Tuesday, September 3, 2013

New Yawk, New Yawk . . . a Helluva Town

The Stanley Kramer Centennial series now playing at the Billy Wilder Theater through September 29 has boasted some impressive celebrity presenters. Recently I saw Garry Marshall, best known for producing TV’s Happy Days, who was on hand to introduce Kramer’s debut feature. Marshall’s Bronx roots were very much in evidence as soon as he opened his mouth to say, “Maybe you can tell I’m from New Yawk.” Doubtless that’s why he was chosen to introduce  So This is New York, a rare Stanley Kramer comedy that contains nary a whiff of deep social significance.  

I know a young man from California who’s trying to make a home for himself in New York City. So far his domestic adventures have included rats, roaches, piles of unremoved garbage, and a landlord who stopped paying Con Edison, thereby plunging the building’s lobby and staircases into darkness. It’s a common tale of life in NYC, but a far cry from the view revealed in So This is New York, adapted from Ring Lardner’s 1921 novel, The Big Town. Lardner’s comic tone is apparent from the novel’s subtitle, “How I and the Mrs. go to New York to see life and get Katie a husband. 

The film version, from 1948, uses voiceover, black-&-white cinematography, and amusing freeze-frames to capture the quaint era just after World War I when Prohibition was brand-new and life in New York City was the height of glamour. We first meet a cigar salesman from South Bend, Indiana. He’s happy to enjoy the modest comforts of home, but his wife and her sister (who share a small inheritance) decide that Manhattan is the only place worth living. Traveling east, they discover that New York means lots of shopping, lots of drinking, lots of tipping, and lots of fellas who have eyes for pretty young Katie. Her parade of suitors turns out to include a married man, a crook, a jockey with a hair-trigger temper, and an actor who cons her into backing (and appearing in) a truly terrible Broadway play.   

The various comic episodes, featuring such colorful players as Rudy Vallee and Arnold Stang, hint at Kramer’s later pull-out-all-the-stops comedy, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. But in 1948, Kramer was solely a producer. The directing chores belonged to the versatile Richard Fleischer, who would go on to helm such diverse flicks as Compulsion, Doctor Dolittle, The Boston Strangler, Soylent Green, and Mandingo.

Because the film deals with small-town folks who fail to adapt to cosmopolitan New York City, some studio boss had the bright idea of premiering it in the Midwest. Bad idea!  No one in the flyover states took much interest in a New York-centric farce. It wasn’t until fifty-odd years later, when So This is New York appeared at the 2004 Tribecca Film Festival, that this comic delight got the recognition it deserves.

Kudos to the UCLA Film and Television Archive for restoring both this film and the second feature on the bill, the 1950 Stanley Kramer production of Cyrano de Bergerac. José Ferrer won an Oscar for starring in this elegant screen version of Rostand’s classic drama. In the present era of mumblecore actors, it was thrilling to see a drama in which a fair lady could fall in love with the elegance of her suitor’s language and diction. Roxanne, Steve Martin’s 1987 modernized Cyrano, permits a happy outcome – but I’m still a sucker for the tragic ending of the original, in which the maiden beautifully laments, “I have loved only one man in my life, and I have lost him twice.”

To purchase $10 tickets to any of the remaining screenings for the Stanley Kramer centennial celebration at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater, click here

Henry Morgan and Rudy Vallee are among the stars of So This is New York
Jose Ferrer's Oscar-winning performance in Cyrano de Bergerac


  1. So This Is New York sounds truly hilarious and worth seeing!

  2. It's quite charming. Dated, of course, but then it's a case of 1948 looking back at 1920, which adds to the fun. Thanks for writing, Gratteciella!

  3. As the young man from California mentioned in this blog, I'm now very interested to see this movie!

  4. Hey ImpromptuJ - best of luck in the Big Apple! More evidence that I live on the wrong coast - I would have had a seat indented with my shape at these Stanley Kramer screenings by now!

  5. Hi Mr. Craig and Impromptu J, best of luck to both of you east coasters in tracking down a copy of So This is New York. I'm curious to learn how hard it is to locate.