As any Oscar fan will tell you, there are what are euphemistically called "career awards," given to those who have carved a long and (sometimes) varied list of credits into their showbiz headboards. Some people claim Jack Palance's supporting actor nod for City Slickers was this kind of award, given as much for his decades-long body of work usually filled with menace as for any brilliance evinced in this particular performance, but I actually disagree. Palance, doing some nice self-parodying here, actually makes his Curly alternately scary and very funny, and, remarkably, actually human at times. But Palance is only one of several great, if patently stereotyped, performances that grace City Slickers, a 1991 feature now re-relased on DVD in this nicely beefed-up "Collector's Edition."
The film starts of with a bang (and snort) at the running of the bulls in Pamplona, and quickly and efficiently portrays the relationship between three male friends, Mitch (Billy Crystal), an unhappy commercial salesman at a New York City radio station, Phil (Daniel Stern), an equally unhappy grocery store manager victimized by his harridan wife, and Ed (Bruno Kirby), the "wild and crazy guy" of the bunch, unmarried and prone toward dating much younger women ("Soon you'll be dating sperm," quips Crystal early in the film). Ed is the one who usually puts the other guys up to various "male bonding" exercises, like the Pamplona enterprise, and it is he, in a little conspiracy with Phil, who presents Mitch with a 39th birthday present that will actually change all of their lives: two weeks on a cattle drive in New Mexico.
City Slickers may not be anything innovative or breathtaking, but it is something which is sadly lacking in a lot of comedies from the last 15 or so years: it is exceedingly smartly written by the great team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who are able to craft clear-cut characters and give them one nice punchline after another, usually in passing. Now some may fault Ganz and Mandel for stooping to the sitcom trope of a joke every 30 seconds or so, but there's something deeper here as well, and something that speaks very highly to their ability to probe at least momentarily into the hearts of men who have seen their lives not turn out exactly the way they planned. Therefore interspersed with the comedy (and actually at times even part of the comedy), you get the meltdown of Phil's marriage when a grocery clerk (nicely essayed by The Simpsons' Yeardley Smith in a brief cameo) announces she's pregnant by Phil, leading to a neat little examination of marital malaise by Mitch and his wife (the neatly understated Patricia Wettig of Thirtysomething). And much later, in one of the better remembered episodes of the film, you get a very touching moment between Mitch, Curly and a soon-to-be-mother cow who needs a little help getting her calf born. This scene especially points out Ganz and Mandel's inerrant ability to meld great comedy (Crystal loses his watch in the cow's womb) with truly touching sentiment (I defy you not to be moved by Crystal's continuing relationship with the calf). And when the three friends find they must continue the cattle drive by themselves after a plot twist, the "character arcs," though perhaps predictable, are handled with a surprising amount of finesse, mixed as always with unexpected punchlines (Crystal and Stern's conversation about "inadequacy" turns out to not be about what you might think it is).
Director Ron Underwood displays some great visual sweep and a sure sense of comedy timing in this outing. The beautiful vistas of the American west are utilized to great advantage, and Marc Shaiman's underscore is alternately wittily comedic and drawn from the great Big Country Elmer Bernstein palette that has become virtually synonymous with western film.
A nice, crisp and colorful enhanced 1.85:1 image is sharp and nicely detailed, though some of the nighttime outdoor shots are a bit on the dark side.
Several excellent soundtracks are provided, including both DD 5.1 and DD 2.0, Spanish Dolby 2.0, and French mono. The English and Spanish tracks all sound excellent, with top-notch separation and fidelity, especially impressive when Shaiman's score goes into its expansive mode, while the French, as might be expected, is on the "boxy" side. There are English and Spanish subtitles available.
Several new extras are offered on this re-release, the best of which is a frequently hilarious commentary featuring Crystal and Stern, as well as director Underwood. There are also some nice featurettes, including "City Slickers Revisited," "Writing City Slickers," and my favorite "A Star is Born," referring to cute calf Norman. There are also deleted scenes.
This is just a good, old-fashioned, well-written comedy gem. In days of yore, these types of funny movies were a dime a dozen, but the intervening years have proven what a rare delight City Slickers is. This new, expanded release finally gives it the DVD goods it deserves. Recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet