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Monday, November 18, 2013

'First Monday in October:' Oscar Madison v. Sandra Day O'Connor

First Monday in October
Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1981 Walther Matthau/Jill Clayburgh equal parts comedy/drama dramedy "First Monday in October" belatedly brings a great ripped-from-the- headlines film to virtual store shelves everywhere.

This story about the president nominating the first female justice of the United States Supreme Court parallels Ronald Reagan taking that historic step in nominating Sandra Day O'Connor to that post. The similarities extend beyond the film's Ruth Loomis being a conservative from California and O'Connor being a conservative from the neighboring state of Arizona, which considers itself to be better than the rest of the nation regarding time changes. (Please consult review of "Turn Back the Clock" for context.)

Both Loomis and O'Connor are avid tennis players. A bit of trivia is that O'Connor used to play tennis weekly at the home of a grass widow of a member of the prestigious Cross family of Maryland.

The conflict around which "October" centers relates to the animosity that Loomis' appointment provokes in liberal senior associate justice Dan Snow, who refers to his new colleague as "The Mother Superior of Orange County." Snow very carefully points out that he does not object to a woman on the Court (and even favors cutting the stench on the bench with a little perfume) but strongly opposes Loomis' conservative views.

Matthau and Clayburgh do their usual excellent jobs in these roles that suit them very well. Additionally, Barnard Hughes is great as level-headed and diplomatic Chief Justice Crawford. This role is perfectly suited for Hughes' persona of a strong-willed but compassionate older man and may have gone to him because uber-awesome Ray Walston of "My Favorite Martian" was busy working on "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" or the badly unrated "From the Hip." 

Rounding out the primary cast with James Stephens as Snow's law clerk is another great choice. Stephens is best known for playing law student James Hart in the television series version of "The Paper Chase."

The ripped-from-the-headlines case that greets Loomis on starting her new job involves the state of Nebraska prosecuting a "filmmaker" for violating the state obscenity law. Said celluloid artist predictably asserts that the movie at issue is art. The scene in which the attorney representing Nebraska is one of the funniest in the film.

The justices' viewing of the aptly titled "Naked Nyphomaniacs" proves the well-known theory of real-life Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart that he cannot define pornography but knows it when he sees it. The refusal of Snow to attend that private showing of "Nyphomaniacs" gets him on Loomis' bad side and prompts a confrontation that is equal parts great legal debate and well-written and performed comedy.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, provides a great sense of the memorable scene described above.

Snow and Loomis additionally wrangle regarding another case that ends up being what anyone can recognize as a game changer.

The ONLY complaint regarding the plot of "October" relates to a New York Times review of a feature film from the summer of 2013 in which the reviewer laments that every film of that nature must include some form of sexual tension or romantic involvement between the man and the woman who are colleagues. It initially seems that "October" avoids this cliche.

A change in Snow's personal life in the second half of the film creates anxiety that he and Loomis might desire banging gavels, and our fears are realized late in the film.

The final unappealable (but appealing) verdict of this film is that it pulls off the tough feats of making the audience laugh and think while keeping us entertained throughout.

Anyone with any questions regarding "October" or any of the side topics discussed is invited to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.