While there’s a lot of hand-wringing and pearl-clutching that goes on whenever a sequel or remake is announced in Hollywood, it’s rather surprising anyone bothers since it’s long been a business model, and not just with movies, to try and replicate a success. What’s even more surprising is when a winning formula is found that isn’t repeated, such as the pairing of Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in Arthur Hiller’s The In-Laws (1979), a recent addiction to the Criterion Collection.
Rather than the typical clashing of families with different personality types, Andrew Bergman’s very funny script turns that idea on its ear as Arkin’s button-down dentist Dr. Sheldon “Shelly” Kornpett not only risks losing his daughter to the family of her future father-in-law Vince Ricardo (Peter Falk) but ends up risking jail and his life.
The film opens like a thriller as a U.S. Treasury truck is robbed of currency-printing plates, which are delivered to Vince. The job costs $1.5 million and the money is due the following day, although this storyline is soon forgotten, but the film delivers enough laughs that it doesn’t matter.
The day after the first meeting between families, which increases Shelly’s trepidation, Vince gets Shelly to do him a favor and get a package out of his office. What Vince fails to mention is that he is a CIA agent who has gone rogue to take on a Latin America crime syndicate and people are willing to kill to get the plates back. As events progress, Shelly has less reason to trust Vince but remains the only one he can.
What makes the film so good is Bergman’s script. As the story progresses, the stakes increase. The humor comes out of the situations and the characters play it straight instead of behaving silly (well, not counting Richard Libertini’s mad General). And while everyone says a lot was on the page, Falk and Arkin reminded viewers what talented actors they are by being better known for their dramatic performances yet handling deftly handling this comedic material.
The video is presented in a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The liner notes in the booklet reveal “”this digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Director film scanner from the 35mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, jitter, and flicker. Colors come through in strong hues. Blacks are inky. There’s an apparent film grain that increases during low-lit scenes. The image looks clean and free of defect.
The audio is available as LPCM Mono and “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the original 35 mm magnetic track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX4.” The dialogue sounds clear, but the voices that are dubbed, like the first scene with Falk on a rooftop, are flat and hollow.
The commentary track was recorded in 2003 and brought together Hiller, Bergman, Falk and Arkin, who all had a grand time reminiscing about making the film. Interviewed in 2016, “Alan Arkin” (HD, 24 min) talks about acting, his career, and the film. “In Support of The In-Laws” (HD, 34 min) features cast members Ed Begley Jr., Nancy Dussault, James Hong, and David Paymer providing insight about acting in a supporting role and working on the film. It is unusual but a wonderful treat to see them given so much time to talk. Lastly is a Trailer (HD, 3 min).
Hiller’s The In-Laws will never wear out its welcome because it’s a great comedy. Criterion has created a pleasing HD presentation and offers enjoyable extras.