purgatory. As Neil and Brenda's love affair becomes serious, it does so to the consternation of her WASP-ish mother, and creates confusing conflicts of guilt, spite, desire, and responsibility in the young lovers. There are lots of interesting, clever and/or compelling nuggets as evidence of the movie's literary pedigree, but director Larry Peerce, with screenwriter Arnold Schulman, completely strips Goodbye, Columbus of any meaningful context, opting instead for poorly devised, terribly executed, go-go-era, Graduate-like style, leaving nearly every scene in the movie severely lacking in coherence, rhythm, or resonance. Where the narrative demands subtlety, Peerce ratchets it up to a shrill monotone, making both Neil and Brenda aggressively annoying as a couple (the best scenes are of Neil alone with young, black library patron, but these moments feel like they belong in an entirely different film). Because Peerce never mines a theme from Roth's novella, his adaptation is like a string of unrelated sequences featuring the same actors, and, as a result, the surprisingly glum final scene is not so much revelatory as it is grating and mean (not to mention inexplicable). While Klugman is good as the vulgar self-made plumbing supplier, McGraw is overwrought (the scene between her and her father during her brother's wedding reception must rank as one of the all-time worst performances by an A-list movie star), and Benjamin's arch humor is overshadowed by his weirdly overdone eye-liner. Paramount presents Goodbye, Columbus in a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and monaural Dolby Digital audio. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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