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    Mensch Couture

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    He left behind a bushel of great screen, stage and TV portrayals, from the harried Haas Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank (1955 Broadway, 1959 on screen) and the cynically wise barkeep Moustache in Billy Wilder’s filmization of Irma la Douce (1963), to his bewildered and exasperated fathers in the original New York stagings of Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn and Woody Allen’s Don’t Drink the Water, to his family relatives who can’t help being annoying in the Mel Brooks production of My Favorite Year (1981) or Barry Levinson’s Avalon (1990). But the most vivid memories of the earthy, round-faced Toronto-born character actor Lou Jacobi (1913-2009), who would have turned 104 today, always seem to gravitate to his nine-and-a-half-minute appearance in Allen’s eruptively hilarious Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*but Were Afraid to Ask) (1972). As the husky, mustachioed businessman who we startlingly discover likes to dress up like the opposite sex, he hardly provides a representative answer to the question Are Transvestites Homosexual? covered in his segment, but he’s nonetheless a giddy sight to behold, exuding at first a wince-inducing response that ultimately gives way to a silly comic rapture, since he’s a nice guy who just can’t help himself when the urge strikes, no matter how bad his timing. “Escaping, en travestie, from the bedroom of his future son-in-law’s parents,” film historian Julian Fox writes in Woody: Movies from Manhattan, “he has ‘his’ purse snatched in the street and ends up perversely enjoying the dangerous possibility of having his true gender discovered by a curious crowd of bystanders. Jacobi’s Tatiesque reactions to this predicament are oddly endearing, while the sketch also pokes gentle fun at the fiancé’s snobbish Jewish family with their African carvings and musical evenings. Doubtless recalling his own lower-middle-class Brooklyn origins, Woody treats all these characters with a mixture of horror and affection.” That key word – affection – crystallizes how audiences respond to Jacobi; it’s not his fashion sense, but the manner in which he gives himself over to his role-playing infatuation. Catch the jovial Jacobi’s work in Everything…Sex now on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray; in 2018, he’ll be showcased in Kino Lorber’s promised 4K restoration disc of Irma la Douce and yet another TT title which partners him with other gifted comedy players and a writer/director who expertly mixes fun and fondness.