Searching for Richard

Benjamin that is. Born in 1938 in NYC, Richard Benjamin has enjoyed many lives both in front of and behind the camera. He might not be Jeff Goldblum, but he is, as critic Jonathan Romney describes him, the "archetype of East Coast Jewish intellectual agony." See why in these four lil' gems.

Westworld (1973)--Oh how I love robots, especially those that run amok. Also, if the lead robot is played by cue ball cutey Yul Brenner, then it must be a sure-fire classic. Richie B and James Brolin are trapped in a futuristic theme park for white people. The '70s mid-life crisis is spotlighted as Dick and Jim live out their lame fantasy of being cowboys by gunning down robots. As in all films by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, Congo, Andromeda Strain), humans are dumb and shouldn't meddle with anything outside the realm of instant potatoes, and so, of course, all hell breaks loose. Fun!!!

Saturday the 14th (1981)--Dick Benjamin plays a dear old dad, who inherits a creepy house, in this knee-slapper which makes fun of old horror film conventions. Every lame gag imaginable is dragged kicking and screaming from the depths of schlock hell, but the cast (featuring Dick's real wife Paula Prentiss), seems in on the joke and handles each wacky situation and rubber monster suit with panache and zeal.

Goodbye, Columbus (1969)--Based on the novella by Phillip Roth, Portnoy's Complaint, little Richard takes on class struggle in '60s New York. As a middle class Jew who "doesn't have any plans for the future," he is wooed by a rich and snotty Jewish princess played by (now Yoga guru) Ali MacGraw. The two have about as much chemistry as cheese and chalk, but there are some great scenes involving the obvious boy-on-boy come-ons by Ali's dopey big bro. The director unfortunately tries to recapture the feel of The Graduate by employing a cloying '60s band (The Association) to sing original songs during shampoo commercial-like montages. Not so hot, but good for a lark.

Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970)--Sir Benjamin really shows off the skills in this odd and thoroughly engaging flick about a browbeaten housewife, played with understated skill by Carrie Snodgress. After emerging from her Central Park West shell, she is forced to embrace sex, anger, and sadness in post-'60s New York society. Old Dick plays the smarmier-than-life hubby who treats her like a maid, a secretary, a whore, and a mother--but never a companion. This film has been sadly forgotten as of late, but should be unearthed and reviewed, as a time capsule, a feminist statement, and a shout out to early independent film. Go. Watch. Now!