Peter Falk and Alan Arkin make for a hilarious dream team in this beloved American sidesplitter. Directed by Arthur Hiller from an ingenious script by Andrew Bergman, The In-Laws may at first seem like a generic meet-the-parents comedy, as Arkin’s mild-mannered dentist suspiciously eyes Falk’s volatile mystery man, whose son is engaged to his daughter. But soon, through a series of events too serpentine and surprising to spoil, the two men are brought together by a dangerous mission that takes them from suburban New Jersey to Honduras. Fueled by elaborate stunt work and the laconic, naturalistic charms of its two stars, The In-Laws deserves its status as a madcap classic—and has continued to draw ardent fans in the years since its release.
Arthur Hiller’s The In-Laws—a film that I would have listed under “Films Criterion Will Never Release” only a year ago—gets a new edition on Blu-ray thanks to Criterion. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 2K scan of a 35mm interpositive.
Despite a couple of meh-to-fine releases like The Emigrants/The New Land (older master) and My Own Private Idaho (some obvious compression) I’ve been very happy with the Warner/Criterion relationship so far in terms of presentations and The In-Laws may be the best looking one yet. It’s a super-sharp, highly detailed image that’s also one of the more natural and filmic looking presentations I’ve seen recently. In motion is moves quite smoothly while film grain, even when it gets really heavy in a couple of places, looks natural for the most part (some shadows scattered about can look a bit like noise but it’s nothing like the blocky patterns that were noticeable in releases like My Own Private Idaho and you have to be really looking for it).
The colours lean a bit cooler in the New York sequences but then go a little warmer in the South American parts, which I’m assuming was done intentionally, but in either case colour saturation looks great while black levels are also balanced nicely, with crushing not seeming to be an issue. The clean-up job has also been incredibly extensive and I don’t recall a single blemish or flaw coming up in the print itself, not even a fluctuation or a pulse. Pairing the condition of the materials with the digital presentation itself, Criterion delivers an exceptional looking image, one I’m not so sure we would have received from Warner themselves.
The film receives a lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono track and it’s more than serviceable. Fidelity and range are both surprisingly good and the volume levels have been mixed and balanced nicely, which allows dialogue to be clearly heard. Music can be a bit flat at times and may be the weakest element to the track, but on the whole I felt the presentation came off fairly dynamic.
This is another one of those fringe cases where Criterion has managed to get a rather big title that has a decent sized audience—from Warner Bros. of all studios—but then seemed to have gone fairly minimal on the features. This did disappoint me initially but after going through them I found myself to have been won over by them.
Criterion thankfully ports over the audio commentary from the 2003 Warner DVD, which has been out-of-print for a while. Featuring actors Alan Arkin and Peter Falk, writer Andrew Bergman, and director Arthur Hiller, it’s a fairly loose and fun reflection on the making of the film. We get a backstory to how the production came together, which was spearheaded by Arkin from a desire to work with Falk, accompanied by details about the development of the script. Falk talks significantly about how impressed he was by the script despite one or two reservations: he admits he thought the “serpentine!” sequence was silly and initially didn’t want to do it. Arkin also admits this is probably the first film he had actually had fun on while making it, which amusingly worried him. The more surprising tidbit to come out of this and the other features is that they followed the script very closely and only a handful of scenes had full-out improvisation. Certain sequences, like the firing squad bit, were modified or redone usually before filming, but there was always a plan that everyone followed.. Everyone also shares their stories about fans and how they comment on the film more to them than any other, though Arkin probably has the cooler story in this regard since he had Marlon Brando quoting lines from the film to him (Brando was apparently a big fan of the film). Short of how the project came together and how the script was developed the track isn’t terribly in-depth on the production: you pretty much get some stories from the set, recollections on how certain things played out, and so forth, but it’s very entertaining.
Criterion then gets a few new interviews. The centerpiece here is a new 24-minute interview actor Alan Arkin where he talks about his experience on The In-Laws and his career up to that point. He covers some of the same points he does in the commentary, like working with Falk and Libertini, the script, and so forth, but he gets a little more personal talking about his performances before and after this film. He admits to having hated playing a villain in Wait Until Dark (though enjoyed working with Audrey Hepburn), vowing to never do a role like that again, while he’s more proud of his work in comedy/dramas like The In-Laws and Little Miss Sunshine, despite his initial reservations in doing comedy. It’s an enjoyable and engaging interview, Arkin being fairly forthcoming, that gives a decent overview of his career and how important this film was in it.
The next feature, called In Support of “The In-Laws” is a collection of interviews with the films supporting actors: Ed Begley, Jr.; Nancy Dussault; James Hong; and David Paymer. It’s a very well put together feature going over the importance of a supporting cast in a film like this, and it’s the feature that did allow me to get over the sparse number of features here. The film of course relies most on the chemistry of Falk and Arkin, but it’s also important that the supporting cast can play appropriately into that as well. Hong explains the importance in playing it seriously, that playing it “to be funny” wouldn’t work for an audience because they’d recognize what you’re doing and it just wouldn’t be funny. Paymer also explains the choices he made and fitting appropriately into the film’s sense of humour (he also shares the compliment he received from Arkin about a small thing he did, which you can tell still means a great deal to him all these years later). Begley shares his thoughts on line deliveries and what he has to bring to the table (interestingly he still disagrees with how Hiller had him deliver one of his) and Dussault explains getting over her initial unease and Hiller helping her find her place in the film. On top of this the four share their stories on how they were cast, Begley probably having the more humourous one, and all four of them mention how proud they are of the film, Hong placing it in his body of work with the likes of Blade Runner and Chinatown. I liked this feature a lot, more because I don’t recall many that focus on the important role of a supporting cast in a film of this type, even when they’re only in a small number of scenes. I figured it would be simply a collection of interviews recalling the production, but it sneaks in an academic slant there and I found it to be quite rewarding. It runs 34-minutes.
The film’s trailer is then included. I can’t say it’s a terribly good trailer, and I don’t know if wholly represents the film (Hong did complain about the marketing so I’m guessing that statement took this trailer into account).
The included booklet (yes, a booklet) features an essay by Stephen Winer, who offers an analysis on the film’s script and the construction in its comedy, giving it his go at explaining why sequences like the “Serpentine! Serpentine!” bit works (trying to explain why something is funny in an objective manner would usually spell certain death but I think he mostly pulls it off here). There’s also an excerpt from Hiller’s unreleased biography where he writes about The In-Laws and how surprised he is at the reactions to it over the years.
I was just a teeny bit surprised that Bergman isn’t here, though admittedly I’m not sure how he is doing health wise and that, so maybe he was unable to participate. Hiller’s in his 90’s now so I’m guessing it may have been hard for him to participate here and am I’m not too surprised he isn’t here (I feel I should mention that his wife passed away a few days ago, as of this writing). Again this release does feel a bit light in the end but the features did win me over a bit.
Despite the excellent quality of the features I still feel surprised more wasn’t done, but fans of the film will be more than happy with the presentation, which looks really wonderful.