23 May 2004 | Gavno
Once Upon a Time there was a school of American Black Comedy
...and it produced some low budget, but VERY memorable films. The genre seems to have been based around New York City. Most of them owe more than a little bit to the '60s vintage British version of Cinema Verite expressed in films like A TASTE OF HONEY and THE L SHAPED ROOM... and further back yet to the French films like THE 400 BLOWS.
The Americans added humor to the mix.
LITTLE MURDERS, THE PRODUCERS, and THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS were some of the better known products. They were made by directors and actors who had huge amounts of enthusiasm, social commentary crying out to be expressed, and intelligence... but not a whole mountain of money to put their visions on film.
They spun off major studio products with big name actors and production values like A NEW LEAF, HAROLD AND MAUDE, and PETE 'N TILLIE.
Enter WHERE'S PAPPA?... one of the "transition" films, firmly between the "No budget" New York stuff, and the later "Low Budget" Hollywood productions that they spawned.
Like MOST of the genre, WHERE'S PAPPA? takes on a sacred cow... dealing with older, dependent relatives (in this case, the hero's mother), and saying the things about it that we ALL think but DON'T DARE say out loud for fear of being thought a monster. In this case, we wrestle with the decision to put Mama into a nursing home. A hard choice... but it has it's comic aspects, which get explored fully.
George Siegel does a GREAT job in the lead, the perfect foil for Ruth Gordon. Ron Liebman's a standout as Siegel's brother. As in his roles in UP THE ACADEMY and WON TON TON, THE DOG WHO SAVED Hollywood, Liebman shows off a deft skill in handling comedic material.
Incidentally... look for Garrett Morris from the original Saturday NIGHT LIVE crew as a mugger in Central Park!
BTW... I'm editing this review after the fact, because I made an interesting discovery about the film.
There are at least TWO DIFFERENT VERSIONS of it out there.
Having watched the TV version for a long time, when I recently came up with a copy of the Laserdisc version I was startled to see that the ending on the disc is completely different, and somewhat longer!
In a totally unsettling and quite uncomfortable way, it completely reverses the commonly seen ending's decision and solution to the story's central problem... and today, it would probably earn an R rating... if it's implications didn't get the original ending CENSORED, that is! The Freudian hints left a bad taste for me... I can see exactly WHY the filmmakers changed it.
If irreverence is your bag, you'll enjoy WHERE'S POPPA?