"The Out-of-Towners" could be subtitled, "The Business Meeting to Hell." As you have figured out from other reviews, this is the story of Gwen and George Kellerman, who spend ninety minutes of screen time, seventeen hours of narrative time, trying to get George from their comfortable suburban home in Ohio to an important interview in Manhattan. Every five to ten minutes, Neil Simon, the storyteller as capriciously vengeful god, springs a new obstacle in the Kellermans' path. The hindrances range from predictable to humorous to frightening to stupid to ridiculous. Simon must have enjoyed a week dreaming up one sadistic pitfall after another. Good grief: the beleaguered couple are even kicked out of a church before they can pray for help.
The movie is one damnable thing after another, and that's much of its problem. It begins with commonplace aggravations with which anyone can identify but quickly descends into a madness so dark that it almost forgets it's a comedy. The pacing is off as well. For this kind of yarn to work, it needs to build incrementally from small chuckles to medium laughs to gut-busting hilarity. Instead, apart from a nice twist at the end, the climax is unexpectedly gooey.
While the supporting cast offers happy surprises—Anne Meara, Ann Prentiss, Ron Carey, Johnny Brown, and Billy Dee Williams—the picture is carried by its stars. Sandy Dennis does well as the mousy yet sensible, long-suffering yet dignified wife. Jack Lemmon begins the movie at a pitch of frenzy so high that he has nowhere to go but down. While he stretches his maniacal outrage across the first two acts, by Act III his character is a punctured balloon: filthy, grizzled, robbed, mugged, chased, bat-beaten, nearly deaf, with a cracked front tooth. But I'll hand the actor this: he had the guts to hold his mark as the camera rolled while a flying manhole cover nearly killed him.
Lots of folks love this picture, and you may, too. Unless seat-belted for full-on slapstick, I prefer comedies that don't push me so hard to laugh. By the end of this one, I was relieved for all parties that it was over.