The best Garry Marshall (1934–2016) movie you never heard of is a little gem called The Flamingo Kid (1984). If you want to watch something in memory of him, I highly recommend it. Starring Matt Dillon, Janet Jones, Richard Crenna (in a brilliant performance), Jessica Walter, and Hector Elizondo (and look for John Turturro and Marisa Tomei in bit parts), it is a coming-of-age comedy-drama with, as one review said, “more on its mind that stale sex jokes.” In Brooklyn, 1963, the summer after Jeffrey Willis (Dillon) graduated from high school, he chances to land a job parking cars at the swanky El Flamingo Beach Club (the real life Silver Gull Beach Club of Queens, which still exists looking much as it did in 1963; it is being featured in a series of New York Times articles this summer). There he is dazzled by the resort atmosphere, the girls, and the relative opulence. He falls under the sway of one of the club’s most well-to-do members, Phil Brody (Crenna), owner of a chain of high performance sports car dealerships (Ferraris, etc.). Brody is friendly, approachable, and evidently determined to be the best at whatever he undertakes. Significantly, he has no son of his own. He is called “The King” because of his prowess at gin rummy, the obsession of all the male club members. Jeffrey also excels at gin; this is how he happened to be invited to the club in the first scene. Brody is impressed by Jeffrey’s brains and card sense, and takes him under his wing. Brody’s charm and obvious success put Jeffrey’s blue collar father (Elizondo) in the shade, with predictable consequences when Jeffrey decides to follow Brody into car sales instead of going to college in the fall. The theme, obviously, is values. It all comes to a climax in a showdown over—what else?—gin rummy.
Dialogue excerpt that will show all readers of this blog why they must watch this movie:
[Jeffrey and Brody are riding in one of Brody’s dealership Ferraris, which Brody is letting Jeffrey test drive.]
Brody: You going to school?
Brody: Where are you going?
Jeffrey: I’m probably going to be studying at Columbia.
Brody: Good for you! That’s great!
Jeffrey: Did you go to college, Mr. Brody?
Brody: Yeah, well, I mean, I didn’t… You know, I didn’t go to college. My older brother used all the money, so there was nothing left for me. I went to night school. I graduated, NYU. Took a lot of business courses. Let me give you some advice. You can forget that literature, religion… music, philosophy, things like that. I mean, it’s okay, but… What are you going to do with philosophy? You’ve never seen a philosopher making fifty grand a year. You’ve never seen a philosopher driving a car like this.
Brody: Remember what I’m telling you. Socrates rode around on the back of a donkey.
Jeffrey: That’s a good one, Mr. Brody.