Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

'Oh Dad,' Shifts to Screen and, Oh Brother, How Sad

Cleveland Press February 23, 1967

"Oh Dad, Poor Dad, etc." is the sick movie of the year. This year, next year, any year.

What was offered as theater of the absurd (it wasn't quite, really) on stage comes off as an absurd movie, on screen.

It also is tasteless, witless, senseless and morbid. The adaptation is cumbersome, the players overact and the direction is heavy-handed.

What it has going for it are some slapstick moments and a silent movie within the movie which introduces dad -- who doesn't exist in the play -- in the abundant form of Jonathan Winters.

Arthur Kopit's play was an attack on momism that had an interesting title, some bright lines and was off beat and brief. Since it wasn't being played for realism one could accept the grotesqueries of it.

The skeleton of the story about a woman who travels with her 25-year-old infant son and the stuffed body of her husband has been fleshed out and it cannot stand the extra weight.

Bits and pieces of extra business have been nailed, taped and wired on. There is Neal Hefti's noisy title music, a lush Jamaican setting that forces this to be played out in bright light and a series of gaudy colored wigs for Rosalind Russell in the role of the man-devouring Madame Rosepettle.

Apparent]y fearing that the action of Kopit's thin plot might not be enough to sustain interest, a narration consisting of a series of wisecracks delivered by Winters has been added with the speaker's face appearing in a corner of the screen.

Or were the producers afraid the play was too subtle and needed an explanation? In either case, it's a bad mixture.

Miss Russell is strident as the woman who gloats over her piranha fish, Venus flytrap plants and the coffin which contains her stuffed husband and which accompanies her around the world. Whenever she stops, dad is hung in the closet.

Robert Morse sucks his thumb, cries in his blanket and stutters as the thoroughly dominated son. White makeup on his face is supposed to indicate prison pallor. It just looks like white makeup. Morse is wasted in the role.

Hugh Griffiths repeats the characterization he had in "Tom Jones," that of an aging lecher, but in "Oh Dad" his acting is more breathless.

Barbara Harris comes off best in the role of a plump nymphet who tries to seduce Morse but whose efforts are interrupted by the body of dad falling out of the closet.

Winters pantomimes amusingly in a silent home movie sequence that shows dad before his demise. It is one added bit of business that does succeed.

The movie ends -- but not soon enough -- with Madame Rosepettle and her son traveling again with more bodies in tow. "Oh Dad" needs the confines of the stage. The unlimited space of the screen has turned it into a ghoulish farce.