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By 1980, the name Neil Simon was already practically a household name, his work as a playwright and screenwriter making him one of the most successful in the industry. Known for comedies that centered on the human experience, he had garnered fame and numerous awards and nominations for his funny, introspective, and often personal stories that were hits on Broadway and in Hollywood. As such, he was a huge fan of golden classics and when not drawing inspiration from his own life, would find it in the films of the past.
Such was the case with The Talk Of The Town, a 1942 comedy directed by George Stevens and starring Cary Grant about a wrongfully-accused man hiding out in a beautiful woman’s house, where she is renting a room to another man. Romantic hi-jinks ensue. Simon liked the movie and used it as a stepping stone for a new film. Keeping the basics of the premise, he tweaked the story while striving to retain the screwball charms of the original, and who best to bring that to life than two of the funniest people of the time put together, Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase.
Two years earlier, Hawn and Chase scored a solid hit with the Colin Higgins-directed comedy crime thriller Foul Play, about an innocent woman (Hawn) who gets pulled into intrigue when she comes into possession of a top secret film roll. Chase plays a detective who comes to her aid and naturally, romantic hi-kinks ensue. Oh, hey! Just like in the old days. It’s a genuinely funny film that mixes the formula up and the on-screen chemistry and natural ease the two comedians share made it an easy decision in why getting them back in front of the camera just made a lot of sense.
Behind that camera was Jay Sandrich, a prolific television sitcom director who to this point had helmed numerous episodes of big hit series, such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, SOAP, Welcome Back Kotter and many more. He would continue to direct high profile television series well into the 2000s. Seems Like Old Times however, would be his only film credit.
The story follows Nick Gardenia (Chevy Chase), a writer with no luck who gets kidnapped by a couple of crooks who force him to rob a bank, the duo’s modus operandi. While in the bank though, Nick takes a tumble and when getting back up, gives the CCTV camera a perfect shot of his face. When the robbers later dump Nick, he fears the worst and so makes his way to the estate of Glenda (Goldie Hawn), a public defender who not only gets people out of jail time, but attempts to rehabilitate them by putting them on staff at her home as servants, cooks, and gardeners. You wouldn’t thinks so, but they milk some good laughs from this set up.
She’s married to Ira Parks (Charles Grodin), the Los Angeles district attorney, who just so happens to have been notified about the robbery and takes a special interest in it solely because, well, he recognizes Nick’s face. You see, Nick is actually Glenda’s ex-husband, and he figures this sort of thing might wreck his chances in climbing the political ladder. Right away you get where this guy’s priorities are. What he doesn’t know though, is that Nick’s already in his house, and Glenda is hiding him there while she tries to figure out how to set things right. Here’s where the screwball comes in. Picture a bed and someone under it and you get the gist,
Timing is the name of the game here and few are better at it than Chase, whose sly, deadpan delivery and signature pratfalls made him a star after one season on Saturday Night Live and then propelled him into movie stardom. He’s effortlessly watchable here, a comedic master but also a very charming leading man, much like his counterpart, Grant, though I’ll end the comparisons there. Hawn too is her famously bubbly self, vivacious and so endearing it’s nearly impossible not to watch her. She is a legendary funny woman. While Grodin, who himself is deadpan, comes off a bit disinterested, he has some solid moments, though the supporting cast, including T. K. Carter as Chester, a low-level criminal working for Glenda steals every scene he’s in. Why didn’t this guy become a star? (He’s spent much of his career in television).
Romantic comedies are hardly a challenging genre. It’s all about putting interesting and attractive people in easily solvable situations with predictable finishes. While Seems Like Old Times certainly adheres to the norms, it’s a well-written and well-acted bit of fun that came in a time when writers were stars, too. Not a classic by any standard, it remains well-worth a look, and to coin a phrase, seems like old times since there’s been anything like it. Track it down and give it a look. It’s what people were watching on this day in 1980.