Saturday, August 11, 2012

Plaza Suite (1972) - Great New York Atmosphere

Plaza Suite DVD cover
"Plaza Suite" (1972).

A very sophisticated film, "Plaza Suite" (1972), directed by Arthur Hiller, features a bravura performance by Walter Matthau, but unfortunately it is badly dated now. "Plaza Suite" likely is only interesting to fans of Walter Matthau now, or perhaps of playwright Neil Simon, but it does have some amusing moments. "Plaza Suite" unfortunately feels staged and forced, but does provide a fine vehicle for Walter Matthau to exercise his comedic chops.

Even though he really hit it big only about a decade before, Walter Matthau was an old pro by 1971. He had taken a wide variety of roles that stretched his talents and demonstrated a phenomenal range. "The Fortune Cookie" was his breakthrough, while "The Odd Couple" was his comedic peak. If you notice that both of those films also featured Jack Lemmon, well, you win a prize, but unfortunately Lemmon is missing from "Plaza Suite" and he is badly missed. "Plaza Suite" has to rely on big contributions from a succession of supporting characters, and they are a mixed bag. Matthau, though, must have had a ball - he gets to play three separate roles set within the same set but with different co-stars - how much like an actor's studio can you get? That Matthau pulls it off brilliantly is almost a given, the man knew how to act. Everyone else in the cast, even the ones that also were old pros and had sharpened their roles in the successful stage play (which Matthau didn't), pale beside Matthau. Now, that's a movie star.

Plaza Suite Maureen Stapleton Walter Matthau
Maureen Stapleton and Walter Matthau in "Plaza Suite."

In "Plaza Suite" there are three vignettes set in a particular suite at the New York Plaza Hotel (the Plaza is perhaps the premiere hotel in the City, if not the world). Matthau and company emote and do their thing, and Matthau is a riot with his slow burns and attempts to con various people. The details of these "Plaza Suite" vignettes aren't really significant and reciting them would spoil the fun - you either like smart, snappy drawing room comedy or you don't. I found "Plaza Suite" enjoyable, if a bit tedious here and there. In particular, one or two of the characters, such as Maureen Stapleton's Karen Nash in the opening scene, did not ring true to me. The way the final scene is resolved is dated and clich├ęd, even if humorous, and the whole set-up for it is a bit overdone. Basically, the scenes aren't really supposed to make sense, but just give Matthau a chance to chew the scenery - which he does with gusto. The music by Maurice Jarre at times is on early '70s overload that it becomes a distraction. But, I'm a big Matthau fan, and I must admit that he overcomes everything, especially when he lets loose in the last sketch of "Plaza Suite."

The real weakness of the film is that it plays too much like a stage play. But, that's where it came from, and it does not expand beyond those limitations. Take "Plaza Suite" for what it is, a stage play transferred with minimal alterations to the screen. Oh, and despite what one of the characters claims, the Plaza never was in danger of being demolished. That section of NYC looks almost exactly the same today as it did then.

Plaza Suite Walter Matthau Maureen Stapleton
Walter Matthau does a lot of physical comedy in "Plaza Suite."

"Plaza Suite" features some classic Matthau and some nice visuals of NYC. Those factors alone will give you a good couple of hours if you ask me.


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