Monday, July 3, 2023

Movie Quote of the Day (‘The In-Laws,’ With Alan Arkin in Full-Blown Panic Mode)

[After a series of misadventures Dr. Sheldon Kornpett, along with his soon-to-be in-law, CIA operative Vince Ricardo, finds himself facing a firing squad ordered by a Central American dictator.]

Sheldon [played by Alan Arkin]: “There's no reason to shoot at me—I'm a dentist!”— The In-Laws (1979), screenplay by Andrew Bergman, directed by Arthur Hiller

The other night, hoping for some mental ease from the buzz about more bad air from the Canadian wildfires, I found while channel-surfing that The In-Laws was on the cable station Movies!

When I first saw it on its theatrical release in 1979, I was initially drawn to it by its FBI car chase filmed in my hometown of Englewood, NJ. But I was delighted to see that there was far more to the movie than this local trivia.

Although Peter Falk as the slow-witted CIA agent triggered many of the laughs, Alan Arkin, as his mild-mannered dentist in-law, sputtering incredulously at each insane turn of the plot, heightened the laughs in this uproarious, even inspired, farce.

I did not know as I was watching this fondly remembered film that within the past 24 hours, Arkin—a prolific, versatile, and deservedly honored actor if there ever was one—had passed away in San Marcos, Calif., at age 89.

I first encountered the actor’s work during a high school sociology teacher, when our teacher played the 15-minute 1963 short, “That’s Me,” in which Arkin played his first credited screen role: a Puerto Rican guitar player that a social worker attempts to help. 

It would also be the first of numerous movie roles in which Arkin—the son of Jewish emigrants from Russia and Germany—would play a variety of different ethnic or national characters—or, as The New York Times obit on the actor put it, “a man of a thousand accents, or close to it.”

The most prominent next one would be The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming (1966). His role as a Soviet submariner mistaken for a spy after his boat accidentally wrecks aground in New England not only won him wide attention but the first of his four Oscar nominations. (He would finally win in 2004 for a heroin-snorting, obscenity-spewing grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine.)

But Arkin was hardly confined to comic roles. He also produced many screams among viewers as a psychopath who menaces a blind woman in Wait Until Dark, and, more touchingly, a deaf mute in the movie adaptation of Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

Off the screen, Arkin flashed his other talents, for directing (including Little Murders, on film, and the original stage version of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys), playwrighting (one-third of Power Plays, with the other parts composed by Elaine May), two memoirs and even children’s books.

Altogether, Arkin had 110 acting credits for film and TV. As a character actor skilled not only in accents but improvisation, he could disappear into almost any role.

In other words, it’s highly likely that, unless you were paying attention to the credits, he’s probably been in at least a few films where you didn’t recognize him at the time. Now’s as good a time as any to seek these out so you and I can better appreciate the legacy he left for audiences.

(For a very perceptive retrospective on Arkin’s filmography, I urge you to read my college classmate Frank Scheck’s Hollywood Reporter article, where he notes that the actor “made wryness and sarcasm seem the most natural and intelligent response to a world that increasingly makes little sense. We needed him now more than ever.”)

No comments: