They came from Twin Oaks Ohio, a quiet little town George Kellerman (Jack Lemmon) wanted to leave behind to get that important vice-president job in the plastics firm which employed him. He took his wife Gwen (Sandy Dennis) along with him to New York, thinking it would be a nice opportunity to get used to the city, and had left plenty of time to reach the interview: they would be arriving the previous evening, have a nice dinner, and sleep over in the hotel, leaving George refreshed and ready to seize this chance...
Ah, but the best laid plans and all that, in Neil Simon's script for one of his best liked movies, one not based on a play of his for a change. It offered Lemmon some of his finest opportunities to do what he did best, namely grow increasingly exasperated, recognising that to bring out the best in his characters was to wind them up until they reached breaking point, whether it was in drama or as here, in comedy. What Simon didn't count on was that he made the escalating situation all too fraught with anxiety, resulting in a film that was often watched through the audience's fingers.
Figuratively speaking, of course - well, most of the time - but from a cast iron premise of perfect simplicity Simon and his director Arthur Hiller (breaking out of television for a run of big screen comedy) didn't half make the trials and tribulations of the Kellermans convincing, often horribly so. Through a mixture of George's pigheadedness and the fact everyone around them once they leave their hometown, no matter how polite or otherwise, is no help whatsoever, a boiling pot of confusion and frustration was concocted. In what could be seen as a dry run for Martin Scorsese's After Hours and its ilk, this was close to nightmare.
You know the kind of nightmare, where the turn of events builds an ever more hopeless series of problems, only with those you have the benefit of waking up and knowing it was over, yet with the Kellermans even at the end there's no closure in sight. Indeed, if we were not meant to feel such sympathy with the couple you could be forgiven for seeing Simon and Hiller as outright sadists for raining down such misfortune on a pair so unprepared to cope with it. From the very beginning, when George refuses the airplane meal because he thinks it will spoil his appetite for when they land, you can feel fate drawing in around them.
So the plane cannot land at New York, and they have to go to Boston instead, and then their luggage is lost, and then they miss the train to New York, and you begin to consider that George must have angered some God or other because it's clear nothing will go right for him or his wife now they are out of their comfort zone. The odd thing was that Simon was a dedicated New Yorker, it was his home and he loved the place, so why portray it as an almost literal hell on earth? Probably because he recognised its drawbacks as much as its benefits, and was perhaps creating a friendly warning to those out of towners wishing to move there: be careful what you wish for, it might be more than you can handle. This meant that for a comedy, his film didn't half make you wince as yet another mishap occurs or George inadvertantly creates trouble of his own, so by the end you may feel as stressed as he does. Music by Quincy Jones.