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A Movie A Day: LOST IN YONKERS (1993)
You know what it's like to touch steel, mama? It's hard and it's cold.

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] In a weird sort of way LOST IN YONKERS is the title that stands out the most from the A Movie A Day list for me personally as “I can’t believe I haven’t seen this movie.” There are much, much bigger movies than LOST IN YONKERS, but it’s not the size of the movie or its importance to film history that has me saying that. It’s the time period it was released. Starting at age 10 I obsessively rode my bike to the local mall four-plex (about a mile and a half each way) and watched everything rated PG-13 or below. Everything. From 1991-1993 I saw every damn movie that came out, especially if it was PG because the jerks at the theater wouldn’t let me buy a ticket for the harder stuff even though my parents didn’t mind that I watched those movies. The concept of buying a ticket for another movie and walking into an R-rated one didn’t even register as a possibility in my little brain. But I saw everything from THE MIGHTY DUCKS to HEART AND SOULS to LEAP OF FAITH and when I moved to Austin in late 1993 I really did fall into movies as I was the new kid and didn’t have any friends. Those were the days where I’d spend the weekends living at movie theaters, watching 3 or 4 at a time on Saturday and then repeating again on Sunday.

LOST IN YONKERS was released 1993 and was rated PG. I loved Richard Dreyfuss, but I don’t think I was even aware this film was out. Somehow I missed it in one of the most movie-hungry times of my life. So, it might not be as shocking as THE SOUND OF MUSIC or RIO BRAVO, but to me it’s the movie that makes the least amount of sense. I almost wish I hadn’t followed up THE GOODBYE GIRL with this film because it’s hard to follow that movie. LOST IN YONKERS isn’t a bad movie, it isn’t mediocre… in fact it’s very enjoyable, but lacks that certain dead-center emotional punch and intimacy that THE GOODBYE GIRL had. For starters, Richard Dreyfuss gets top billing, prominent DVD cover placement and ends up being a supporting character in the movie, not even appearing until 2 reels in, so automatic disappointment.

However, I’m sure that LOST IN YONKERS is just as autobiographical as THE GOODBYE GIRL, probably even moreso. The film takes place in the ‘40s as two brothers are left with their strict grandmother who runs a candy shop with an iron fist as their father travels around the country selling steel as a means to pay off a huge sum of debt. Also living with the strict grandma is the kids’ Aunt Bella, the middle aged woman-child adorably played by Mercedes Ruehl. She is the kids’ only safe harbor from the wicked and cruel grandmother, almost like another playmate. Then there’s Uncle Louie (Dreyfuss) who shows up one night carrying a little black bag and always looking out the window. There are a couple of guys in fedoras and pinstriped suits asking around for him, which only furthers the kids’ belief that he’s a mobster on the run with some crazy money or mob secrets or something.

If Bella’s represents the innocence of childhood, then Louie represents the mischievous side of childhood. He encourages the kids to stand up and fight (Moxie is what he calls it), he encourages them breaking the rules, risking punishment for the sake of tasting the thrill of self-won freedom. But to the person, the family is fucked. The grandmother is a cold bitch, Bella is loopy, Louie is a no-good criminal and the boys’ father has no strength and can never stand up for himself… And then there’s the Aunt Gert who has a speech impediment that is hilarious and completely over the top (she speaks half her lines sucking in air). The message is essentially the absence of love by the strict matriarch left her children incomplete. But the Grandmother, played by Irene Worth, isn’t a full fledged villain. She has her reasons for being a tough broad, barely escaping Europe and losing two kids… it has taken her compassion out of her, making her believe the only way to protect herself and her children is to remove all love from the family. What I liked about the film is it didn’t try to attain some big redemption for the grandmother. The goal is simple. She opens the movie saying that she didn’t cry when she was crippled in Europe, she didn’t cry when she found her little boy dead in the street or when she lost her other child. She will never cry. If she cries, that’s a monumental leap for her, so the goal of the movie is to actually break through her tough shell, even for an instant.

That’s more realistic than everybody living happily ever after and, to me, it packed an even bigger emotional punch than if they had played it safer and more traditional. That said, there’s a lack of intimacy that I mentioned early on in this review. It’s an entertaining movie and everybody does a good job, especially Mercedes Ruehl, but I don’t know how much of it is going to stick with me. Whereas I can tell you THE GOODBYE GIRL will be with me for a long, long time. Something just clicked in that movie that didn’t click here. Final Thoughts: The entire cast are to be commended for their work, Ruehl being the MVP. David Strathairn also deserves a mention for his turn as Ruehl’s simpleton movie usher romantic interest. He isn’t very bright and is confused, but there’s a spark between him and Ruehl. Even though they don’t end well, he is the catalyst that finally gives Ruehl the ability to stand up to her mother. It’s not a glamorous part, but it’s a crucial one. There isn’t a stinker in the bunch, Martha Coolidge’s direction is fine, Simon’s script is fine and the two lead kids kind of hit that perfect middle ground between unrealistically adult and annoyinging childish. That adds up to a good flick that falls short of being a great flick.

Here are the final run of A Movie A Day titles: Monday, January 5th: THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975)

Tuesday, January 6th: CALIFORNIA SUITE (1978)

Wednesday, January 7th: A BRIDGE TOO FAR (1977)

Wow, down to the last three. The Neil Simon run continues for tomorrow’s THE SUNSHINE BOYS starring Walter Mattheau and George Burns! See you folks then for that one! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets
November 30th: The Hot Rock
December 1st: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
December 2nd: The Day of the Dolphin
December 3rd: Carnal Knowledge
December 4th: The Cincinnati Kid
December 5th: Pocketful of Miracles
December 6th: Mikey & Nicky
December 7th: Two-Minute Warning
December 8th: The Sentinel
December 9th: How To Steal A Million
December 10th: What’s New Pussycat?
December 11th: Being There
December 17th: The Party
December 18th: Casino Royale
December 19th: The StrangerDecember 20th: Brother Orchid
December 21st: The Petrified Forest
December 22nd: Moontide
December 23rd: Notorious
December 24th: The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
December 25th: The High Commissioner
December 26th: The Silent Partner
December 27th: Payday
December 28th: A Stranger Is Watching
December 29th: The New Kids
December 30th: Serial
December 31st: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
January 1st: Irma La Douce
January 2nd: The Prisoner of Second Avenue
January 3rd: The Goodbye Girl

Readers Talkback
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  • Jan. 5, 2009, 4:24 p.m. CST

    first ( I actually hate people for this!)

    by earlfist

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 4:27 p.m. CST

    I never liked Mercedes Ruehl

    by BobParr

    I don't recall this movie but I always found her annoying in everything I have seen her in.

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 4:27 p.m. CST

    This movie...

    by samboni2211

    had a lot of the exterior shots filmed at a town about 6-7 miles from where I was a big to-do

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 4:32 p.m. CST

    What about "The Warriors" BobParr?

    by Continentalop

    Come on, Mercedes Ruehl was pretty good as the under cover cop in the park who handcuffs Ajax!

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 4:44 p.m. CST

    Mercedes Ruehl...

    by exie

    Has a sweaty curvy fuckable intensity in Fisher King that always bothered me since I didn't want to be turned on by her since she's so not my type, but I was extremely turned on by her in that film. I always felt you could smell the coffee and cigs on her breath yet I still wanted to bang the shit out of her in that film. Thought this might help get the conversation started.

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 4:46 p.m. CST

    David Strathairn

    by ThreeOranges

    Was pretty pathetic in this movie. His character, not his performance.

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 4:47 p.m. CST


    by earlfist

    I haven't seen this but the reviews at the time compared Dreyfuss unfavourably next to the actor who won awards on Broadway. That was one Kevin Spacey. I must say for every Neil Simon triumph, there are some collosal dogs. The Marrying man aka too hot to handle, max duggan returns, the sluggers wife, I'm sure their are more. My personal favourites beside the goodbye girl are the heartbreak kid, chapter two, the odd couple ( even odd couple two ain't bad) Biloxi blues and the much criticized Pryor and Cosby section of California Suite. there are some great Dreyfuss performances that are forgotten. inserts, whose life is it anyway, let it ride and the movie with amy Irving where he plays a concert pianist and I can't remember the name of the bloody movie. Another movie I would recommend for anyone who likes the goodbye girl, (on top of the owl and the pussycat which I rated yesterday) is Continental Divide, with john belushi! go enjoy

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 5:21 p.m. CST

    Home Stretch!

    by Archive

    Congratulations, Quint! What a run!

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 6:12 p.m. CST

    I saw this on Broadway

    by chrth

    Although I don't think it was the original cast (I think it was the 2nd cast). Excellent, but I had no desire to see it in theatres because I didn't think it'd do the original justice (and based on the reviews of the time, I think I was right).

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 6:15 p.m. CST

    Strange that Simon's autobiographical set...

    by JumpinJehosaphat

    ... didn't all make it to the screen. Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues got film treatments, although they weren't shot with the intention being linked thematically. Broadway Bound didn't happen and Yonkers did. Weird.

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 6:20 p.m. CST

    Put it on my tab.

    by Lenny Nero

    What the hell happened to Martha Coolidge? What a fall from grace. <p>But this film was my introduction to the word "moxie," which I have used incessantly ever since even when better words are more applicable.

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 6:53 p.m. CST

    It may be sorta endearing onscreen...

    by Anna Valerious

    ...but working with an actual man child is very irritating. I don't know if he's ever going to realize that his personality is the reason why his family doesn't keep in contact with him much... He's like Job in "The Lawnmower Man" (With the same haircut), but you really don't feel bad for him. You know he has the ability to change and turns things around but runs from it.

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 7:02 p.m. CST

    Not true Jehosephat...

    by Major Hockshtetter

    Actually, they did Broadway Bound as a TV movie back in the mid 90's. It starred Hume Cronyn, Anne Bancroft, Jerry Orbach, and, oddly enough, Jonathan Silverman playing Stanley, the older brother, as opposed to Eugene in Brighton Beach. While its TV movie trappings were horribly limiting, the acting was topnotch. Easily Simon's saddest play. Loved this one, though. "Artie, you got moxie!"

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 7:18 p.m. CST

    Proves my point about Simon plays on the screen

    by Larry of Arabia

    They are so deftly crafted for the intimacy and confinement of the theater that they can rarely make the translation to the screen without 100% top notch acting and directing talent from top to bottom. If you sleepwalk through Simon it turns dull, or, even worse, it becomes dull shtick.

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 7:33 p.m. CST

    earlfist- re: max dugan returns

    by sonnyhooper

    you really think max dugan is one of neil simons dogs? i'm honestly curious as to why..... i always thought it had some of his sharpest writing in it.

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 8:11 p.m. CST

    Sorry, Major, I meant wide cinema releases.

    by JumpinJehosaphat

    Although I knew about the tv version, I never saw it. Good to know the performances were solid, though. I'll have to see if there's some way to get it!

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 8:19 p.m. CST

    Mercedes Ruehl. As Adam West might've said...

    by catlettuce4

    ...she gives me strange stirrings near my utility belt.

  • Jan. 5, 2009, 11:01 p.m. CST

    Enough with the Neil fucking Simon

    by reflecto

    Jesus H Christ

  • Jan. 6, 2009, 1:07 a.m. CST

    Mercedes Ruehl....

    by Negator76 like, queen of the MILFS. Which creeps me out a little, because she actually went to college with my mom. Eewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

  • Jan. 6, 2009, 3:27 a.m. CST

    Be careful Quint

    by BobParr

    I believe you officially become a Jew after viewing five consecutive Neil Simon movies. It's a loophole to avoid circumcision.

  • Jan. 6, 2009, 6:21 a.m. CST

    Mercedes Ruehl's best line (in another movie)

    by Paul Bucciarelli

    "Just give me the ticket dickhead!"

  • Jan. 6, 2009, 6:57 a.m. CST


    by pilotgrl

    The Dreyfuss/Amy Irving film about the pianists was The Competition. You reminded me about Whose Life Is It, Anyway. He was very good in that, too.

  • Jan. 6, 2009, 11:49 a.m. CST

    by earlfist

    thanks for the note re the competetion,( I stand by my statement re max duggan and add last of the red hot lovers and date I say murder by death) . Although I forgot barefoot in the park and the out of towners are pretty good.

  • Jan. 6, 2009, 12:17 p.m. CST

    Beautiful Elmer Bernstein score

    by Whtshark

    That deserves a mention ;)

  • He played the uncle role on Broadway and won the Tony. A bit darker performance than Dreyfuss cartoonish one.