directed by Stephen Verona
starring Ruth Gordon, Lee Strasberg, Janet Leigh
I’m not sure why this 1979 charmer was re-released in 2014; it’s an interesting if not earth-shattering look at family and ethnic loyalty in the face of declining safety in the big city. Perhaps the late ’70s were the low point of American urbanism – business had fled to the burbs, gangs ruled the cities, and no sane person would walk the streets of New York after dark. David Rosen (Lee Strasberg) and his wife Becky (Ruth Gordon) live on Coney Island. He runs an art deco cafeteria, she makes house, and they live he quiet American dream of so many immigrants. But as the heart of the city rots, Strut (Kim Delgado) leads a black and Hispanic gang called “the Satans.” They try shaking down David, but he refuses, triggering a battle he’s ill prepared to fight. The gang terrorizes his wife, firebombs his business, and repeatedly burgles his house. “Jews all have money, it must be here somewhere.” As Strut pursues him, David decides to close his business when he could have just as easily sold it to his sons. After Becky dies, he adopts a stray dog, and when the Satans trash his temple and attack him one last time, he goes full Yiddish Billy Jack and strangles Strut with his bare hands. Never underestimate the strength of a refugee.
Things are bit blunt; The Satans seem more obsessed with making this guy miserable as opposed to getting some hard cash. Strasberg and Gordon are well cast, they seem like every Jewish grandparent you ever saw, and this is one of Gordon’s best dieing elderly women roles. New York seems ominous, and there’s plenty of racial tension and stereotypes here. Strut intimidates, Strasberg’s friends support, and the ultimate vengeance seems fetched: Strut has 8 inches and 50 years on David, and his cowardly minions could have easily subdued an unarmed elderly man. But at its center, this isn’t about getting even; it’s about getting older as a couple in love. David and Becky tough it out to the end, and they are both satisfied with life and its ups and downs. This DVD has no special features, no “Making of”, no director’s commentary. It’s straight forward print of the film along with a trailer. On IMDB someone asked “Why hasn’t this been released on DVD?” and the answer appears to be “Oh – thanks for reminding us. Here it is.”