Rewind: Films of the 60s, 70s, 80s – Where It’s At (1969)

by RICHARD WINTERS

Garson Kanin, best know for penning such comedies as Adam’s Rib (1949), The Girl Can’t Help It (1954), and Born Yesterday (1950), tries his hand at drama here. David Janssen plays a Las Vegas Casino owner who tries to train his son (Robert Drivas) in the business so he can take over. The father is a hard-bitten realist while the son, who has just graduated from college, is a strong idealist.

One of the main problems with this film is that there is nothing distinctive about it. It does not stand out in anyway. The arguments between the father and son are very typical stuff. The same topics were argued between “Meathead” and Archie in “All in the Family,” but at least there they were funny. Despite Kanin’s reputation, and despite what some sources list, this film is definitely not a comedy. There are a few amusing bits by Brenda Vaccaro, who plays Janssen’s secretary and easily steals the film, but that is it. The rest is a very by-the-numbers drama that gets played out in a methodical way.

Despite the Las Vegas setting the sets are very dull looking and unimaginative. The opening theme song by Jerry Ball is terrible and the characters unappealing. I could never get involved in the story and kept checking my watch the whole time.

I was interested in seeing this film simply for the presence of Janssen. I am a big fan of the old “The Fugitive” TV series and was impressed with his work in it. This film certainly does prove that he can act as his character here is the exact opposite of Richard Kimble, who was always mild-mannered and self-effacing. Here he is obnoxious and abrasive. Unfortunately the character stays too one-dimensional in a negative way. There is never any soft side revealed, causing the viewer to be uninterested in seeing what happens to him.

Robert Drivas as the son is another talented and interesting actor whose life and career was sadly cut short by AIDS in 1986. He had some memorable performances in various TV shows including “The Wild Wild West” as well as in the movies The Illustrated Man (1969) and Joseph Strickland’s independent classic Road Movie (1974). However, his best ability was in conveying a dark brooding side to his characters, which in this case works against the film. You never believe for an instant that the character is all that innocent or honorable because the dark elements start coming out from the beginning.

Don Rickles appears briefly as a dealer who starts stealing from the house. When he is caught he breaks down into a long crying spell before he is demoted to a full-time dish washing job until he can pay the money back. Rickles as a comedian is funny, but as a serious actor he is limited. Yet it was still fun seeing him play such a wimpy and passive person because it goes completely against his persona. The film might have been stronger had there been a few more scenes with him.

The film does have a bit of an interesting twist towards the end where the son decides to turn the tables on his father and takes advantage of one of his father’s shady deals by purchasing the casino from under him and then throwing the old man out on the street. This of course shocks the father and forces him to reevaluate his values as well as what he has taught his son. This might have been more intriguing had the same theme not been done so much better in The Godfather movies as well as Harry Chapin’s classic song “Cat’s in the Cradle.”

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