Warner Bros. // 1979 // 112 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // November 18th, 2003
The What's Up, Doc? duo jumps into the ring for a bout -- of romance.
Reunited with co-star Ryan O'Neal for the first time since What's Up, Doc?, Barbra Streisand is in top form in The Main Event. The perfect vehicle for her talents in screwball comedy, this neglected film finally makes its way to DVD as part of "The Streisand Collection" from Warner Bros.
Hilary Kramer (Barbra Streisand) is a perfume magnate with the nose to find the perfect batch to market. Life is good until she discovers that her business manager has fled the country with all of her money. Actually, he left one asset: the contract of a boxer named Eddie "Kid Natural" Scanlon (Ryan O'Neal). Hilary comes up with the bright idea of regaining her fortune by managing Eddie. One problem: Eddie is a terrible boxer.
With the help of his trainer Percy (Whitman Mayo), Hilary manages to whip Eddie into decent shape and secures a big fight (and payoff). There are complications, though. Will everything work out all right? Will Hilary regain her fortune? Will she fall hard for Eddie? Or will Eddie fall hard in the big fight?
Why am I asking you? Watch the damn movie!
Director Howard Zieff has made a specialty of directing comedies about sharply drawn characters. His credits include Private Benjamin, Hearts of the West, and House Calls. The Main Eventis no different. It's a comedy that scores precisely because we have characters we care about and who are real, despite the wacky goings-on. Barbra Streisand mentions in her commentary that "Ryan and I had good chemistry together." She is correct. The film also succeeds because of said chemistry. Seven years may have passed, but the pairing still works.
This was the final Streisand production for First Artists, a production company founded by her, Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, and Steve McQueen. Many of the First Artists productions were ambitious efforts that often didn't score that big at the box office. The Main Event was a commercial film all the way and it scored at the box office. The company dissolved soon after, alas.
I mentioned before that Barbra Streisand has a talent for screwball comedy. I mean it with all sincerity. She had already established herself as a dramatic actress with The Way We Were and Up the Sandbox, and everyone knew her musical credentials. But comedy is a genre in which that she was born to act. Her first comedy, The Owl and the Pussycat, was a masterpiece. What's Up, Doc? was a major success. For Pete's Sake was a misfire. Did she have another comedy in her? As a matter of fact, she did, and she is wonderful in this role. Screwball comedy is the perfect platform for her ability to talk very fast and she does it to perfection here.
Is it really hard to believe that Ryan O'Neal was a top box office draw in the 1970s? Before a plethora of personal problems plagued him, he had quite a solid career as an actor. His gift was versatility. Comedies like The Thief Who Came to Dinner and the two Streisand films, action fare like A Bridge Too Far, historical epics such as Barry Lyndon, and dramas such as Love Story are proof of that; an amazing body of work. He is in top form in this film.
A comedy is dependent on casting to fully succeed. The supporting cast is flawless. Standouts include Patti D'Arbanville as O'Neal's girlfriend, a woman with a really, really, really bad cough. She gets the screwball spirit down pat. Paul Sand, in his few scenes as Barbra's accountant, is basically a straight man for her barbs, but he delivers exactly what is necessary. Whitman Mayo was familiar to audiences as Grady on Sanford and Son and Percy is sort of an extension of that character -- almost as if it's a look at Grady's early years. Mayo always knew how to deliver a good line of dialogue and often provided some of the film's best moments. It's a shame he's no longer with us.
The only problem I had with The Main Event is with the ending, which felt rushed and hastily put together. Imagine my surprise when Streisand revealed in her commentary that the film's ending was just that. It's satisfying, but a little more would have been nice.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is very good for a film that is as old as I am. The colors look fairly nice and vibrant, and there are few physical imperfections in the print. Some edge enhancement creeps in from time to time and the grain factor is present, particularly in darker scenes, but overall, a nice improvement from the old VHS tapes I was accustomed to.
Both English and French soundtracks are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mixes. This is what Dolby Digital 2.0 mono should sound like. It is clean and clear for the whole feature. Older features sometimes have a problem with tape hiss and other problems plaguing analog recordings, but I am happy to report that it is completely audible.
There are a few extras. Unfortunately, they are all disappointing. First is a scene specific commentary track by Barbra Streisand. After listening to two superb, informative commentaries on Up the Sandbox and Nuts, all we get is eight minutes here. She makes some good observations, but I really wished she had recorded a full track.
A 17-minute featurette titled "Getting in Shape for The Main Event" is included. A behind the scenes look at the then-in production film, this benefits from good interviews with Streisand and O'Neal. Still, I wish it had gone more in depth.
The provided stills gallery is a joke. Six photos make up a gallery? Plus none of the participants are identified, making it difficult to figure out who is who. Skip it.
A theatrical trailer in anamorphic widescreen is interesting, but nothing fabulous.
Nothing I say will change the minds of the Barbra-haters. However, if there's anyone out there who would like to see a good screwball comedy with top notch talent (who aren't tabloid fodder), you could do worse than rent The Main Event
Acquittals all around! Next!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Scene Specific Commentary by Barbra Streisand
* "Getting in Shape for The Main Event" Featurette
* Theatrical Trailer
* Stills Gallery
* Barbra Streisand Official Site