Private Benjamin

A Jewish princess joins the Army. Basic training hinges loosely on The D.I., and is handled carefully all around. Her European stint is a clever contrivance.

What seems most remarkable is the sedate, dapper setting of many jokes and the principal one. Her first husband’s funeral is a dry shorthand of a famous joke cultivated by Renoir and Allen. Zieff’s technique comes to the surface as required (slapstick on the obstacle course, etc.), but takes a courteous discretion to be de rigueur for a serious comedy.


Unfaithfully Yours

It’s a question why anyone should bother remaking a Preston Sturges, but this is another way of looking at the original, with its impeccably fine orchestration and solo part for Rex Harrison re-arranged for the inventions of Dudley Moore (his would-be victim is now a violinist, played by Armand Assante in a canny piece of castinghis solos are played by Pinchas Zukerman). Zieff enforces great calm resources around him, which blossoms Richard Libertini with gravity and polish, Richard B. Shull with keen reflection, and Albert Brooks with brilliance. Nastassia Kinski is exquisite in a comic part unctuously absolved from any contaminating influence of the great cast, with great independence and naivety as a foil. In the end, she carries off the picture.

Zieff works closely with Moore to waste no motions, and when a gag requires it, they work in tandem. It’s a straightfaced style that makes no bones by staying just a bit ahead of itself, so that it moves directly into each gag as a steady progression of causes and effects.


The Dream Team

There is a very interesting thematic relationship to Michael Ritchie’s The Couch Trip. These madmen in the light of day freakishly encounter all manner of criminal underworld hooliganism and shenanigans (and by the police, yet), but they come out on top and save their doctor, even.

That’s what you call therapeutics. Add another kinship to Feldman’s In God We Tru$t, perhaps, and then the general line running in the background that equates the cinema with dreams (from Richter’s Dreams That Money Can Buy to Thompson’s St. Ives), and you have a sense of what is in back of the comedy precision, the mirth, if you will.