The sixties produced many situation-comedies that filled one-off feature films, and Paramount's 1967 traditionalist Barefoot In The Park easily encapsulates one side of the decade which was trying to battle with the counter-culture and anarchy of the other side. The film was released in the same year as In The Heat Of The Night and Bonnie And Clyde, though feels like it was released a good five years earlier, as nothing is daring or risqué about Barefoot In The Park.
This doesn't mean the film should be ignored, as it is in fact a warm and deliciously witty slice of married life from playwright Neil Simon, a man who has delighted audiences around with the world with such classic creations as The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys and California Suite. Simon revels in dialogue; he doesn't need multi-locations or massive set-pieces, instead he builds narrative momentum by deftly structuring his characters and then providing them with brilliant punchlines.
Barefoot In The Park is no different, with limited locations and only four main characters. Paul (Robert Redford) and Corie Bratter (Jane Fonda) are two newlyweds embarking on the next phase in their life, which involves moving into a new apartment and starting life together. Paul is a rising attorney in New York, and Corie has been left to tend to their new apartment that Paul has not yet seen. After six nights of Honeymoon bliss in a posh hotel, Paul has to drag himself to work from the alluring clutches of Corie, whilst she oversees the decorating of their new apartment. Things start to go horribly wrong, as the apartment is based on a steep fifth floor block that lacks an elevator, and Corie enters the apartment to find it without any furniture or heating. This is the start of Paul and Corie's troubles, as they soon start finding that marriage throws up many clashes of personality between the two of them.
Because Barefoot In The Park wears the fact that it is a light comedy on its sleeve, the audience never feels as if the film contains any bite or edge to it. We know that Paul and Corie's marriage is apparently in trouble, but we never feel it, as the film seems to have an unspoken promise from its outset that all will end happily. This is not a criticism of the film, since it is a convention of any form of situation-comedy that the normal roles of the characters remain the same at the conclusion. Also, the film can be forgiven for having a tame content by virtue of being extremely funny in places. From the tremendously sarcastic dialogue between Paul and Corie to the excellent in-jokes, such as the apartment's lack of elevator or Corie's mother's (Mildred Natwick) bleak complaints at having to walk five flights of stairs. It's a film in which the jokes are formed out of its own premise, and are expertly handled.
Redford and Fonda are not an equally matched couple on paper, and yet they possess a good dose of on-screen chemistry that helps the film to succeed. Redford is suitably calm and quick-witted as Paul Bratter, the ambitious lawyer who seems surprised at his wife's desire to subvert any of his ambitions. In turn, Jane Fonda is also very good as Corie Bratter, a care-free and lively trophy-wife that seems to want more than to just be a lawyer's housewife. In great support, Charles Boyer is very good as Victor Velasco, the squatter neighbour from upstairs who has set his sights on Corie's mother Ethel. Mildred Natwick plays Ethel in a hilariously apathetical fashion, and her performance was deservedly nominated for an Oscar. It's refreshing to see Natwick give Ethel a different spin from the usual stereotypical 'busybody mother' role.
The music by Neal Hefti is typically 'Paramount-comedy-late-sixties' and is very memorable due to it representing a forgotten era. This era now left behind came to depict a slightly adventurous America casually moving away from right-wing conservatism, with affluence, tidy streets and attractive couples coming to represent the traditionalist view of late-sixties USA. When you contrast this America with the America depicted in a film such as Midnight Cowboy, it's easy to notice how there seemed to be two different film movements sweeping the nation.
Anyhow, Barefoot In The Park is handled with confidence by director Gene Saks, a man who continued the theme with The Odd Couple and Cactus Flower in successive years. It's a light comedy that is enjoyably warm and one that lacks any sort of ground-breaking approach, but some times a traditional genre-pleaser is all that is required anyway.
Academy Awards 1967
Academy Award Nominations 1967
Best Supporting Actress - Mildred Natwick
Presented in anamorphic matted widescreen 1.78:1, the transfer is mostly fine but exhibits a large degree of grain and is very gloomy in terms of colour and composition. This is probably the best presentation the film has ever seen, but a full restoration still looks as if it is required.
Presented in the film's original mono track, the sound mix provided for BareFoot In The Park is very good, with a decent volume level and acceptable clarity associated with the sound events. Some of the overdubbed dialogue is too obvious in places, and the Neal Hefti score would clearly benefit from at least a stereo mix, but on the whole the sound mix provided is a very good one.
Menu: A static and silent menu incorporating some brightly-coloured shots from the film as well as promotional artwork.
Packaging: The usual Paramount Widescreen Collection amaray packaging, featuring an underwhelming and minimalist cover artwork.
Original Theatrical Trailer: A surprisingly good trailer for the film, that throws in a few of the film's classic one-liners and presents it in an appealing fashion.
Barefoot In The Park is an enjoyable and very funny tale of middle-class marriage that aims to be completely harmless and succeeds on that level. The performances and Neil Simon screenplay are very good indeed, and the DVD, if uninspiring, has enough technical quality to please fans of the film even if extra features are notable in their absence.