23 December 2010 | eschetic-2
Interesting resurrection of successful Cold War Broadway farce
More faithful in tone and probably in detail to Woody Allen's successful 1966 Broadway farce (589 performances from 17 Nov. 66 to 20 April 68 at the Morosco, Barrymore and Belasco Theatres) than the successful but now badly dated 11 Nov. 1969 film, this made for TV movie suffers from a rather unrelenting craziness of pacing that worked better on stage than in the intimacy of the small screen.
Woody Allen's nebishy lines fall naturally from his own lips, but lacking the distance or the simply larger body Stanley Prager had to work with when directing Lou Jacobi as the naive Newark caterer who is accused of spying while innocently taking vacation pictures while on vacation in an unidentified Eastern European country on Broadway - or Howard Morris had when directing Jackie Gleason in the coarsened role in the 1969 film - Allen comes across less sympathetic and more blindly hysterical.
Nevertheless, Michael J. Fox (who had already been BACK TO THE FUTURE in his successful trilogy but was still a couple years from his last successful sitcom, SPIN CITY) as the disaster prone son of the ambassador who grants the family asylum balances the hysterical performance of the author nicely, as do TV favorites Julie Kavner (TRACEY ULLMAN and THE SIMPSONS) as Allen's wife and Mayim Bialik (BLOSSOM and THE BIG BANG THEORY) as his daughter and Fox's inevitable love interest.
Since the Cold War was essentially over by the time this picture was made, it remained a nostalgic picture of an earlier era told in farce form with comfortable narration from the late great announcer Ed Herlihy to remind us of the context (Americans believed innocent tourists were picked up on the slightest pretext to "trade" for captured Soviet spies after a few well publicized "spy trades").
Written at a time before the Middle East blew up, the visit of an unidentified emir and his harem (that the US wants to cater to for good relations - OIL hadn't seriously entered the picture yet) is played, along with an Orthodox priest who's been in asylum in an apartment on an upper floor of the embassy for six years and counting (an idea which horrifies the Allen character who can't bear the elevated menu at the embassy and can't understand why they can't send out for Chinese) as minor plot contrivances.
If this sort of old fashioned humor isn't your cup of tea, DON'T DRINK THE WATER may not go down too easily, but as an honest souvenir of Cold War humor and the transition period between Woody Allen's stand-up beginnings and his later serious films, it's well worth a look for any serious student of film or Allen. If you can take the stage farce pacing, it will even provide a fair share of honest laughs - more than the '69 film in any case.
"Isolated in the Embassy" situations have been grist for the comedy mills for years - although it's been a while since we've had a new one. Billy Wilder's 1961 ONE TWO THREE (based on a Ferenc Molnar play, "Egy, kettö, három") where a hard charging Jimmy Cagney tried to deal with the love and marriage of a runaway daughter of an Atlanta Coca Cola executive for a passionate East German worker while Berlin was still divided, or Art Buchwald's sadly unfilmed 1970 play SHEEP ON THE RUNWAY which satirized the havoc a right wing columnist like Joseph Alsop could cause in a front line embassy were probably better structured and hold up better than the early Allen play, but they all came from essentially the same well. All worth a look for nostalgia and more.