Goodbye, Columbus (1969): Larry Peerce’s Satire Starring Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw

Larry Peerce’s Goodbye, Columbus, a biting satire starring Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw, was based on the well-received novella by Philip Roth.

The screenplay was written by Arnold Schulman, who was awarded the Writers Guild of America Award.

This was essentially MacGraw’s film debut, though she had previously played a bit part the year before, in A Lovely Way to Die.  As a result of this picture, she was cast in Love Story, which became a blockbuster.

Richard Benjamin plays Neil Klugman, an intelligent army veteran and graduate of Rutgers University who works as a library clerk. He falls for Brenda Patimkin (Ali MacGraw), a wealthy student at Radcliffe College who is home for the summer.

The interracial couple face obstacles from Brenda’s family (particularly her mother), due to differences in social class, lfestyle, and manners. Other issues that touched a chord with young viewers were premarital sex and the possibility of pregnancy, and Mrs. Patimkin’s envy of her daughter’s youth, a theme that also prevailed in Mike Nichols’ 1967.

The film earned an estimated $10.5 million in rentals at the North American box office, making it one of the year’s most popular movies.

Variety lauded the film, writing, “This adaptation of Philip Roth’s National Book Award-winning novella is sometimes a joy in striking a boisterous mood, and otherwise handling action. Castwise the feature excels. Richard Benjamin as the boy, a librarian after serving in the army, and Ali MacGraw, making her screen bow as the daughter of wealthy and socially-conscious parents, offer fresh portrayals seasoned with rich humor. Their romance develops swiftly after their meeting at a country-club pool.”

But film critic Vincent Canby  was annoyed that it strayed from Roth’s work, “Goodbye, Columbus is sharp and honest. However, the further they are removed from the main situation, the more the subsidiary characters, lightly sketched in the novella, become overstuffed, blintz-shaped caricatures. Jack Klugman and Nan Martin, as Brenda’s parents, are very nice, but Michael Meyers, as her huge, empty-headed brother (‘so exceedingly polite,’ Mr. Roth observed in the novella, ‘that it seemed to be some affliction of those over six foot three’) borders on a cartoon figure.”

Canby resented the vulgar manners that Mr. Peerce allows his middle-class Jews—especially at an elaborate wedding reception—not because of any particular bias, but because it is gross moviemaking. These reservations, however, become academic. Goodbye, Columbus is so rich with understanding in more important ways that it is a thing of real and unusual pleasure.

For some, this scathing satire of a nouveau riche Jewish family, has been brilliantly adapted for the screen by Arnold Schulman (received an Academy nomination) and directed by Larry Peerce (his father is the opera singer Jan Peerce) was both funnier and more perceptive than The Graduate.”

Cast

Richard Benjamin as Neil Klugman

Ali MacGraw as Brenda Patimkin

Jack Klugman as Ben Patimkin

Nan Martin as Mrs. Ben Patimkin

Michael Meyers as Ron Patimkin

Lori Shelle as Julie Patimkin

Monroe Arnold as Uncle Leo

Sylvie Strause as Aunt Gladys

Ilona Simon as Gloria Feldman

Kay Cummings as Doris Klugman

 

Oscar Nominations: 1

Screenplay (Adapted): Arnold Schulman

 

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar was Waldo Salt for “Midnight Cowboy.”