Cast & Crew
Early one Sunday morning in New York, Morroe Rieff is shocked to learn that his friend Leslie Braverman, a fellow writer and intellectual, is dead. Morroe visits his friend's widow, Inez, and receives the second shock of the day when the supposedly bereaved widow tries to make love to him. Pulling himself together, Morroe prepares to attend the funeral services in Brooklyn with Braverman's three other close friends--Barnet Weiner, who gives up a Sunday in bed with his mistress Myra Mandelbaum; Felix Ottensteen, the oldest of the group; and Holly Levine, the most commercially successful writer of the quartet. Meeting in Greenwich Village, the four friends pile into Holly's Volkswagen, set out for the synagogue, and get lost. An accident with a Negro cab driver almost creates a brawl; but when it is discovered that the cabbie, like themselves, is Jewish, hard feelings mellow into streetcorner philosophizing and drinking. Eventually, the four friends reach the synagogue and dutifully sit through a marathon sermon before realizing they are attending the funeral services of a total stranger. Despite their exhaustion, they continue on until they locate Braverman's gravesite. When Morroe returns home that night and attempts to tell his wife about all the events of the day, he suddenly stops talking and begins to weep.
Anna Hill Johnstone
Bye Bye Braverman -
The urban odyssey around which the book centered was, in hindsight, a natural subject for Sidney Lumet. The director would become one of the most dedicated film chroniclers of New York City in his long career. At this point he had two notable city-set pictures to his credit: 12 Angry Men (1957), which was confined almost entirely to a single interior set, and The Pawnbroker (1964), which took its central character out into the streets and began Lumet's long association with the city as a location and inspiration for such works as Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Prince of the City (1981), and his final film, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007).
Bye Bye Braverman crowds together three Jewish intellectuals and their one-time professor into a Volkswagen Beetle to attend the funeral of writer Leslie Braverman, "a second-rate talent of the highest order." Aside from the character-driven comedy, the picture is worth a look as an illuminating travelogue of New York in the 1960s, from Manhattan to Williamsburg, today's hip mecca but back then just another lowly neighborhood to be escaped from.
Lumet was less positive about the result. "It should have been a soufflé, but it turned out a pancake," he wrote in his book Making Movies. In a 2007 interview he judged it just as harshly: "I was just not that ready to deal with that level of comedy. I wasn't that firm about it. I wasn't that secure about it. I wasn't that knowledgeable about it." Critics at the time were not much kinder. Renata Adler, in the New York Times, said of its characters, "It would redeem them to be funny, but they are too familiar--not in life, but in stereotype--for that." Roger Ebert gave this backhanded compliment/caveat: "this must be reckoned a movie for buffs who want to observe Lumet's studied, rich style." More recently, Time Out said more positively, "A little unfocused but bristles with Jewish wit and fine performances."
One of those performances, a high point most reviews agreed on, was given by George Segal, revealing an as-yet untapped gift for comedy. Segal would get ample opportunities to display those chops later in such comedy-drama mixes (we refuse to say "dramedy") as Loving (1970), A Touch of Class (1973), and California Split (1974), but at this point, his major roles had been in the war drama King Rat (1965), the spy thriller The Quiller Memorandum (1966), and Edward Albee's scathing dissection of a troubled marriage, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966).
Segal is helped along by a solid supporting cast including Jack Warden, Sorrell Booke (quite unlike the Boss Hogg character he later played on the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard), and Joseph Wiseman as his three friends. (There's a little in-joke at one point when comedian Alan King, as a rabbi, refers to James Bond, followed by a cut to a close-up of Wiseman, who played the titular villain in the first 007 movie, Dr. No, 1962.) The female characters are played by what writer Glenn Kenny calls the "thinking man's sex symbols of the era," Zohra Lampert, Jessica Walter, and Phyllis Newman. And comedian Godfrey Cambridge makes an appearance as a taxi driver.
Markfield's story was adapted by Herbert Sargent, better known as a television writer on such series as The Tonight Show and the satirical That Was the Week That Was. As a staff writer for Saturday Night Live, Sargent coined the term "Not Ready for Prime Time Players" for the show's first cast.
Cinematographer Boris Kaufman received an Academy Award for his work on On the Waterfront (1954) and a nomination for Baby Doll (1956), two of the three movies he shot for director Elia Kazan. He had also been the cinematographer for six of Lumet's previous films, including 12 Angry Men (1957), Long Day's Journey into Night (1962), and The Group (1966). Kaufman started his career in Europe, most famously on three films by Jean Vigo: A Propos de Nice (1930), Zero de conduit (1933), and the visually stunning L'Atalante (1934).
Bronx-born Ben Kasazkow had a strong familiarity with New York as a location, having started on the television crime dramas The Defenders, Hawk, and N.Y.P.D.. He later used the city to great effect in The French Connection (1971).
Although the movie was not a hit in its day, recent popular opinion has shifted, and many viewers now highly recommend its offbeat, bittersweet comic take on death and disappointment. If for no other reason, it's worth a look as a piece of Sidney Lumet's solid body of work. He may have felt the results fell short of what he hoped, but that only makes it more poignantly connected to its theme. As he said years after the fact, this was ""the most personal picture I've ever made. These four post-Depression Jewish intellectuals are everyone I grew up with. Me, in fact."
Director: Sidney Lumet
Producer: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: Herbert Sargent, based on the book To an Early Grave by Wallace Markfield
Cinematography: Boris Kaufman
Editing: Gerald B. Greenberg
Art Direction: Ben Kasazkow
Music: Peter Matz
Cast: George Segal (Morroe Rieff), Jack Warden (Barnet Weinstein), Jessica Walter (Inez Braverman), Godfrey Cambridge (Taxi Driver), Phyllis Newman (Myra Mandelbaum), Joseph Wiseman (Felix Ottensteen)
By Rob Nixon
Bye Bye Braverman -
Filmed in New York City. Sources conflict in crediting film editor.
Released in United States Spring April 1968
Released in United States Spring April 1968