Goodbye, Columbus


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This is the story of a summer romance across social castes. Richard Benjamin plays Neil, a lower middle class Jewish man in his mid twenties who lives in the Bronx with his aunt and uncle. He hits on and somehow manages to land, at least for the summer, a beautiful, nouveau riche Jewish-American princess (Brenda, played by Ali MacGraw in her break-out role) from Westchester. He manages to pull off this coup by being just aggressive enough to try, and just funny enough to amuse her.

Throughout the relationship he remains hopeful that he can somehow fit into her life, but he's a skeptic by nature, and he never really trusts that the relationship can work. Her mother doesn't want her hanging around with a unambitious librarian who has a sarcastic tongue and a permanent case of anomie, and Neil himself never really feels comfortable in the meretricious affluence of her environs.

Their summer romance becomes physical, and she acquires a diaphragm because she has a bad reaction to the pill. Mother finds the diaphragm ...

Huh? This is 1969. The era of free love. Everyone was having sex then, weren't they? Why would the diaphragm be such a big deal?

Well ...

This was a dated film even when it was new. It came out the same year as Easy Rider, but the story seems to take place ten years earlier. It was in every way an old-fashioned Hollywood film, not a product of the cultural revolution. That makes perfect sense if you realize that the screenplay was adapted from a novel by Philip Roth, and his story originally took place in the late fifties. That is exactly when the film's story seems to unfold, even though two characters identify themselves as Dartmouth '64 and Dartmouth '66. If you just pretend Goodbye, Columbus was made in and takes place in 1959 instead of 1969, it will all seem more sensible.

Despite its retro nature, this movie was quite well respected in its time. The directors' guild nominated it for its annual prize, as did the writers' guild. The writers went a step further and awarded the film its trophy for the best adapted screenplay, a plaudit resounding enough to earn the film the corresponding Oscar nomination. It was also nominated for three BAFTAs and three Golden Globes, including a nod from both societies to Ali MacGraw as the most promising newcomer.

MacGraw was not originally supposed to get the role. She was a 30-year-old model who had never acted, and the Brenda character was a college student, so the part had already been awarded to Lesley Ann Warren, who was more than eight years younger. Ms. Warren's unexpected pregnancy forced a late casting change, and Ali MacGraw was the alternate, despite her age. Ali always played characters significantly younger than she actually was, so you may be surprised to learn that she will turn 70 in April!

This success of this film pushed MacGraw into Love Story, which in turn drove her to fame. She actually became more famous as one of the "beautiful people" than as an actress. She actually only made ten films in her life, spanning a period of 34 years, but she was always in the thick of the tabloid scene in Hollywood since she was married to both a studio head (Robert Evans) and a cultural icon (Steve McQueen). Evans was the head of production at Paramount and was developing two prestige productions for Ali when she split to take up with McQueen. She was to have been Daisy in The Great Gatsby and Evelyn in Chinatown.

Back to Goodbye, Columbus ...

They made a different kind of movie then. It's kind of small and personal and quirky and it sort of ends in the middle. Kind of like life itself. That was the point. It was Roth writing about what life was really like for him and the people he knew in those days. He drew the characters as realistically as he could, and let his own alter ego deliver enough witty remarks and stinging commentary to keep the unembellished reality from getting boring.


* widescreen anamorphic

* no features of any kind







It was nominated for an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. It garnered several other nominations from other societies. See the main commentary.



6.5 IMDB summary (of 10)




Ali MacGraw did a sex scene and a skinny dip, showing her bum and her tiny breasts. Dick Benjamin also showed his butt, and even offered filmgoers a brief glimpse at the side of his dick benjamin, the sort of thing which was not seen very often in mainstream 1969 films (you need freeze-frame to see it).

Despite all the sex and nudity, the film was rated PG in the era when there was no such thing as PG-13.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a: