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Comedy with a Heart and a Brain
The action in the story, as directed by Ramis, walks a fine line between comedy and drama

The action in the story, as directed by Ramis, walks a fine line between comedy and drama. Maintaining the balance was critical, and uppermost in everyone's mind.

"Certainly Billy and I felt we didn't want to remake the comedies we had done in the past," Ramis says. "With Bob playing Vitti, we felt that we had a chance to do a new kind of comedy, a type people hadn't seen yet that wouldn't feel slight or predictable. We were all on new ground, Bob as well.

"The essential challenge of filming this movie was that even though there are funny lines, the true comedy must come from the situation. Billy was determined not to take the easy way out here. Of course he wanted to be funny -- it's what he does naturally and what people expect from him -- but his first commitment was to be true to Ben's character.

"As for Bob, he told us he had respect for what we had done and that he understood that comedy is 'out there' as a genre in which he has little experience, so from his point of view the film is also a departure.

"But Billy and I had to admit that working with Bob was an essential part of the challenge for us. Bob is someone who represents some of the greatest American filmmaking of the last 20 years. It set the bar a little higher for Billy and me, and we were glad of it."

"I was very nervous about it all until we started shooting," Crystal says. "But once you start working the sense of awe gives way and you're just two actors trying to do the best you can. There's no pretense about Bob: he gives his all to do a great job. He works hard at never hitting a false note.

"Real excitement came in the therapy scenes. Here, both of us were taking chances. It felt as if we were two tennis players or, more accurately, trapeze artists flying through space and having to catch each other. I have to say working like this pulled things out of me I never knew I had and made me a better actor."

The climax of the story, in which Ben must pretend he's Vitti's lieutenant, puts him in real danger for his life. The stakes are equally high for Vitti. When he arrives, he must use his new-found psychic health and moral resolve to stand up to his enemies without unduly threatening them. Both stars became intensely involved in the scene. "No element was too small for them to think about," says Ramis.

Weinstein comments, "Here we have a comedian who's come to acting by way of comedy and an actor who's come to comedy by way of his character. It's been a real tightrope for everyone. But with Harold in charge we sense that we're keeping it funny without turning the film into a parody, and that we're continually being true to the seriousness of the situation the characters find themselves in.

Following the Mafia meeting, scenes were filmed inside Sing Sing Prison at Ossining in upstate New York, after which the film's opening sequence, a prologue which re-creates the historic 1 950s Mafia meeting in the Appalachin, was shot in Katonah, New York. The unit then packed up to shoot in Miami Beach, where Ben introduces his fiancee Laura to his son Michael.

"Laura has all these anxieties about meeting her new stepson when, out of the blue, she finds her life complicated by a gaggle of gangsters," Lisa Kudrow laughs. "Everywhere she looks, these thugs are interfering with her most intimate plans. She can't get over it. But Laura's a determined woman. Believe me, this woman is a match for the Mob and th

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