City Slickers Review
It's every male's worst fear - the fear of turning old, and City Slickers taps into this fear perfectly, in the form of thirty-eight year old Radio advertiser Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal), who is dreading his next birthday. Mitch is taking his mid-life crisis hard, and even his wife Barbara (Patricia Wettig) remarks that he is no longer fun to be around. His two best pals are experiencing the same 'ageing' condition in different ways: Phil (Daniel Stern) is a pale comparison of his former self, living in fear of his dictatorial wife to such an extent that he pretends to be asleep at Phil's party rather than listen to her boss him around. In contrast, Mitch's other pal Ed (Bruno Kirby) has relentlessly pursued a string of young ladies in order to maintain his grip on youth, and has often found it hard starting a family. As a present to Mitch, Phil and Ed have arranged a 'special' two week holiday in which the three guys spend 'driving cattle'. Mitch is initially against the idea, but is eventually pushed into it by his wife. Thus sparks the most life-changing and intense fortnight of Mitch, Phil and Ed's lives. Whilst driving cattle between the beautifully arid locales of New Mexico and Colorado, the gang are taught how to tame the wild frontier by a fearless veteran named Curly (Jack Palance in an Oscar winning performance), who also teaches the 'city folk' many lessons on life that changes them forever.
City Slickers starts off with the promise of one movie and swiftly mutates into something completely different. Initially, it’s almost a sequel to Crystal’s other hit When Harry Met Sally, with Crystal playing the man with a fine job, gorgeous wife and two kids going through his mid-life crisis. Mitch Robbins is almost an extension of Harry Burns. This first act of City Slickers is arguably its finest, and it’s a pity that the humour has to peak so early on. The characters of Mitch, and his fellow ageing pals Phil and Ed are expertly structured, - they are likeable and goofy and yet are never stereotypes; we see them in their natural surroundings early on in the film, and this is pivotal to the care we give them later on. There are many hilarious moments in the establishing first act – Phil’s bitter resentment duel with his Hitler-esque wife is inspired comedy at its best, and Crystal’s self-depreciating humour rivals the very peak of Woody Allen. However, as soon as the film turns mock-Western it becomes cartoon-like, rather similar to the overlong title-sequence that the film possesses. This doesn’t mean the film is any less fun, just that it takes a more predictable turn than it should have done.
Despite all this, City Slickers has an ace up its sleeve, the Oscar winning performance of Jack Palance as Curly. Palance doesn’t act, he just panders to the public’s opinion of the many characters’ personas he has portrayed over the years. He walks on, acts hard and then walks off again. Maybe the Academy were overly polite to give him an Oscar, but Palance deserved one for at least one film in his career so why not City Slickers, a film that seems to lovingly celebrate him?
Directing wise, Ron Underwood is very slick if not groundbreaking. He's turned in a few decent films over the years, such as the cult hit Tremors and the average Michael Keaton vehicle Speechless. Underwood lets the characters interact nicely with each other, and he knows how to provide a perfect blend between comedy and sentiment. Underwood, in tandem with cinematographer Dean Semler (who won an Oscar for Dances With Wolves) exploits the fantastic rocky vistas of Colorado and New Mexico wonderfully, and the film is almost visually flawless when utilising exterior locations. It's also worth noting the lively revisionist score by Marc Shaiman, that seems to draw upon many previous classic western themes and also gives the film a somewhat distinctive stamp on its own identity.
City Slickers was followed by an OK sequel and is still a winning mix of comedy and mid-life anxiety with a 'Western' remix more than ten years after it was released. The performances are very good indeed and the film has carved out it's own cult audience. It's also the only Billy Crystal starring vehicle to ever win an Oscar.
Academy Awards 1991
Best Supporting Actor - Jack Palance
Academy Award Nominations 1991
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, the picture quality is very similar to most of MGM's acquired Orion catalogue - generally pleasing with a few grainy elements and a very slight trace of digital artefacts. The transfer for City Slickers is very good, and is arguably the best presentation the film has ever seen, with fine natural colour tones and a mostly speckle-less print.
Presented in the film's original 2.0 surround track, the sound is abundant in clarity and contains clearly audible sound elements, even if the surround channelling is uninspired.
Menu: A static menu featuring some bright promotional artwork images as background.
Packaging: Presented in a transparent amaray with no booklet; the chapter listings printed on the reverse of the inlay. The cover is an average painted representation of the film.
Original Theatrical Trailer: The trailer probably earned the film massive box office takings but you'd be advised to not watch it before watching the film as it shows the best moments of the film in chronological order.
A very likeable and amusing western/middle-age comedy is given another barebones treatment from MGM/Orion. However, this has meant a relatively low RRP, and at this price, City Slickers is a very tempting treat for anyone in need of an enjoyable two hour filler.