Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986): Mazursky’s Great Comedy


Tribute to Paul Mazursky

Mazursky’s second tribute to classic French cinema was the 1986 American comedy, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, based on Jean Renoir’s great 1932 film, Boudu sauvé des eaux (“Boudu Saved from Drowning”).

The tale concerns a rich but dysfunctional couple who save the life of a suicidal homeless man

David “Dave” Whiteman (Dreyfuss) and his wife, Barbara (Midler), are a couple whose 20-year marriage has become barren and unfulfilling. Dave is having an affair with the lmaid (Elizabeth Peña), while Barbara tries to relieve her anxieties by experimenting with various New Age therapies.

A “down and out” homeless man named Jerry Baskin (Nolte) wanders into the backyard of the Whitemans’ Beverly Hills home, and tries to drown himself in the pool. Dave helps Jerry get back on his feet.


Down_and_Out_in_Beverly_Hills_5_mazurskyThough the family members are initially repelled and disgusted by Jerry, gradually, they end up growing fond of him, which results in all kinds of complications.

Soon, Jerry gets involved with all the family members. There’s an “everyone into the pool” sequence that tries too hard but is funny. The saga’s ending is much softer than Renoir’s, but on its own terms, the film is successful.

Jerry’s highly developed interpersonal gifts eventually rub Dave the wrong way. After all, he’s the Good Samaritan who rescued this loser and gave him an education in what it takes to achieve the good life. But, in the last analysis, Dave begins to see the world around him with fresh eyes.

Down_and_Out_in_Beverly_Hills_4_nolte_mazurskyThe film flaunts the liberal humanism of Mazursky, who obviously cherishes the eccentricities of Americans of all stripes. This comedy of manners, co-scripted by Masursky with Leon Capetanos is based on Rene Fauchois’ play “Boudu Sauve des Eaux” (upon which Renoir’s 1932 movie is based), about a Paris bum who plunges into the Seine to end his life and is rescued by a bookseller. Now the bum is in Beverly Hills and the water is the Whitemans’ pool.

“Down and Out in Beverly Hills” is filled with hilarious incidents (including several occasions when Maltisse sets off the fire alarm which summons the security firm, and clever one-liners, as when Dave describes his daughter’s visits home as “a blur with a nice smell.”

Down_and_Out_in_Beverly_Hills_3_nolte_mazurskyMazursky draws out top- notch performances from the versatile cast and an especially winning one from Little Richard, as the Whiteman’s next-door neighbor, a record producer who entertains a very funny party. Mike the dog steals every scene he is in, particularly in a scene when Jerry shows Matisse that his dog food is eatable. You may spot Mazursky in a bit part as an accountantMade on the average budget of $14 million, the film was one of Mazursky’s most commercial pictures, grossing over 93 million in the U.S. alone. The film’s appeal was largely enhanced by the trio of stars, Nick Nolte, Bette Midler and Richard Dreyfuss, all very hot and in great demand in the 1980s.

Down_and_Out_in_Beverly_Hills_4_nolte_mazurskyThe musician Little Richard also makes an appearance, and contributed the song “Great Gosh a’Mighty” to the soundtrack. The song’s success led to a revitalization of his career.

Released by Touchstone, a film label that Disney created, Down and Out in Beverly Hills is the first R-rated film ever released by the company. The R rating is due to profanity as well as a brief scene showing a maid having sex in bed.



Nick Nolte – Jerry Baskin

Bette Midler – Barbara Whiteman

Richard Dreyfuss – David ‘Dave’ Whiteman

Elizabeth Peña – Carmen the Maid

Little Richard – Orvis Goodnight

Evan Richards – Max Whiteman

Tracy Nelson – Jenny Whiteman