Movie review: ‘Fun with Dick and Jane’ (1977)

Writers and filmmakers are always looking for a nice story for a caper film and 1977’s “Fun with Dick and Jane” with George Segal and Jane Fonda benefits from a good story, good writing and superior direction. It doesn’t hurt that Fonda and Segal play their parts nearly perfectly. It’s also interesting to compare the now-called “reboot” from 2009 with Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni with the original (hint: the original simply outshines the wannabe). So, you don’t have to look hard – but you have to look – to find “Fun with Dick and Jane” and you should do it!

‘Fun with Dick and Jane’
(1977; 95 minutes; rated PG; directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring George Segal, Jane Fonda and Ed McMahon)

THE ORIGINAL IS ALWAYS THE BEST

(NOTE: I updated links on this review on July 26, 2015, and then I expanded it with some additional opinion, more updated links and additional trivia on March 29, 2017.)

Fun with Dick and Jane” pushes all the right buttons: it’s funny, it’s clever and for when it was made it poked some fun at a middle class that would itself by the end of the 1970s come to understand a little economic recession. Its remake with Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni is acceptable and more current with getting back at greedy executives, but, as in most cases, the original is best and Carrey and Leoni can’t really hold a candle to the chemistry between George Segal and Jane Fonda.

(CLICK HERE FOR ALL MY MOVIE REVIEWS)

In “Fun with Dick and Jane,” Segal as aerospace executive “Dick Harper” and Fonda as his wife “Jane Harper” are living the upper middle-class dream. He has a great job; they have a beautiful home, they’re building a swimming pool and they have all the toys and fun things that money brings. Then, a strange thing happens: Segal gets fired.

From there you’ll go on a humorous romp with them through the landscaper repossessing their lawn; drudgery in the unemployment and food stamp system; immigration woes (you’ll get the context when you see the film); the embarrassment of having to work for a living; and finally turning to crime to pay the bills. But it’s OK. They’re funny so their crimes (most with a gun) are acceptable.

Segal and Fonda do good jobs in their respective roles as the headliners, while Johnny Carson’s legendary sidekick Ed McMahon does a surprisingly good supporting turn here as the crooked corporate CEO who fires Segal and sets the whole thing into motion. The supporting cast drops off a bit, but the film is so well done you barely notice.

Here’s my look at the stars:

  • For years Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner (not for this one) Segal impressed audiences with his smooth, funny demeanor when it was called for (say as in “The Hot Rock” with Robert Redford – click here for my review) or just smooth in a drama (say as in “Rollercoaster” – click here for my review). He’s great here with his salesman’s persona and finally accepting of a temporary life of crime for money until he gets another job. Segal was nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and he’s done great work in television, too, including “Just Shoot Me” for which he earned a Globe nomination.
  • An Oscar winner (not for this one), Fonda, too, doesn’t disappoint and this is just another professional piece of her acting resume. She plays the somewhat ditzy but ultimately strong housewife-turned-worker-turned-criminal to a T. She’s light, funny and then forceful and tough. Fonda isn’t as good here as she would be in with Redford in “The Electric Horseman” two years later (click here for my review) or in her Oscar-winning roles in “Klute” and “Coming Home,” much less for lesser films such as “The China Syndrome” or the very funny “Monster-in-Law” (click here for my review).

The two play a longtime married couple as if they were married – to each other. Their first escapade into crime is simply hilarious. Segal, with Fonda watching in amusement, tries robbing several places. He does the stereotype by buying useless junk at a pharmacy without having the nerve to rob it, and then backs out of a bar when he gets a look at the African-American patrons. Finally they stalk into a motel office and Segal is so ticked at Fonda he just immediately the gun out and threatens the clerk. All with good humor, of course (and you don’t have to wonder what the Politically Correct Numbskulls would say today).

Another great scene is when the food stamp inspector visits to see if they qualify for the welfare. He tells this well-dressed, middle-class couple that they’re what’s wrong with the welfare system. It’s done really well.

As for those leading the supporting cast:

  • The single funniest line is delivered by Tom Peters, who plays a restaurant owner and was also in “Executive Action.” As Segal and Fonda walk up, he says, “How was the food folks?” Segal then pulls a gun. “That bad, huh?” he deadpans. Priceless. Although Peters has just two lines and if you blink you’ll miss him, he does a great job conveying the character – better than most of the rest of the supporting cast combined with much more time on screen. Peters had only 19 credits over a acting career of four decades and his last credit was in 1982 – “Fun with Dick and Jane” was his next to last credit.
  • As for McMahon, he slugs a homerun (and some booze) with his portrayal of chief executive “Charlie Blanchard.” He hits all the right notes as the skunky chief executive. Someone once wrote that it would be impossible to stop McMahon from laughing (if you ever saw Carson’s “Tonight Show” you’ll know why), but he is a real actor here. McMahon was also in other films including “Butterfly” and “Bewitched” (as himself) as well as a string of TV shows including “Baywatch.”

The film winds up with Segal and Fonda getting a big score off his former company and McMahon, who is in turn fired and Segal hired to replace him. All’s well and the crime spree’s over. Good for them and better for us since it wraps up the film nicely.

Here are a few funny things that date the film:

  • Segal and Fonda’s son asks, “Does that mean we’re gonna be poor like the Waltons?” For those who don’t remember, TV’s “The Waltons” was a rural family that had little in the way of money but a lot of character.
  • Segal and Fonda’s big debt was $77,000 on their house (they would probably have stroked out with what they owed if they had been caught with the same home in our recent mortgage debt crisis.
  • The interior decorating of Fonda’s parents’ residence is nothing short of 1970s “rich” looked like. Everywhere from offices to residences, the décor and furnishings scream 1970s.

I couldn’t find box office totals for “Fun with Dick and Jane” for 1977, but it was out of the top 10, according to Wiki. It had a budget of $3 million. The No. 1 film was “Star Wars” with $307.2 million and “Smokey and the Bandit” at a distant No. 2 with $126.7 million. Here are the films from 1977 that I’ve reviewed for my blog:

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Faye Dunaway turned down the role that ultimately went to Fonda. However, I’d say that’s a good thing. I don’t see Dunaway, who was so terrific in “Three Days of the Condor” (click here for my review) two years earlier with Redford, doing as good a job as Fonda. Maybe, but I doubt it.
  • Dewayne Jessie plays a robber in “Fun with Dick and Jane,” but you know him better as (and he is now going by the legal name of) “Otis Day” as in “Otis Day and the Knights” of “Animal House” fame.
  • Richard Gautier plays “Dr. Thomas Will” a smarmy preacher who is terrier-like when he chases Segal and Fonda after they rob the offering given at his so-call church. Gautier is a TV veteran of dozens of shows including “Matlock” in a career of 103 roles.
  • Jay Leno, the retired host of “The Tonight Show,” has an uncredited role as a carpenter. Don’t worry, you’ll all too easily miss him.
  • Veteran character actor Anne Ramsey, who plays an employment applicant, was also in “Throw Momma from the Train” and doesn’t manage to elevate her character to even being remembered (I had to watch the credits).
  • Cast members who did an episode or episodes on “The Love Boat” include Gautier; Fred Willard, who did three episodes and he plays “Bob” here) and Robert Lussier, who is marvelous in his few moments onscreen playing the unemployment office clerk here. I truly love “The Love Boat” – click here to read my take on the kitschy series.
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “The picture was almost completely shot on location. Only five days were shot on the studio sound stage out of the film’s three months of principal photography.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2016.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without
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