The Late Show
Robert Benton doesn’t have a lot of screen credits, but they’re mostly good ones. He’s won three Oscars, for writing and directing Kramer vs. Kramer, and for writing Places in the Heart. He also wrote Bonnie and Clyde. He hails from Waxahatchie, Texas, a place in my heart, a little town my family drove through hundreds of times on our way to visit my grandparents in Corsicana, 35 miles down the road. (Also the home of the world’s most expensive hole in the ground, the never-to-be-finished Superconducting Super Collider, canceled by Congress in its wisdom in 1993 after 2 billion dollars had already been spent.) For my money this movie could easily have been his 4th and 5th Oscar, except that was the year of the fabulous Annie Hall. Whatever, it’s still one of my favorite movies, ever. Art Carney is Ira Wells, a sick, gimpy, hard-of-hearing, retired PI taken right out of ‘40s pulp fiction and landed uncomfortably in ‘70s Hollywood. Seriously flaky Margo Sperling (Lily Tomlin, who he always calls “Doll”) hires him to find her kidnapped cat. You will suspect that Ira is ten times smarter than any of the mopes he comes up against, and you will be right. You will suspect that Ira and Margo will come to like each other a lot, and you will be right. None of that detracts in the least from the delights of this movie. Art Carney is absolutely brilliant in the greatest performance of his life (even better than the one he got the Oscar for in Harry and Tonto), and Lily is … well, Lily. When was the last time you saw a hard-boiled detective taking the bus to confront the bad guys, or doubled over in agony from a perforated ulcer? Everything about this movie is just right, very much including supporting roles by Bill Macy and even more by Eugene Roche, as a fence who can’t resist trying to pay for everything with an Amana microwave, or a new Cadillac, your choice of color. Dude should have had a Supporting Actor nomination.