• U.S.

Cinema: Twelve-Letter Obscenity

2 minute read
Stefan Kanfer

Oedipus Rex, King of Thebes, died this week in his new home, Where’s Poppa? Mr. Oedipus was 2,500 years old and had been ailing for almost a century. His troubles began on the couch. From Oedipus complex it was an easy plunge to Oedipus simple, bottoming out in pop-psych idiocy like Where’s Poppa?, which offers the case of Gordon Hocheiser (George Segal) and his mama (Ruth Gordon).

Miss Gordon, an accomplished performer for more than 50 years, is, to be charitable, miscast. As a latter-day Jocasta, she is too venerable to inspire a son with anything but pity or terror. Her older son, Sidney (Ron Leibman), is the sort of chap whom a caliph would choose to guard his harem. Living on Manhattan’s East Side, Sidney shuttles frequently between his own pad and the Hocheiser private loony bin, where Gordon continually threatens to throw Mama out the window. Offense is the order of the day, particularly in one episode when a gang of blacks forces Sidney to strip and rape a lady in the park. The “lady,” it turns out, is a cop in drag who falls in love with his assailant.

On occasion, Director Carl Reiner offers an ingenious sight gag, and the energy of his cast is never allowed below the manic level, producing some legitimate, if frantic laughter. It was not for nothing that Reiner was the greatest second banana in TV history; it was for next to nothing. His film is but a single joke, and the punch line is the commonplace twelve-letter obscenity.

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