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The Heartbreak Kid

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After reissuing an impressive batch of classic horror and science-fiction films, Anchor Bay/Video Treasures launches its Independent Classics Collection with What's Up, Tiger Lily?, Sleuth, and The Heartbreak Kid, three fine, independently produced films from the '60s and '70s. After co-writing and appearing in the swinging '60s comedy What's New, Pussycat?, Woody Allen made his directorial debut, of sorts, with What's Up, Tiger Lily? in 1966. Having gotten hold of a Japanese, James Bond-esque spy thriller, Allen redubbed the dialogue, filling the film with characters with names like Terri Yaki and transforming the plot into a search for a coveted egg-salad recipe. It's a silly notion, and one that doesn't always work: Fans of its spiritual descendent Mystery Science Theater 3000 may be surprised at the slow pace of the gags. But when it does work, it's very funny, and worth a look both as an example of Allen's still-developing talent and—thanks to The Lovin' Spoonful—as the source of one of the greatest rock 'n' roll title songs ever to come out of a decade filled with excellent rock 'n' roll title songs. While 1972's Sleuth at first appears just as lighthearted, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's film is far darker. Based on what was at the time one of the most popular plays in England and America, Sleuth's continually twisting plot largely depends on an unfamiliarity with its story, and may be better now than it was at the time of its release. Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine play two men—one an aging mystery writer, the other his wife's young hairdresser lover—who match wits in Olivier's creepy country estate. A cerebral pleasure, Sleuth is relentlessly talky, but when those doing the talking are Olivier and Caine, and the plot is as intricate as Anthony Shaffer's, there's very little about which to complain. Also from 1972 is The Heartbreak Kid, Elaine May's directorial debut, scripted by Neil Simon from a story by Bruce Jay Friedman. Charles Grodin plays a naive Jewish kid from New York who, only a few days into his honeymoon, finds himself terrified by his decision and desperately pursuing tempting shiksa Cybill Shepherd. A melancholy comedy, this is probably the least Neil Simon-like project to bear Simon's name. Not especially gag-driven, May's deadpan style clears the way for some remarkable performances by Jeannie Berlin, Eddie Albert, and especially Grodin, who has to remain likable even while doing stupid, mean things. At the time of its release, The Heartbreak Kid got tangled up in comparisons to The Graduate, the more famous film by May's once and future writing partner Mike Nichols. There are similarities, both in style and in story, but the far less optimistic Heartbreak Kid stands well on its own, and now more than ever looks like a classic.