Sunday, December 18, 2011

Neighborly Gestures

Vic (Dan Aykroyd): We might have had a wonderful relationship. But then, as Arthur Bremer once said, 'How many things go right in this crazy world?'

We've all had them, I guess — neighbors who thoughtlessly impose themselves on us, interrupting us at the most inopportune times with a lot of noise or, worse yet, burdening us with their actual physical presence and the up–close–and–personal of their lives.

And all around us, it may seem, there is an ongoing conspiracy. It may be an accidental conspiracy, and we may be the only ones aware of its existence — but that doesn't mean it isn't legitimate.

That was Earl's dilemma, I suppose. At first, Earl (John Belushi) appeared to be a mild—mannered middle–class type, leading a fairly quiet middle–class life until Vic (Dan Aykroyd) and Ramona (Cathy Moriarty) moved in next door.

Then, suddenly, everything in Earl's comfortable, predictable life went haywire — but no one, other than Earl, seemed to realize it.

In "Neighbors," Belushi was certainly cast against type — or, at least, against image. In his Saturday Night Live days — and when he was making "National Lampoon's Animal House" — he had a reputation for being something of a party animal — while, if anything, Aykroyd was perceived as being more strait laced, more reserved.

In "Neighbors," the two really reversed roles. Based on existing public expectations, Belushi should have played the role of Vic and Aykroyd should have played the role of Earl.

But I always thought it was funnier the way it was done. Viewed from the perspective of 30 years later, when memories of Belushi are rather faded for most who are old enough to remember him, "Neighbors" is striking evidence of Belushi's diverse talent.

All one needs to do is watch "Animal House" or the original "Blues Brothers" — and then watch "Neighbors" — to see that Belushi was equally adept at playing both extremes.

It is often said of great actors that they lose themselves in a role, that they become the part they are playing. I don't know if Belushi was a great actor — a great talent, definitely — but that always seemed to be the case with Belushi's Earl. Sometime when I was watching "Neighbors" for the first time, I forgot that I was watching Belushi.

He was Earl.

His partnership with Aykroyd, on both the small and large screens, may have been the best since Martin and Lewis or the early days of Matthau and Lemmon. It was tragic that it was as brief as it was. Belushi died only a few months after "Neighbors" was released.

It was the last movie they made together.

Most people probably think only of "The Blues Brothers" when they think of the Belushi–Aykroyd film partnership — and that is a good one, to be sure. But there were two others — "Neighbors" and "1941," which, in hindsight, really should have done better than it did (but that is another story).

But it is "Neighbors" that I think of most when I think of Aykroyd and Belushi — unless I think of their work on Saturday Night Live.

And it was precisely because they veered so dramatically from type in "Neighbors" that it is the one that springs to my mind.

Makes me regret there wasn't more.