Popi (1969): Arthur Hiller’s Serio-Comedy, Starring Alan Arkin as Caring Father, and Rita Moreno (Father and Children, Boys)

Arthur Hiller directed Popi, a serio-comedy, starring Alan Arkin and Rita Moreno, based on the screenplay by Tina Pine and Lester Pine.

The film focuses on a Puerto Rican widower struggling to raise his two young sons in the New York’s Spanish Harlem.

Abraham Rodriguez, Popi to his sons Luis and Junior, supports them by working three jobs. He hopes to earn enough to marry his girlfriend Lupe and move the family into better home in Brooklyn.

Reality crashes in, when the boys see gangs in the neighborhood who victimize them, stealing their clothes.

While working at a banquet in New York for Cuban exiles, he hatches an idea. Realizing his boys have better chance of making good as political refugees than products of the ghetto, he plots to set them adrift in a rowboat off the coast of Miami Beach, hoping they will be mistaken for escapees from Cuba and offered asylum.

After teaching them how to row a boat in the lake in Central Park and how to handle a motorboat on the East River, they depart for Florida.

Unable to convince the Coast Guard the boys are out there, he fears they are lost until he hears radio report about the heroic rescue of two young “Cuban” boys, Luis and Junior, suffering from dehydration and severe sunburn.

The boys are hospitalized, and many folks offer to adopt them. Wearing a disguise, Popi sneaks into the hospital and tries to convince them they are better off being raised by wealthy parents.

The three argue loudly in English, alerting the staff and prompting Popi to flee, followed by his sons.

In the end, their hoax is exposed, and they return to their father and the impoverished life in the barrio.

The film is uneven. The first half, set in New York, is rich and warm, filled with flavor of city life. The second half, involving the Florida plan, is more like a TV sit comedy. And it doesn’t help that Arkin overacts, working too hard to get laughs.

A TV series with the same name, a sitcom based on the same subject, aired in 1976, starring Héctor Elizondo as Popi.

Alan Arkin as Abraham Rodriguez
Rita Moreno as Lupe
Reuben Figueroa as Luis
Miguel Alejandro as Junior
Louis Zorich as Penebaz