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Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986) Review

Boudu is saved again! The 1932 Renoir’s Boudu Saved from Drowning is translated into American Culture by Paul Mazursky. Both movies are based on a play Boudu sauvé des Eaux written in 1919  by René Fauchois. The premise of the story is simple yet brilliant: a clochard misalliance with nouveau riche. At first, I was skeptical about the remake; Boudu Saved from Drowning was one of my favourite movies back when I studied Film History and Mazursky is one of my favourite directors – I was aware it could go either way: it may have turned up fantastic or utter catastrophe…especially remembering Mazursky attempt to update Shakespeare’s The Tempest back in 1982.

Jean Renoir’s protoplast for Jerry Baskin, Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932)

Jerry Baskin/Boudu (Nick Nolte) is a vagrant. He roams the streets of cookie cutter Beverly Hills with his outlaw dog, Kerouac. It seems that the duo has been on the road for a quite some time. Jerry knows all the right places to take a nap in the afternoon shadow under the Californian sky. One day Kerouac goes missing which pushes Jerry over the edge. He breaks onto a fancy property, stuffs his pockets with stones and jumps into the swimming pool. His suicide is interrupted by the mansions’ owner, Mr. Whitman (Richard Dreyfuss) who from now on treats Jerry as a project and tries to get him back on track. This lays the perfect ground for farce comedy fueled by social inequality. We witness Jerry’s nonchalant journey up the food chain to yet again realize how morally bankrupt people can become. The characters in Mazursky’s version are all obsessed with guilt as one of the leading privileges of nouveau riche, as well as tendency to engage in misalliance. Both are ways of testing the waters and getting into trouble, both are coping mechanisms to deal with guilt. The clash of classes motif is brilliantly updated from the previous versions of the story by Mr. Mazursky and Leon Capetanos, who is also responsible for sharp humour in Moscow on the Hudson. Richard Dreyfuss as Dave Whiteman is exercising his “bourgeois attempt to reform an early hippy” (to cite Pauline Keal) in one of his best performances ever.

“The Whitemans, who are among the best-realized of Mr. Mazursky’s comic subjects, are viewed simultaneously with both contempt and compassion, but either way, they are seen at the very close range. It is Mr. Mazursky’s particular gift to become part of the very thing he satirizes – he appears in this film as the most ridiculous of the Whitemans’ friends – without sacrificing anything of his sardonic perspective”. (Janet Maslin for The New York Times, Januar 31, 1986)

It’s a bona fide comedy and the most commercial movie Mazursky ever made. All three characters are portrayed by famous actors: Richard Dreyfuss, Bette Midler, and Nick Nolte. Down and Out in Beverly Hills made quite a buzz back in 1986 and it was an Office Box hit. Seeing it from nearly 30 years perspective it also serves as a time capsule for the 80s.: the hair, wardrobe, home decor, and music (there’s a Little Richard cameo in the movie).

In DP/30 Mazursky jokes that he cast all three stars straight from Betty Ford clinic (at that time all three actors were struggling with substance abuse). Mazursky decided to take a risk but first, he thought of Jack Nicholson for the role of Jerry. Nicholson had one condition: he would play the bum only if Mazursky played Whitman. Next, he thought of Warren Beatty as of person which the type of that would make him millions on it (“imagine dirty Warren and then he gets cleaned up” to paraphrase Mazursky).

©  2018 Anna Jozwiak

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