My Favorite Movie: The In-Laws (1979)

In 1979 my girlfriend (later to be my wife) and I were trying to decide on a movie to see. That weekend The In-Laws was playing. All we knew about the movie was that it starred Peter Falk and Alan Arkin. But that was enough for me.

Peter_FalkWe were both we big fans of Peter Falk from the Columbo TV series and I had seen him the previous year in The Brinks Job. I had also seen Alan Arkin in 1977s Catch-22.catch-22-Alan Arkin

So, we thought that a comedy with these two in it would likely be pretty good. We had no idea how right we were. This movie is so funny that became my favorite comedy.

A big reason why I love this movie so much is that, because I didn’t know anything about it ahead time, the humor became such a delightful surprise. So, if you have not yet seen the movie (to be clear I am talking about the 1979 original and not the inferior 2003 remake) and want the best possible impact, please stop reading this post and go get the movie!

The heart of the movie is Vince Ricardo (Falk) and Sheldon Kornpett (Arkin). Vince’s son and is marrying Sheldon’s daughter. And the new in-laws to be are just getting to know each other, as are we the audience.TheInLaws1979-Alan Arkin,Peter Falk

Sheldon is a pretty open book. He is a conservative Manhattan dentist who is a little concerned about not yet meeting the father of the bride even though the wedding is only a few days away. But Vince, on the other hand is a mystery. Right from the opening credits we see that Vince is involved is some sort of shady business. We later learn that Vince may actually be in the CIA. But is he really? Would a CIA agent casually tell a cabbie that the benefits in the CIA are good (“the secret is to not get killed”)?

But this is the brilliance of the movie and the casting. Alan Arkin is perfect as the slightly repressed Sheldon. He represents us in the movie. We see our reactions in him when Vince tells him another unbelievable tale (tsetse flies in the jungle so big that they carry off babies). Arkin also shows emotion as Vince takes him further and further out of his comfort zone.

And Peter Falk as Vince is a master stroke of casting. Falk is capable of being charming and disarming while at the same time maybe being a little crazy or even dangerous. We never know who or what he really is until the very end. But it doesn’t matter because we are laughing the entire time.

With most comedies involving two primary characters one is the straight man and the other delivers the punch lines. But the here the roles move back and forth. At one point Vince is telling Sheldon how to avoid getting shot (“Serpentine!”). Then after Vince explains to Sheldon be careful when meeting the South American despot with a scar on his face, Sheldon can’t help but shout out, “A Zee?”, when he meets the General.In-Laws-General Garcia

Again, if you have not yet seen this movie do no read further, because here is my list of the funniest moments in The In-Laws.

inlaws 1979 cab– Bad guys chasing Sheldon around a cab (not cabs, but just one cab) shooting at him while Vince is inside an adjacent diner casually explaining what it is like working for the CIA.





– The flight down to Tehada with Billy and Bing Wong (Wong Airlines). I never knew that “Okie Dokie” was Cantonese.

inlaws-serpertine– When Vince and Sheldon get shot at, Vince tells Sheldon he has to “Serpentine, Serpentine”. And what they actually do is so far removed from “serpentine” that it still makes me laugh out loud.





– General Garcia, the South American despot is also a Senor Wences want-a-be (hand puppet).

– During a car chase Vince very nonchalantly causes a truck of bananas to make the bad guys car to slip out of control.

– During the firing squad scene, the way Sheldon wanders around blindfolded while Vince is trying to buy for time.


So, for the unexpected story line, the chemistry between Alan Arkin and Peter Falk, the outrageous and subtle humor, The In-Laws (1979) is my favorite comedy movie. Just remember, Serpentine!