Love on the Shattered Lens: Barefoot In The Park (dir by Gene Saks)


The 1967 film, Barefoot in the Park, tells the story of two newlyweds.

Paul Bratter (Robert Redford) may have a terrible last name (seriously, Bratter?) but he’s an up-and-coming lawyer with a bright future.  He’s a little bit uptight and doesn’t seem to have the greatest understanding of human nature but he’s handsome and he’s charming and he means well.  Paul has just recently married Corie (Jane Fonda).  Corie is a free spirit who cringes at the idea of conformity.  Having been raised by a judgmental mother who has always told her that she will never be good enough to make it on her own, Corie has decided to murder Paul and steal all of his money by insisting that they live in a drafty apartment that’s on the fifth floor of an New York apartment building that doesn’t have an elevator.  If climbing up the stairs doesn’t kill Paul, the fact that the skylight has hole in it probably will.  Helping Corie with her plan is her eccentric neighbor, Victor Velasco (Charles Boyer).  When Paul comes home one day to discover Victor lifting up his lingerie-clad wife, Victor says, “We are heating up the apartment.”  Corie assures Paul that they’re just trying to get the radiator to start working but we know the truth….

Okay, that’s actually the Lifetime version of Barefoot in the Park.  The real Barefoot in the Park is a charming, lighter-than-light adaptation of Neil Simon’s famous play.  (If I’m biased towards the play, it’s because I once played Corie in a heavily edited version of the play that we put on in high school.  I was the perfect Corie, if I may say so myself.)  As played by Robert Redford, Paul is charming but uptight and, as played by Jane Fonda, Corie is a free spirit who doesn’t really seem to have much common sense about the realities of living in New York City.  (Running barefoot in Central Park?  Probably not a good idea in 1967.)  They do end up living on the fifth floor and there are a lot of jokes (in fact, there’s probably too many jokes) about people getting out of breath from having to climb all of the stairs.  There’s also a broken skylight, which is a problem since it snows in New York.  However, Corie never deliberately plots to kill Paul.  Instead, she tries to set her mom (played, in an Oscar-nominated performance, by Mildred Natwick) up with Victor.

Barefoot in the Park is probably one of those films that seemed semi-daring when it was originally released in 1967 (“Look!  A honeymoon sex joke!  Look!  Corie’s walking around in Paul’s shirt!  Look!  Paul looks like he’s about to say a forbidden word!”) but today, it seems like an old-fashioned but likable fantasy about what’s like to be a newlywed in New York.  The city’s beautiful and full of romance.  The dialogue is witty and zippy.  (Zippy’s a word, isn’t it?)  Charles Boyer overacts in the most charming way possible and Mildred Natwick has some good moments as Corie’s mom.  (To appreciate Natwick’s peformance, it helps to imagine what the film would have been like if Shelley Winters had played the role.)  Most importantly, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda have got an amazing chemistry and, as they were both young in 1967 and considerably less weather-beaten than they are today, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful couple.  Though Gene Saks’s direction is visually flat and, cinematically, the film never quite breaks out of its stage-bound origins, the chemistry of Redford and Fonda and Boyer and Natwick carry you through the occasional rough patch.

Seriously, I kind of love this movie!

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