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Film / The In-Laws

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"This man's wonderful daughter is marrying my son the day after tomorrow!"
Vince Ricardo

The In-Laws is a 1979 comedy film directed by Arthur Hiller, written by Andrew Bergman, and starring Alan Arkin and Peter Falk.

Sheldon Kornpett (Arkin) is a successful dentist whose daughter Barbara (Penny Peyser), a psychology student, is marrying Tommy Ricardo (Michael Lembeck), a law student, this upcoming weekend. Everyone approves of the wedding and is excited, but Sheldon's a bit nervous because he still hasn't met Tommy's father Vince (Falk), who apparently does "international consulting work".

When Vince does make it to dinner one night, he immediately turns Sheldon off with his tales of seeing tsetse flies carrying children off in Guatemala, and by the way he treats Tommy when Tommy makes a joke about the long-distance phone calls he makes. Sheldon wants to call off the wedding, but Barbara and Sheldon's wife Carol (Nancy Dussault) talk him out of it, and convince Sheldon to be nicer to Vince. So the next morning, when Vince comes to Sheldon's office asking for a favor, Sheldon says yes. Turns out Vince is really working for the CIA, and he's stolen some currency engraving plates, which he plans to sell to a corrupt Latin American dictator named General Garcia (Richard Libertini) in order to nail him in a sting operation. Pretty soon, Sheldon is wishing he never decided to help Vince in the first place, and Hilarity Ensues.

While the film received mixed reviews from critics when it first came out (Roger Ebert liked it, Gene Siskel didn't), it did well at the box office and has since been rightly regarded as one of the best comedies of the last few decades; Premiere magazine put it on its list of the 50 best comedies of all time. It was remade in 2003 with Albert Brooks in the Arkin role and Michael Douglas in the Falk role, but it wasn't well-received by critics or the box office.


  • Action Duo: Sheldon reluctantly becomes this with Vince, though not too much.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: In Sheldon's first scene, he's trying to remove a dead tooth from his patient Mr. Hirshorn, but Mr. Hirshorn keeps stopping him. Sheldon gets interrupted by a call from his wife, and when he comes back, Mr. Hirshorn reveals he removed the tooth by himself, which Sheldon can't help but laugh at.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Vince tells Sheldon if General Garcia manages to steal the engravings and print up money for his country and others, there'll be "gold riots, mass suicides, atonal music..."
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: When Barry shows up at the wedding at the end, and starts acting upset, Sheldon and Vince are worried he's found out about the money they took — turns out he's just upset he didn't get invited to the wedding. Averted, however, in the fact he was just kidding about the last part.
  • Banana Republic: General Garcia's mansion is located on United Fruit Way.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Vince claims to have been behind the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
  • Berserk Button: Sheldon has a lot of these, but most of all is when he finds out Vince has hidden the stolen engravings inside Sheldon's basement. To avoid making Sheldon upset again, Vince thereafter refers to the engravings as "the thing".
    • Also, Vince doesn't like it when Tommy makes a crack about his "mysterious phone calls".
  • Buffy Speak: In addition to the example listed under Berserk Button above, there's also the scene near the end where Vince, in an effort to plead for Sheldon's life and to stall for time until the CIA gets there, mentions all of the Latin-American children Sheldon has treated in his work as a dentist. General Garcia isn't impressed, and orders the execution to go on, at which point Sheldon exclaims, "That's it?!? The dental thing?".
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: Vince is fond of this. Justified in that he's trying keep Sheldon calm.
    Vince: [as he's driving Sheldon during a high-speed car chase] Next time we're in Tijada, Shel, you have to try the chicken sandwich. They make it on a hard roll, with an orange juice, or a pineapple, you know the big one, El Grande and coffee, do you take coffee, Shel?
    • Also later, when Vince casually asks General Garcia for a blindfold for Sheldon and himself while Sheldon's panicking right before they're about to be executed.
  • The Cavalry: The CIA, although they were a little late ("Traffic was brutal").
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Subverted; everyone seems to think Vince is this — and Barry Lutz even tells Sheldon Vince is this — but it's mostly an act. He's really a good agent, tough and intelligent, if a little flaky.
    • Played straight with General Garcia.
  • Consulting Mister Puppet: "Señor Pepe" is a face drawn on General Garcia's hand. The General has conversations with "Señor Pepe"—with General Garcia providing "Señor Pepe's" dialogue in a high-pitched childish voice—insists "Señor Pepe" wants to give the protagonists a kiss, and later that "Señor Pepe" wants a glass of water.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Vince.
    Vince: [before driving down the wrong side of the street] You know, I'm such a great driver, it's incomprehensible that they took my license away.
    • Also, the cab driver.
    Sheldon: Did we hit the little boy on 6th Avenue?
    Vince: [soothingly] No, we missed him by a good foot and a half.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: When Carol figures out how the engravings got into her basement.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The majority of the movie takes place in the three days before the wedding, which happens at the end.
  • Fainting: As Sheldon tries to get back to a patient he left earlier to go with Vince, Vince shows Sheldon the engravings he took, and says they're punishable by a fine and jail time, at which point Sheldon faints and falls to the floor.
    Vince: (to the befuddled patient) You can rinse now, dear.
  • Fanservice: The "General Garcia Medal of Freedom", a gold medal depicting General Garcia flanked by two topless women.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We don't actually see Vince running over a pig in the car, but with the blood on the windshield...
  • Hot Paint Job: Sheldon hid his Mercedes in a detail shop to escape assassins after a Chase Scene, and they painted flames on the side.
    Sheldon [first words to Vince on the phone]: I have flames on my car! I HAVE FLAMES ON MY CAR!
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    General Garcia: I am a pacifist by nature, with a deep Quaker belief in the sanctity of human life. I wish I had a choice but to kill you.
  • I Lied: Played with: Barry says this to Sheldon at the end, but admits he only lied about Vince being crazy in case Sheldon was an enemy agent.
  • Ice-Cream Koan: When Sheldon is telling his patient Mr. Hirshorn about the wedding, he mentions he hasn't met Vince yet. Hirshorn immediately tells Sheldon to call off the wedding because he hasn't met Vince yet, and claims Tommy could be bad because "the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree". This strikes Sheldon as first.
  • Ignore the Disability: Before their meeting with General Garcia, Vince warns Sheldon "Don't say anything about the scar." Upon seeing the Z-shaped scar on Garcia's face, Sheldon immediately blurts out "A Z?"
  • Large Ham: Alan Arkin (and later Richard Libertini), but since he's balanced against Deadpan Snarker Peter Falk, it works out fine.
  • Let Me Get This Straight...: After Sheldon's wife tells him he's being irrational for wanting to call off Barbara's wedding to Tommy because he doesn't like Vince:
    Sheldon: I'm being irrational? I sit there listening to stories about the Guacamole Act of 1917 and tsetse flies carrying off small children and I'm being irrational?!?
  • Mood Whiplash: In-universe: one of the reasons why Sheldon doesn't like Vince at first is because Vince goes from telling tall tales to crying at Sheldon's toast (to Barbara and Tommy) to yelling at Tommy when Tommy makes a joke about Vince making another mysterious phone call.
  • No Indoor Voice: Sheldon when he gets upset.
  • One Last Job: Subverted; the scheme Vince cooks up does turn out to be his last job, but not only does he stick to it, he also doesn't announce that fact until after the CIA has rescued him and Sheldon from the firing squad. Of course, it helps he and Sheldon have $5 million each from what General Garcia paid them.
  • One Last Smoke: Like just about everything else, Played for Laughs - as Vince and Sheldon are about to be executed by the firing squad, and Sheldon is having a meltdown, Vince demands General Garcia given him and Sheldon and blindfolds and cigarettes (partly to calm Sheldon down, but also partly to stall until The Cavalry, in the form of the CIA, shows up), only for Sheldon to spit it out and declare he doesn't smoke.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: After telling Vince he doesn't want to get involved in any more crazy schemes because he's tired of getting shot, Sheldon sees the cab Vince is in is being followed by the men who tried to shoot at him earlier, and so Sheldon manages to run outside and leap on top of the cab. When Vince sees Sheldon on the cab, he figures out something's up.
    • Subverted later, however; when Vince acts increasingly nervous at General Garcia's house because the CIA hasn't shown up yet, Sheldon doesn't pick up on it. Of course, it's because Sheldon isn't Genre Savvy like Vince.
  • "Open!" Says Me: One of the guys chasing Sheldon can't open an emergency exit. After yelling in frustration, he catches his breath, says calmly, "This is an emergency," and busts through the door.
  • Place Worse Than Death: Implied - when General Garcia's guards bring Vince the money, the general tells him they're the best security guards in the world, since they used to work at J.C. Penny in Detroit.
  • Rule of Funny: The movie pretty much runs on it.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Carol refers to Barbara as Julia Child as one point.
    • When the cab driver pulls in front of Vince's office building, he says, "The Eagle Has Landed."
    • While waiting for Sheldon to get the engravings from Vince's office, Vince and the cab driver are in a bar watching The Price Is Right.
    • Later in that scene, as stated above, the cab driver thinks James Bond is what a spy really looks like.
    • General Garcia does a ventriloquism act similar to the famed ventriloquist/comedian Señor Wences.
  • Signed Up for the Dental: When the cab driver asks Vince about being in the CIA:
    Vince: Are you interested in joining? I tell you, the benefits are fantastic. The trick is not to get killed; that's really the key to the benefit program.
  • Slower than a Speeding Bullet: Played with. Vince warns Sheldon not to run straight away from the gunmen ("Serpentine, Shel, serpentine!"). But Sheldon spends so much time dodging sideways that he doesn't make much distance away.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: A bouncy soundtrack plays in the background while Vince and Sheldon are involved in a car chase. Subverted in that the scene is supposed to be funny.
    • Played straight later: at the time, it may seem innocent a squad of soldiers is singing "Trees" and "Buffalo Gals", but it turns out the soldiers are a firing squad.