Cast & Crew
Sam Bissell, a minor account executive in a San Francisco advertising agency, lives an uncomplicated suburban life with his wife, Min, and their two daughters. His wholesome approach gains him the company's top account, Nurdlinger Eggs, but his troubles begin when Janet Lagerof, Min's best friend, rents the house next door. Recently separated from her husband Howard, Janet learns that she stands to inherit $15 million from her grandfather if he believes that she is happily married. Two cousins who are second in line for the money arrive to visit, and Janet introduces Sam as her husband. The suspicious cousins hire Shiffner, a detective, to watch Janet. Sam is forced to sneak back and forth between his house and Janet's, where supposedly he is sleeping. Janet and Sam are secretly photographed together by an advertising man one day, and Janet is introduced to Mr. Nurdlinger as Sam's wife. Later, Howard arrives to attempt a reconciliation with Janet, but he is forced to pose as Min's husband. Although Howard loves Janet, she believes that he is only after her inheritance. Jealousy soon provokes friction among the four. The will is finally settled in Janet's favor, but the harried Sam has failed to check the picture of the couple to be used on the Nurdlinger billboards. The picture, a pose of himself with Janet, is captioned "Mr. and Mrs. Sam Bissell." Because Janet will lose the inheritance if she is recognized on the billboards, she and Sam stay up all night painting over their pictures on the advertisement. Min later sees a message for her that Sam has painted on one of the billboards, and they are reconciled, as are Janet and Howard; and Janet gets her inheritance.
Robert Q. Lewis
Edward G. Robinson
James Z. Flaster
Micheline & Jacqueline
Charles J. Rice
R. Robert Rosenbaum
Good Neighbor Sam
Good Neighbor Sam, on the other hand, featured Lemmon in one of his "average Joe" roles. He plays Sam Bissel, a lower level account executive in a San Francisco advertising firm who is becoming dissatisfied with his job after six years without a raise. Through an unexpected turn of events, he is quickly promoted as an example of a clean-living, family man when the company's top client, Simon Nurdlinger (Edward G Robinson in a delightful cameo role as an ultra-conservative tycoon), threatens to pull his account because of the company's sexually suggestive approach to a campaign for Nurdlinger eggs. Nurdlinger is completely taken with Bissel's honest, unpretentious manner and no-nonsense approach to promoting his product and agrees to stay with the firm. Bissel's sudden rise to success, however, is soon threatened by an unforeseen development. His wife Minerva (Dorothy Provine) is visited by an old school friend, Janet Lagerlof (Romy Schneider), who decides to rent the house next door to the Bissels while she is settling her grandfather's estate. Janet, who recently separated from her husband Howard (Mike Connors), soon learns that she stands to inherit $15 million dollars...with the provision that she is married. In order to help Janet quickly settle the estate, Bissel pretends to be her husband, a situation that becomes increasingly complicated once Howard arrives on the screen and a private detective begins monitoring the activities in both homes.
The first half of Good Neighbor Sam provides some sharp satire of the advertising business and the screenplay was based on what would appear to be an unlikely source, a novel by Jack Finney, an author who is best known for his forays into fantasy and science fiction such as Time and Again and The Body Snatchers, a 1955 work that has been the source of four films starting with Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1957. Not surprisingly, some of the thematic concerns of the latter novel turn up in Good Neighbor Sam with Bissel fighting conformity and rebelling against the status quo in his own way (in his spare time, he builds automated junk sculptures in the manner of some Rube Goldberg invention). Bissel's awareness of the soul-crushing daily grind is established in an early scene when he is stuck in traffic and says to his wife, "Do you realize I've been in the same traffic jam, going to the same job, every day for six years and so have they [referring to other commuters]. Every day all we husbands get up and take the same road into the same job. We even dress alike, we put on the same gray suit and the hat and the button down shirt and the...like sheep!" At which point, Bissel notices that a parallel car of commuters stuck in traffic is full of braying sheep, one of several surreal touches that were inspired by Finney's original novel. Another telling detail is the name of Bissel's firm - Burke and Hare - which were the names of the famous graverobbers in 18th century Edinburgh who became the basis of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Body Snatcher and later inspired the name of Finney's most famous work.
The second half of Good Neighbor Sam is less successful in its attempts to poke fun at suburbia while working out the mechanics of a very convoluted mistaken identity plot. At a running time of 131 minutes, the film is too long to sustain the giddy high spirits needed to sustain the madcap proceedings on display though Romy Schneider, in her American screen debut, is gorgeous and charming as the sexy European neighbor. There is also an amusing bit with Louis Nye as a smug private eye who is reduced to hysteria by Bissel's wild driving in one scene. The sequence where Bissel and Janet race around town, defacing billboards which reveal the lie Bissel has been living, is also funny and prefigures the sort of anti-corporate pranks and signage transformations which would start to appear in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the late seventies led by artists like Mark Pauline, founder of the Survival Research Laboratories.
Jack Lemmon had misgivings about both Good Neighbor Sam and Under the Yum Yum Tree prior to making them and dismissed them both as disappointments after they were released. Of the two, however, Good Neighbor Sam received much better critical notices. In fact, the majority of reviews were quite favorable with Lemmon garnering the majority of the praise. He was even nominated for Best Actor by the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards) for his performance in Good Neighbor Sam and How to Murder Your Wife. The New York Journal-American magazine called Good Neighbor Sam "A hilarious farce - the kind that Irene Dunne and Katharine Hepburn used to do with Cary Grant," Cue magazine noted that "Lemmon is at his comic best" and The New York Times observed that "Lemmon does not let his fans down in giving a spirited performance full of proper mugging and candid delivery of a dialogue that draws laughs and sympathy."
Some additional trivia worth noting is that Good Neighbor Sam was produced and directed by David Swift, who also helmed Under the Yum Yum Tree and is most famous for the two highly successful Hayley Mills movies he made for Walt Disney, Pollyanna (1960) and The Parent Trap (1961). The theme song and score for Good Neighbor Sam have a bouncy, pop appeal not unlike one of Bissel's animated junk sculptures and is a typical frenetic example of composer Frank De Vol's music. You'll also catch glimpses throughout the movie of the jazz harmony quartet, The Hi-Lo's, who appear as the musical accompaniment in a Hertz rent-a-car commercial that encounters one production snafu after another.
Director/Producer: David Swift
Screenplay: James Fritzell, Everett Greenbaum, David Swift, based on the novel by Jack Finney
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Production Design: Dale Hennesy
Music: Frank De Vol
Film Editing: Charles Nelson
Cast: Jack Lemmon (Sam Bissel), Romy Schneider (Janet Lagerlof), Dorothy Provine (Minerva Bissel), Mike Connors (Howard Ebbets), Edward Andrews (Mr. Burke), Louis Nye (Reinhold Shiffner), Robert Q. Lewis (Earl), Edward G. Robinson (Simon Nurdlinger), The Hi-Lo's (as themselves).
by Jeff Stafford
Good Neighbor Sam
Louis Nye (1913-2005)
Nye was born on May 1, 1913, in Hartford, Connecticut to Russian immigrants. He began his career in theater in his native Hartford before moving to New York City to break into radio. After a stint in the Army during World War II, Nye returned to find a new medium dawning, television. His start was inauspicious, just a few appearances on the Cavalcade of Stars, but little did he realize that when he was picked up for The Steve Allen Show in 1956 that he, along with other talented comedians like Don Knotts, Tom Poston and Bill Dana, were courting stardom. The program was one of the first sketch series to take off on television. It was justly celebrated for the wacky characterizations that the cast invented, and Nye's Gordon Hathaway was no exception. Sure, his take on the country club elite was a touch prissy and effete, but Nye injected Gordon with a raffish charm and child-like sensibilty that never made the character offensive. If anything, Gordon Hathaway was endearing.
His stint on Steve Allen opened up the movie offers, the first of which, the garish Mamie Van Doren vehicle Sex Kittens Go to College (1960), was not exactly a highpoint in cinema comedy, but he soon settled into some good supporting parts in a slew of films: The Facts of Life (1960), The Last Time I Saw Archie (his best film role, a terrrific comic foil for Robert Mitchum, 1961), The Wheeler Dealers, Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? (both 1963), Good Neighbor Sam (another great part as an inept detective, 1964), and A Guide for the Married Man (1967).
Nye's career cooled in the '70s, with an occasional television appearance (Laverne & Shirley, Fantasy Island) and mediocre flicks (Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), Harper Valley P.T.A. (1978). Eventually, he found solace in voice work for many animated shows, the most popular of them being his long run on Inspector Gadget (1985-99). Still, just when you thought he was out of the limelight, he returned as a semi-regular in the critically acclaimed HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm where for two seasons (2000-2002), he was hilarious as comic Jeff Garlin's sardonic father. Give Mr. Nye his due, he left the stage near the top of his game. He is survived by his wife, Anita; and a son, Peter.
by Michael T. Toole
Louis Nye (1913-2005)
Filmed partly in San Francisco.
Released in United States 1964
Released in United States 1964