Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
USA, 1968. Warner Brothers/Seven Arts. Screenplay by Herbert Sargent, based on the novel To An Early Grave by Wallace Markfield. Cinematography by Boris Kaufman. Produced by Sidney Lumet. Music by Peter Matz. Production Design by Ben Kasazkow. Costume Design by Anna Hill Johnstone. Film Editing by Gerald B. Greenberg.
George Segal is fighting with wife Zohra Lampert when he gets a call from a devastated Jessica Walter: her husband and his friend Leslie Braverman has dropped dead at the age of 41, and Segal needs to gather up the boys and come to the funeral.
Jack Warden is making love to his girlfriend when he gets the call, uptight Joseph Wiseman (the film’s best performance) is furthering an estrangement with his son when he finds out, while Sorrell Booke is stuck with writer’s block at his typewriter when he learns the news.
Piling into Booke’s bright red Volkswagen bug, the four friends take a road trip from Manhattan to Brooklyn that, because of their immature insistence on not taking anything too seriously, seems more like they’re crossing the country to get to this funeral whose location they are not sure of.
The jokey manner in which this movie plays out seems at first too light for the subject at hand, but it soon becomes clear that the shallow nature of their interactions are hiding something beneath the surface; their friend’s death has awakened in them an awareness of their own mortality and their failure at having found meaning in life and relationships.
Told in a crisp and cold way, the film won’t enchant every viewer, but it is very droll and full of many memorable moments, some of them a bit too drawn out (such as the opening introductions of characters, or their interaction with a cab driver with whom they have a fender bender), others exceptionally well performed (like any time Walter is on screen).