Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Four Seasons

When I was growing up, two of my favorite performers were Alan Alda and Carol Burnett.

They both appeared in popular shows on the same network (CBS) — and, for a short time, I could even watch both of them on the same night. Their shows weren't on back to back, but they were part of the same blockbuster Saturday night lineup that would have been regarded as "must–see TV" if the phrase/concept had existed then.

In the mid–1970s — when both shows were part of that Saturday night lineup — Alda was a guest on Burnett's variety show, and the two were featured in a sketch called "Dream Date" that had a strong silver screen influence.

I thought they showed some real chemistry, and I wanted to see more, but I never dreamed that they would appear in a movie together.

Until this day in 1981.

On this day 30 years ago, "The Four Seasons" was released. It was the story of three admittedly quirky (and apparently affluent) couples who did everything together, and it was told via four vignettes — a spring country getaway, a summer vacation trip, parents' weekend at college in the fall and a ski trip during the winter.

It was in the first setting that it was revealed that one of the couples (played by Len Cariou and Sandy Dennis) was splitting up. By the second setting, Cariou's character had started spending time with a new female companion (Bess Armstrong), who found it difficult to fit in with the group.

That group included a couple that was about 10 years older than the others (played by Jack Weston and Rita Moreno), and the third couple was played by Alda and Burnett.

The divorce was affecting the life of Cariou's daughter, which could be seen during parents' weekend, and the issue of the group's acceptance of Cariou's companion formed the basis of the story of the ski trip.

I felt it was a great blend of comedy and drama that featured some real pros. Sadly, two of those pros — Weston and Dennis — are no longer around, but they delivered some great lines in that movie.

During parents' weekend, for example, Moreno insisted on treating her Italian heritage as an excuse for not being more subtle.

Frustrated, Weston stuck his head out the window and shouted, "Hey, everybody, this woman is Italian!"

Then he told Moreno that she no longer had to announce her ethnic heritage in that state. "And when we cross the border," he told her, "I'll take out an ad in the New York Times."

Weston had some more good lines during the confrontation between the divorcing spouses at parents' weekend. Cariou's character, Weston told Alda, had been cheating on his wife for a long time. "They even slept at your apartment once," he said.

"Where was I?" Alda wanted to know.

"You gave him the key to water your plants and feed the cats while you were away," Weston replied. "Didn't you notice the funny expression on the cats' faces?"

Dennis' character wasn't seen as much. After the spring getaway, she disappeared — except for an appearance during parents' weekend.

But she got off some pretty good lines in a brief conversation with Moreno and Burnett.

She confided that, to combat her loneliness, she had acquired a new pet — a snake. He'd been disgusting at first, she said, because he ate mice alive, but she had gotten used to him and now found him to be a "lovely" pet.

She urged her friends not to tell her estranged husband about the snake, though. "He thinks I'm crazy as it is."

But, as she was leaving, she changed her mind. "To hell with Nick," she said. "Tell him it's a God damn boa constrictor."

The movie was like that. It was a humorous examination of a number of crises the characters were facing.

It was honest.