Less than two years into its existence, Orion announced Simon as part of an ambitious early slate including Urban Cowboy and such unrealized projects as See No Evil with Jane Fonda and Final Payments with Diane Keaton, as well as one of the many studio stops for Barbra Streisand's Yentl. The independent company had already scored hits with 10 (1979) and Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), so the decision to continue with quirky, auteur-driven comedies made sense. In fact, they even boasted to the trades of already lining up another Brickman project, Valium, potentially starring Peter Sellers.
The casting of star Alan Arkin was announced on August 11, 1978 as the choice of one of the founders of Orion, Mike Medavoy, who had been a vice president at United Artists during the creation of Annie Hall. Arkin was already signed to reunite with James Caan, his costar in 1974's Freebie and the Bean, for another Orion project entitled Homemade Sausages and Wars, which never made it off the ground. Almost all of the prospective cast and crew of Simon made it to production except for one; in February of 1979, rocker Todd Rundgren was announced to score the film with The Tubes lead singer Fee Waybill to perform songs. The mind boggles how that might have turned out, but the two did wind up collaborating on an album by The Tubes that same year, Remote Control, with a later tour and additional album together in 1985 with Love Bomb.
A New York Times piece by Aljean Hermetz in January of 1979 profiled the film's early stages, with Brickman describing it as "a contemporary comedy with bleak overtones about outer space, inner space and why nothing works. It's about why nothing works from the toaster to the government." Brickman revealed he had barely slept since starting the film: "I don't know when to worry about different things, so I'm worrying about everything at the same time. I'm worrying about the script and the actors and the buttons on the costumes. At least the movie will be shot within a 50-mile radius of New York, so we can all sleep in our own beds or the beds of friends. And we can eat Chinese food. I don't think a good movie can be made without Chinese food." As an added bonus, he noted the biggest lesson he learned from Woody Allen: "Not to panic."
Full production of the film began with shooting in New York on February 26, and along with the always marvelous Madeline Kahn, the cast came packed with a number of expected character actors (Austin Pendleton, William Finley, Wallace Shawn, and Fred Gwynne) to bring to life the story of a psychology professor engineered by manipulative overlords to dupe the public into thinking he's an eccentric being from outer space. However, some decidedly unexpected names were also added to the mix including David Susskind, movie musical legend Adolph Green, and Richard Foreman, director of the avant-garde Ontological Hysteric Theater and director of The Threepenny Opera for Joseph Papp.
Simon proved to be a modest specialty success in major cities during its slim theatrical run and became a staple on cable television for several years, with Brickman continuing to direct with films including Lovesick in 1983 and The Manhattan Project in 1986. Not surprisingly, reviewers at the time couldn't help comparing Simon to Woody Allen, especially Sleeper, but Variety found it "a frisky Allenande of a comedy itself, with strange turns at every step... a funny and fine start for Brickman." Other critics concurred with Newsweek noting that "its humor is decidedly urban, topical, Jewish and chock-full of media jokes that may not travel beyond a 2-mile radius of Midtown Manhattan", while LA Weekly called it an "urban comedy that's sophisticated and good-natured in the resigned intellectual way the more generous specimens of this particular milieu always are. But it's a very particular milieu." Fortunately that certain niche audience should remain as receptive to the film's quirky charms as the day it was released.
By Nathaniel Thompson