Essential: THE TALE OF THE FOX (1937)

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Jlewis wrote:

LE ROMAN DE RENARD a.k.a. TALE OF THE FOX has an interesting history. Now…you will have to forgive me here, but I will be dropping some other title references here and there, as well as some video links… which we generally do NOT do with these essential reviews. It is important that everybody here investigate the animation techniques involved and the creativity involved. What makes this film a particularly exciting essential to study is just how it expands the medium of not just animation, but cinema itself, into unexplored territories not conquered previously.

I will begin with a brief career summary of Władysław Starewicz, who was responsible for some of the earliest animated shorts made in Russia (and practically anywhere in the world since there were only a few experiments before then that you can count on one hand) involving the stop-motion process of moving an inanimate figure frame by frame to create the illusion of motion. His earliest effort in 1910 was LUCANUS CERVUS involving actual stag beetles that were deceased and “reanimated” this way.

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Later on, he created more insect puppets, some involving actual insect bodies and others being puppets created from other materials to look like insects and slightly larger in scale. His most popular early effort, shown in theaters all around the world in 1912, was THE CAMERAMAN’S REVENGE (initially titled MEST’ KINEMATOGRAFICHESKOGO OPERATORA).

After doing ten or so of these little films featuring insects and other animal and human puppets, he then moved successfully into directing live-action features as one of the major players in the early booming Russian film industry. His career was cut short in 1918 when many involved in that industry suddenly discovered that they were on the losing side of the Revolution. Eventually he settled in post-war France, changing his name to the easier to pronounced “Ladislas Starevich” and setting up a new studio of his own, dedicated exclusively to puppet films. Initially he operated in Joinville-le-pont, then moved by 1924 to Fontenay-sous-Bois.

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With his wife Anna and daughters Irina a.k.a. Irène and Jeane assisting, he had no big team of a hundred employees like Walt Disney in his heyday. The Stareviches were pain staking in their patience and hard work, crafting mini-masterpieces that are still enjoyable today, not to mention quite Disney, Pixar and Studio Ghibli-like in their attention to detail.

With his early Russian experiments, he was several years ahead of American stop-motion pioneers of the U.S., namely Willis O’Brien and Howard S. Moss, and his French films predate the more famous works of George Pal and Ray Harryhausen by a decade or two as well. These newer films focused more on cute dogs, birds, frogs and humans rather than insects and arachnids, although the first of the post-war bunch was IN THE CLAWS OF THE SPIDER a.k.a. DANS LES GRIFFES DE L’ARAIGNÉE, 1920.

After completing LA PETITE PARADE, which I think it was his 13th film in France but can be corrected here, he then passionately devoted two full years to an all-feature length “talkie” adaptation of the popular French and German fables of Reynard the Fox, who outwits other animals in a medieval animal infested “town” and all sporting human clothes. These classic mini-stories go back pretty far in European literature, appearing in pre-Gutenberg paint-and-ink manuscripts dating to the late 1200s. They were popularized by noted writers over the centuries like Willem die Madoc maecte and Goethe.

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LE ROMAN DE RENARD was far more complicated than all of his earlier projects due to characters having to express actual dialogue for a soundtrack with mouths in motion to match, not to mention very expansive sets created with puppets to match. As a result, the bulk of production consumed all of his time and energy between the autumn of 1928 through early 1931 with additional tinkering during the next six years as it sat in a sort of limbo. Various technical issues plagued its completion, most notably producer Louis Naplas’ still primitive sound by disc format being utilized at first.

The Stareviches kept busy…and generating a much needed income…with further shorter films involving much simpler soundtrack recordings and mostly pantomime action. These included a series featuring a cute puppy named Fétiche. Two of these made United States screens with limited fanfare, courtesy of Warner Brothers (re-titling 1933’s FÉTICHE MASCOTTE as a “Vitaphone Variety” STUFFY’S ERRAND OF MERCY) and Paramount (1935’s FÉTICHE SE MARIE becoming LULU IN LOVE). Then final financing and technical expertise to complete LE ROMAN DE RENARD came from an unexpected source…

…and a source that Starevich would have to downplay later in his life. UFA, the big German power-house now backed by Nazi money, was interested in making an adaptation of the popular fox fables for German screens and was much impressed by his film. They helped him finish it with a newly recorded German soundtrack. LE ROMAN DE RENARD officially premiered in Berlin on April 1, 1937 as REINECKE FUCHS. This was eight months before Walt Disney’s SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, making it one of five animated features predating Disney.

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There is some debate as to when the new and improved French soundtrack, featuring a few familiar French actors (Claude Dauphin, Romain Bouquet, Laine, Sylvain Itkine and Léon Larive), was added with producer Roger Richebé involved. Some reference sources claim it was completed before the war started in 1939, but it was not officially released in Paris until April 1941, while the nation was being supervised by the Vichy government and Germany occupying. No doubt much of the confusion was deliberate as so many like Starevich were re-writing their own “histories” after the war, trying to disconnect any possible connections with Germany before or during the war.

Before getting into more history and influence, let me pause to get into the basic plot and cinematic elements of this production…

The storyline is quite episodic, being a collection of mini-stories that finally unify as a cohesive whole by the grand finale.

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Among the various episodes: Reynard outwits a crow in the opening scenes (in a nod to Aesop’s earlier Greek tale); he then fools a wolf in some winter fishing (resulting in hunters fighting the wolf and he losing his tail in the process); outwits rabbits in a church setting (?!); during an official “vegetarian only” week, he tricks a bear into getting stuck in a well by pretending he is in “heaven” with the King Lion frequently getting his ambassador, a badger, to unsuccessfully negotiate with Reynard. Comedy is provided with musical interludes…and the queen Lioness is wooed by a Tom Cat (Jaime Plana providing the songs) behind her royal husband’s back, fitting in well with so many other French “cheating” stories for the cinema.

Eventually war breaks out between the Lion’s kingdom and Reynard, resulting in the fox almost getting hung for execution. The defense of the fox fortress involves plenty of juvenile antics by Reynard “Junior”, a pint size version of his daddy, getting the best of a battling rooster. Ultimately, there is a happy ending when our wily villain-hero is congratulated for his high intelligence and he gets promoted as royal minister!

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With its close ups of very intricate puppets full of facial expression, along with larger mass scenes involving smaller figurines in action against painted backdrops, I guess some modern day viewers will see some resemblances between this and KING KONG, another famous stop-motion masterpiece of the same time period (if also including actual humans and not just puppets and, therefore, not often considered an “animated feature” by most film historians).

Both films make use of multi-glass and partially painted-on forest settings and feature furry characters in rather ape-like poses. We do have a monkey included here, but he serves mostly as narrator rather than a major participant in the action; his voice being provided by veteran actor Claude Dauphin…and his online filmographies inaccurately list this among his earliest works due to the questionable dating of 1930, a key year of animation production but not the year Dauphin contributed his voice since the soundtrack was completed for the French version sometime between 1939 and 1941.

Although this is the most famous adaptation of the medieval Reynard stories, it is certainly not the only one and…yeah…I must do some additional title dropping, starting with one of the most interesting of the bunch: Sarra Mokil and Alexander Ptushko’s LISA I VOLK (THE FOX AND THE WOLF) which adapts just the fox and wolf fishing sequence of the feature. Although shorter in length, it was also done in stop-motion animation and benefits greatly with the added novelty of full color, using a system Pavel Mershin developed that was much like Hollywood’s Technicolor. Even more intriguing is the fact that it was distributed by Mosfilm to Soviet theaters in April 1937, the very same month the feature debuted in Berlin! (You can watch an incomplete version of LISA I VOLK here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_fChjc5GQ0 )

Just as there had been both German and French versions of Starevich’s film, so too were later cel-animated TV adaptations made for French and German viewers, both taking many liberties from the original source and going off in different directions story-wise: MOI RENART (1985) and INSEGRIM IND REINEKE (1989), the latter a co-production with the great Shanghai studios in China. There was also a 2005 Luxembourg version done in CGI and an equally fascinating made-for-online viewing 2014 film featuring clever cut-out paper animation (which can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWlur0jdyT4 ).

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Apparently Walt Disney was also interested in the Reynard tales with preliminary work done around the time that 101 DALMATIANS was still in production. Ultimately Walt favored doing another medieval tale, THE SWORD IN THE STONE, over these instead. However, many story ideas were later incorporated into one of the post-Disney features, ROBIN HOOD (1973), which had its own “Reynard Hood” as the lead character outwitting Prince John, another lion, much like the Starevich feature.

Getting back briefly to Ladislav Starevich’s career. Either due to the stress of getting this feature completed or just needing the rest after so many years of hard work, he would take a break from animation for several years, leaving the last of his puppy shorts, FÉTICHE PÈRE DE FAMILLE, unfinished in 1938. After the 1944 liberation, he briefly attempted a stab at Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, which later got made as a puppet stop-motion feature by the Czech master Jiri Trnka (whom we will cover shortly), and then completed his next project, ZANZABELLE A PARIS, in 1947. Six more puppet shorts were worked on before his death in 1965.

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LE ROMAN DE RENARD remains today as one of those great curiosity pieces provoking quite a few unanswered questions. Why was it not officially distributed in the United States? Was this due to it possibly “tainted” with German money back in 1937 and U.S. distributors being leery of it when it became more accessible after the war? Or was the fact that it was made in black and white a bigger problem? After all, most cartoon subjects made in America by the 1940s were in color, including all of the stop-motion George Pal Puppetoons resembling it. Perhaps there were problems recording an English soundtrack, but I kinda doubt it.

Then again, it is rather macabre entertainment for most Americans. For example, many cartoons of the era depicted foxes seducing barnyard fowl to their doom but not in quite so much gruesome detail. A rooster brings the actual skeleton of his wife as “evidence” of the fox’s crime and cute chicks call out “mommy!”

In any case, most American animators and art fanatics had to seek it out in either 16mm form or bootleg video since only Europeans had access to it even as late as the 1990s. Among these was a much impressed Wes Anderson whose FANTASTIC MR. FOX (2009), based on a Roald Dahl book from 1970 instead of the medieval fables, paid homage to it with his own stop-motion and plenty of advanced-with-the-times cgi effects work. Too bad Criterion didn’t handle this one on DVD like they did the Anderson film.

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Despite its age, it holds up surprisingly well and continues to fascinate with repeated viewings. Like the Jiri Trnka films we will cover next, it opens the door to the expansive imagination and creativity of cinematic story telling. I am sure the story tellers of Reynard over the centuries would have loved a Starevich visualization, presented in such a unique way.

Essential: LOVER COME BACK (1961)

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TB: We thought it might be fun to look at a couple of Doris Day films. Namely, ones where she is playing a career woman and finding her place in the business world. In our first selection, Doris is a single character who finds conflict and love with a rival played by Rock Hudson. It was the second of three pairings for the duo at Universal, and arguably the funniest. Next week we will look at how the formula was revised a bit when she costars opposite James Garner, that time as a wife and mother who begins a new career outside the home.

One thing I enjoy about LOVER COME BACK, as opposed to PILLOW TALK or SEND ME NO FLOWERS, is how much energy Doris’ character has. In quite a few respects, she is someone we want to succeed. Especially when Hudson’s character tries to outmaneuver her; typically he doesn’t play fair. Of course, much enjoyment comes in watching how flustered Doris gets and her resolve to try harder to beat Hudson at his own game.

The film also has some good supporting players. Notably, it features Jack Oakie in what would be his last motion picture (though he would do some television after this). Also, we have other character actors like Jack Kruschen, Joe Flynn and Jack Albertson. Plus Tony Randall is again along for the ride, like he is in the other two Day-Hudson rom-coms.

JL: We are quickly motivated by the proceedings with some clever animation over the opening credits by Pacific Titles: cute female bird thwarts the advances of frisky male bird in a sequence also showing bees and flowers, the birds-and-the-bees emphasizing that this is a “sex comedy.”

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Madison Avenue is presented with buildings resembling honeycombs as our narrator introduces Doris Day’s Carol Templeton as a “worker bee” competing with her company against that of Rock Hudson’s Jerry Webster, a “drone” who arrives to work with a hangover and some passionate kissing with one of multiple ladies seen with him early on.

TB: Of course we know right away that Hudson and Day will soon clash, and given the conventions of the genre, their clash will lead to romance/love.

JL: Carol resembles Elizabeth Moss’ famous character Peggy Olson in that she wants to prove to the world that she is as efficient as any man in the advertising business without having to resort to the sex angle, while Jerry steals an account both are competing for by swaying Jack Oakie’s J. Paxton Miller his way with Southern style liquor and showgirls, a method totally foreign to Carol.

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She, in turn, tries to get even: first by reporting his unethical behavior to the Ad Council, then she learns from one of Jerry’s girlfriends, Rebel Davis (Edie Adams), of a new mystery product “VIP” involving a noted Greenwich Village chemist, Dr. Linus Taylor (Jack Kruschen) in its creation…so she tries to investigate him in order to steal that account from Jerry.

TB: One thing I didn’t care for about this part of the movie is that Carol is a bit too righteous and blowing the whistle on Jerry is not going to get her anywhere. Particularly because it is still a man’s world and if she screamed bloody murder, would anyone believe her side of things? To some extent her righteous attitude is carried over from the previous film these two stars made together.

JL: Yes. If you have seen PILLOW TALK already, you may sense some déjà vu since this is recycling some plot details. Doris’ character is locked in battle with Rock’s but doesn’t know him on a face to face level at first and he takes advantage of her once he identifies her: as the annoying swinging bachelor aggravating her due to a shared telephone line, he woos her in the earlier 1959 film as an effeminate Texas businessman and, in the ’61 film, he fools her into thinking he is Dr. Taylor himself…and is as equally “innocent” of women and dating.

All of this draws out Doris’ maternal side. Once she discovers she has been fooled, Hell hath no fury like a woman and she revenges, in the former film, by doing the most outlandish interior design job possible on his bachelor pad and, in this one, woos him to the beach for a midnight swim, only to abandon him in “seaweed shorts” to hitchhike back into the city in a ladies’ fur coat truck.

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TB: You have to wonder if things cut from the rough draft of the first film were copied and pasted into the script for this film. In some ways it is a creative “rewrite.” They’ve even repeated the use of the split screens. Also giving LOVER COME BACK that sense of deju vu is the casting of Tony Randall.

JL: Tony Randall pretty much plays the same role in all three Day-Hudson comedies, being single (and super rich in two titles) and sometimes questionable in his, um, orientation. He woos Doris in the first one but she is not interested in him due to a certain lack of sincerity on his part, even though he claims he was married three times before.

In the third film of the Hudson-Day trio, SEND ME NO FLOWERS, he is actually married but we never see his wife and child on screen (?!) and, if that one was remade today, he would more likely have a boyfriend. As Pete Ramsey in LOVER COME BAC, he is the spoiled boss’ son who has no interest in girls at all, a bit like the many characters played by Edward Everett Horton. Pete: “Girls again! What’s the obsession with girls?” Jerry: “I was a poor kid, remember? I didn’t have toys to play with.”

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TB: Good point. And Randall doesn’t seem to have a problem, or much aversion, to portraying his characters in the Edward Everett Horton vein.

JL: Providing the “Greek Chorus,” observing some of the goings on, are Jack Albertson and Charles Watt as middle-aged shriner club men, who are impressed each time they see Jerry wooing a different woman. “Let’s face it, Charlie. Either you’ve got it or you haven’t. He’s got it.”Later, they react in shock to his hotel arrival in a ladies’ fur coat with the line “That’s the last guy I would have figured” (a.k.a. it was assumed in 1961 that all cross-dressers were gay).

TB: Yeah, definitely some stereotypes used for laughs.

JL: Meanwhile, when the real Dr. Taylor, a professed “woman hater” whom Carol would not have succeeded with as she does Hudson as his impostor, finally unveils “VIP”, it is revealed as colorful candy that intoxicates like 100% proof brandy.

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When everybody gets drunk, including Carol, we are instantly reminded that this is a Doris Day comedy, so there is this complex situation made in order for Hudson’s Jerry to “wed” Carol before he can “bed” her. I am always tickled by such plots (and AUNTIE MAME is another famous example from a few years earlier) because it is highly unlikely a full marriage license and justice-of-the-peace ceremony can be accomplished successfully under the influence and the characters still not remembering anything. Yet there were obvious “rules” that Hollywood still had to follow to avoid the wrath of the Catholic Legion of Decency.

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TB: I agree. It’s the most far-fetched element of the whole movie. By the way, the VIP plot device reminds me of the Vitameatavegamin routine in I Love Lucy. I also thought the plot of this movie would have worked as a vehicle for Lucille Ball and Bob Hope.

Care to discuss the director a bit?

JL: Director Delbert Mann previously worked on MARTY and SEPARATE TABLES as one of the most successful TV directors (with over a hundred live dramas between 1949 and 1955 under his belt) making the transition to the big screen; not surprisingly TV becomes an additional “character” quite often in his films and the domination Madison Avenue has over the electronic tube is made quite obvious in the commercial making scenes. The screenplay by Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning has plenty to say about how advertisers sell you any product regardless if it useful to your life or not. In this case, we see VIP getting commercial treatment before Jerry, Pete and Rebel Davis the VIP Girl even know what it is.

TB: We should mention that Paul Henning would go on to create enormously successful sitcoms on television after this film. The Beverly HillbilliesPetticoat Junction and Green Acres were all just around the corner. Shows that featured backwards characters.

JL: LOVER COME BACK is both ahead of its time…and a bit backwards…in regards to gender relations.

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The wild party of J. Paxton Miller may have been considered a riot at the time, but modern viewers may squirm at the sight of so many ladies willingly becoming men’s playthings. On the other hand, Doris Day is again playing a woman fully committed to her career and her secretary Millie (Ann B. Davis, “Alice” of The Brady Bunch) was obviously hired for her work efficiency rather than her looks, unlike Jerry and Pete’s (even though sexy Karen Norris and Donna Douglas do make the most of their limited roles).

When Carol and Jerry fuss about “my baby,” they do agree in the end as equal partners in a way not often covered in romantic comedies. When the liquor council board-members talk Jerry into buying off the account and halting the production of VIP due to potential damage to liquor sales, Jerry insists that Carol gets 25% of the profit even though she was currently trying to seek an annulment from him. My guess is that, after she finally agrees to have the child and stay married, they both work together with their own created agency. Certainly she can take some time off for child rearing but not give up her work entirely…and I suspect, despite all of his earlier partying and womanizing, Jerry is broad minded enough to allow her to do what she wants.

TB: Given the narrow-minded notions of the era, about women knowing and keeping to their place inside the home, I don’t think Carol would have had an agency with Jerry. Jerry would have become the sole breadwinner. Maybe using business ideas that Carol provided for him, but allowing him to claim the credit. She would likely have been pregnant again, with a second and a third child.

Anything else you want to add?

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JL: This is the one Rock Hudson movie I’ve seen where his shirt is off roughly ¼ of his screen-time. Hey…you might as well flaunt it if you got it. He is well tanned from the California sun and clearly had some training in the gym. Too bad they did not include a scene of him hitchhiking in his “seaweed shorts.”

TB: Funny. Thanks Jlewis. Like always, I’ve enjoyed discussing an essential with you!

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Essential: THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963)

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“I’m not an actress. I’m a housewife.”

JL: Doris Day as Beverly Boyer, wife of Dr. Gerald (James Garner), says this initially to aging advertising tycoon Tom Fraleigh (Reginald Owen, whom we’ve seen in quite a few essentials discussed). They had been watching a TV commercial for Happy Soap featuring a blonde Jayne Mansfield imitation (Pamela Currin as Spot Checker, the “Happy Girl”) undressing in a bubble bath. She croons “There are so many things a girl must learn before she can become a glamorous movie star.” Previously Beverly was struggling with her own nudie cutie in a bubble bath, the pint-sized Maggie (Kym Karath, a year and a half before being cast as the youngest Von Trapp in THE SOUND OF MUSIC).

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Mr. Fraleig’s son Gardiner (Edward Andrews) and his wife (Arlene Francis) are both expecting a baby despite advancing middle age. I have to make note of Arlene’s wonderful comic timing over the opening credits, expressing how happy (as soap) she is discovering that she is pregnant and taking an elevator full of curious men. (Interesting fashion statement: by late 1962, when this was filmed, most American men had pretty much stopped wearing hats in public due to President Kennedy seldom wearing them. Yet she is wearing one, perhaps suggesting that women were not changing their lives and fashions quite as fast as the men were.)

TB: Or that maybe they were now wearing a hat (as in having a career) outside the home, the way men had done before?

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JL: Overjoyed by Dr. Boyer’s aid as the obstetrician in relaxing them (suggesting a romantic cruise and so forth) so that she can officially get “on the nest”, they invite the Boyers to dinner at the big mansion, where Daddy is much impressed by Mrs. Boyer. Of course, her first time for the cameras is a disaster…hard to believe, considering this is Doris Day.

TB: Yeah, talk about miscast! I’m kidding, but maybe Doris could have played it with a bit more awkwardness and less “natural” confidence. She hardly seems the type to not be herself and make a bunch of mistakes on camera.

But of course, we are supposed to understand that the character is venturing into foreign territory outside the home. Particularly how it affects her as well as her husband and children. Especially the husband whose male vanity will be threatened if she becomes a bigger success than him.

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JL: Yes. Being a doctor’s wife is “career enough” for opinionated Gerald, who objects to all of this interfering with his life. In hindsight, this could be seen as ahead of the curve as feminist social commentary. Not that I myself consider her new career as a TV spokeswoman for hausfrau essentials (and I didn’t quite understand all of the German jokes here a.k.a. Nazi story in a Playhouse TV show, a German housekeeper who replaces Olivia, etc.) much of a deal for that time, compared with, say, being a female obstetrician (more on that below) or the interior decoration and advertising jobs that she was quite accomplished with in the earlier PILLOW TALK and LOVER COME BACK.

TB: I agree. Selling soap is certainly not going to be seen as contributing to society in the same way a more educated and professional career woman would be contributing. Plus we know that her selling detergent is probably going to be short-term.

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She won’t be saving the world and can quit at anytime. She can return to being a “normal” housewife again who watches TV when the kids are playing/napping, then goes to the store to buy soap so she can come back and wash her husband’s clothes.

JL:As much as I enjoy these Doris Day comedies, they were essentially Disney comedies made for the over thirty crowd and did not intend to rock the boat any more than SON OF FLUBBER.

In fact, I feel that this film took a few steps backward in comparison to her earlier films going back to CALAMITY JANE and including the Rock Hudson co-star hits. It all ends with the man in charge and she is all too happy to return to him as “a doctor’s wife.”

TB: Exactly. While this is an exercise in comedy, it is also an exercise in the futility of a woman venturing out of her traditional, conservative sphere. The writers are deliberately creating a premise where the woman is only going to be validated by returning to the status quo. Their idea of the status quo. She cannot succeed outside the home, otherwise she won’t be regarded as the sort of woman society adores and admires. The sort of woman that gives up her dreams and surrenders to the drudgery of domestic chores.

JL: This is despite all of the interesting talk about “our” money versus “your” money, he being called Mister Beverly by accident after her new-found fame and, most dramatically, she alone delivering the Fraleigh baby in a Rolls Royce. Why not allow her to work alongside him after some additional medical school training? Personally, if I was a little Maggie Boyer watching this, I would be getting mixed messages as to what this movie is telling me what my future holds.

TB: Think of all the little Maggies watching, then and now. Of course, we see it as a counter-productive time capsule. But people today still buy into these notions. Viewings of the film may uphold that mentality.

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JL: Leading to all this is the usual slapstick involving a battle of the spouses. In a fit of anger, Gerald kicks Happy Soap into their built-all-of-the-sudden backyard pool (where he drove the car into previously) and, as a result, we get one of the show pieces spectacle-wise involving soap suds galore. (“It’s beautiful… like heaven.” In a film full of references to female anatomy, one sud is commented by the all-male construction crew as resembling a naked lady.)

TB: This segment of the film felt like something out of a Lucille Ball sitcom. And in fact, Lucy did have a similar comedic sequence on her last series Life with Lucy in the 1980s. Proving that feature films in the 1960s were resembling television more and more, Doris’ own career increasingly heads in this direction since her last feature, WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLL, is indeed a glorified sitcom. Which was soon followed by a weekly sitcom called The Doris Day Show. You can see the trajectory and how she was being transitioned into lighter television fare.

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JL: There’s a subtle nod to Jerry Lewis, whose comedies resemble this in some ways with the slapstick: a movie shown playing at the marquee is “The Respectful Professor” since Universal-International did not have the rights to showcase the Nutty kind (and intriguingly filmed during the same time as this one but I am sure the studios were well aware of what their rivals were doing).

Gerald must also stoke her jealousy and get her to stay home more by pretending to be “unfaithful.”

TB: I found that to be the most objectionable part of the film. It seemed like something Rock Hudson’s characters would have done in the previous movies. To manipulate the Doris character and get her back in line.

JL: Although some of the gags here are intentionally far-fetched (a.k.a. he plants a candid of him with some unknown woman at a restaurant and applies lipstick to his clothes), only in a comedy like this would you get a surreal line like “I’m surprised at you letting me go into the shower without my underwear.” Oh…they do sleep in twin beds since two kids are enough for now. This may have been among the last major screen features showing this since the times were a-changing.

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Yet it all works out in the end since Gerald is not all that Victorian of a husband as he states and at least understands her career needs. Would he have survived the seventies revolution? I think so. Gerald appears to be pretty good at adapting to what he isn’t used to at first, including a working woman getting more pay than he does.

TB: I would say most of that is down to James Garner’s interpretation of the material. In many ways I think he is Day’s best costar in these kinds of vehicles. He comes across as realistic, even if the scenarios are entirely preposterous.

Care to discuss some of the supporting players?

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JL: Quite a few other familiar faces in the supporting cast worth mentioning. Carl Reiner, co-writer of this box office hit, gets into the act with some hilarious on-TV cameos and as the cop arresting Gerald for stopping suddenly on a highway. ZaSu Pitts from the earlier Hal Roach comedies and countless other classics plays housekeeper Olivia; sadly she would pass away during the production of IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, which succeeded this. Alice Pearce (another veteran from classics like ON THE TOWN and Bewitched) also appears briefly. Curiously Brian Nash as the other Boyer child only enjoyed limited success as a child actor, not getting blessed performing with Julie Andrews on something seen by the multitudes like his on-screen sister.

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TB: Good points. We should also mention the director.

JL: Despite the fact that Norman Jewison directed this and he would make some interesting forward-advancing features as the sixties progressed (including a most famous Best Picture winner covering race relations), I was a trifle disappointed with this movie much like you were with MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON playing it safe with Frank Capra’s all-male U.S. Senate. There were, in my personal opinion, some lost opportunities here that could have been developed much further.

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Then again, as I stated above, this film was made merely to please the masses without making them too uncomfortable. It is a sixties film still somewhat stuck in the fifties…and that is what audiences did want at the time, making it an 11 million dollar hit at the box office.

TB: Thanks Jlewis. THE THRILL OF IT ALL is available on home video and it airs occasionally on TCM.

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Missed opportunities in Hollywood

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Too bad Donald Crisp and Irving Bacon never developed an act. They could have called themselves Crisp Bacon.

Penny Marshall and Jude Law might have played a nightclub and billed themselves as Marshall Law.

A retrospective of films featuring Cynthia Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Mae Busch could be called Nixon/Reagan/Busch.

How about Miriam Hopkins, Anthony Hopkins and Bob Hoskins going into business as Hopkins, Hopkins & Hoskins? Though that does sound more like a legal firm.

Maybe William S. Hart and George Burns as Hart Burns.

Oh I know. Someone could have sent Roseanne Barr on tour with Jack Lemmon as Lemmon Barr. And when J.L. needed time off John Candy could have filled in. I bet a show featuring Candy Barr would have been a lot of fun. Not sure how much the tickets would have cost. Maybe:

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Essential: THE FURIES (1950)

TB: This month we’re doing a different sort theme: Westerns where Stanwyck plays a strong woman leading men, dressed like a man.

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We haven’t done a month on Barbara Stanwyck yet. Plus these westerns have a lot to say about male-female relationships as well as white-native relationships. Also, we’re going to look at films in the genre that Stanwyck made in the 1950s, each one at a different studio.

In some of these pictures Stanwyck’s character has major daddy issues. Especially in THE FURIES which we look at this week and in CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA, which we will get to next week. It certainly defines her role as the story plays out.

Despite the contrivances of the plot, we can see how the producers and costumers try to feminize her characters. But at various points do they just let her play the role as a “man.” For instance, in CATTLE QUEEN, she only appears in one dress if I recall, it’s a black dress, when she goes to town and it is hardly demure looking or womanly. For most of the action, she’s in pants. I think that when she wears the dress, she is still wearing boots. No high heels. No frilly hair. Not much makeup, if any.

Related to this presentation of Stanwyck’s western characters is the way her character’s relationships with the men might be sexual but more often than not, she is just interacting with them like “one of the boys.” Part of the “appeal” of watching her portray these tough western women and discussing these films is how a Stanwyck western performance can be read subversively. Is she ultimately playing lesbian roles?

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Let’s get things started with THE FURIES…

JL: This is most famous as Walter Huston’s final film and there is no indication that he is suffering from anything health-wise since he is in great bombastic form. Here he’s T.C. Jeffords, the wealthiest cattle ranch owner of the 1870s, owner of The Furies property and, after the passing of his wife, he is still blessed with two spoiled brats, Vance (Barbara Stanwyck ) who has a touch of Scarlet O’Hara in her (“if you know what you want, why waste time?”) and Clay (John Bromfield), who pretty much disappears from screen once he gets married so we can focus on the bigger stars at hand battling it out.

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This is one of the great daddy-daughter rivalry melodramas. T.C. may be pompous and domineering, paying off his debts with “TC” notes and sporting a Napoleon bust in his office, but he can’t always have it his own way as long as he has a daughter around. She even forces him to help himself when he gets stuck in quicksand!

TB: Exactly. So right away, we see how tough Stanwyck is as Vance. Also, she is called Vance, a masculine name, and not something dainty and feminine like Vanna. She’s basically a tomboy, a tough-as-nails offspring. And with her around barking orders, why would brother Clay be needed.

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JL: Vance and T.C. are a mighty tight bond, but subject to outside influences that can separate them. Vance herself woos Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey), while also maintaining a strong, if secretive, friendship with Juan Herrera (Gilbert Roland)…and both of these men feel parts of The Furies land are rightfully theirs. The romance with Rip seems doomed at first because daddy is able to show him up in front of his daughter as the money-grubbing gambler that he is, accepting a pay-out over marrying her. (Ironically he does not spend it as we later discover.)

As Juan tells her in confidence, “Maybe in his time, he has been hungry. To a hungry man, money is always important.” Juan is himself basically the male “Spanglish” accented variation of Vance here, being equally in love with mommie dearest (the wonderfully trigger happy and rock tossing Blanche Yurka) who successfully severs the TC/Vance relationship after her own is severed by TC.

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TB: I’m glad you mentioned Juan being a mirror version of Vance. In this regard, we are getting into how the film draws parallels between the races and cultures depicted in the core families. One has to wonder what it would have been like if the writing went in a different direction and the story had instead focused on Juan being T.C’s illegitimate son, with Vance having to deal with that. But of course that might upstage T.C.’s relationship with Vance.

JL: These relationships are about the balancing of powers. After losing Rip (temporarily, since he re-enters the picture later), Vance has to take on daddy’s romantic “interest.” Judith Anderson’s Flo Burnett steps off the coach and quips “I hope I shan’t be too much bother.” Vance responds: “You won’t be. No bother at all. We have guests coming all the time.”

TB: And guests going all the time, too!

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JL: Much of the fun in this movie comes from the dialogue in Charles Schnee’s script, which is as double-sided as anything we hear in a 1980s prime-time soap of Dallas or Dynasty proportions. There is even plenty of subliminal sex talk too. For instance, Rip is flipping his cards as Vance comments “sometimes I think those are the only women that are in you to love.” His response: “Why not? They’re new and they’re smooth to touch. They’re exciting and they’re honest. When they’re against you, they don’t make you think they’re for you. When they’re for you, they bring you money.”

Vance: “Too bad they’ve got two heads.” Later, just before the two are reunited at his big bank, Vance confronts his “secretary” Dallas Hart (Myrna Dell) who introduces herself by saying, in a slightly condescending tone to imply she is younger and sexier material than Vance, “I’m new in town, honey.” In typical Stanwyck fashion, we get the acidic reply of “Honey, you wouldn’t be new anyplace.”

TB: Yes, those are great lines. And the way Stanwyck delivers this sort of dialogue is a lot of fun to watch.

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JL: One flaw of this film is that the dialogue sometimes gets too witty for its own good, trying too hard to milk Stanwyck and Houston’s talents for quick delivery, and detracts from the heavy seriousness that Anthony Mann’s direction and especially Victor Milner’s cinematography seem to be striving for in a tale about revenge, death and disfigurement.

TB: Good point. I think this is a perfect example of a script being written before the director was assigned to the project. Or that the director did not really sit down with the writers, like Hitchcock would have done, to fine tune it to so that the dialogue would suit the director’s vision and approach with the material. So we get two types of authors– the screenwriter versus the auteur, instead of them working in tandem.

JL: At times, I felt there were two separate movies competing with each other. In regards to the camera work, there are some great scenes that may be too “arty” for their own good but still quite effective.

TB: Yes. This is where the cinematography is almost on a different level than the direction and script.

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JL: I particularly like the deep focus shots, including one of Vance observing Juan with his mother at a distance as if she notices the similar relationship going on, and the film noir-ish silhouette scenes that often involve cacti lit from behind, exposing them individually in night scenes to suggest a “prickly” environment and its denizens. On the plus side, Franz Waxman’s music does tie some of the loose strings together, especially in the scene with TC wrestling a steer to prove he is still “king” of The Furies.

TB: The wrestling scene sort of ties back to Vance as a more masculine character. Daddy is showing her how things are really done here in the old west. If Vance had a chance to wrestle a steer and prove her worth to T.C. and the others in a similar way she would. There is no doubt that after T.C. is gone from this world, Vance should be the new “king” not Clay, not Rip, not anyone else.

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JL: The most shocking moment (at least then for moviegoers) is the scissor throw involving Vance and Florence, causing the latter to lose her beauty (and Judith Anderson cleans up pretty well when introduced as a very classy middle-aged lady with high class connections in Washington DC).

TB: Yes, to me this is the most pivotal scene in the entire picture. This is an illustration of Vance’s great fury.

JL: In a way, this could symbolically be viewed as some sort of Freudian male sex act like Norman Bates’ knife in PSYCHO. I am curious as to what happens to Flo after TC is out of the picture, but the script leaves certain details unanswered for viewers like me to speculate on.

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The primary purpose of this major event mid-way is to pit daddy and daughter in war with each other and prompt the former to hang Juan after Vance sides with him in a battle between forces. “It is me you should have hung because now I hate you in a way I didn’t know a woman could hate!” In turn, Juan’s mother seeks her own revenge in our climax in the end, but not until daddy and daughter are reunited.

TB: It does get somewhat soapy in spots. I think some of the intensely melodramatic moments are a bit too much, and the story is almost too ambitious. The heart of the story is really the doomed relationship between father and daughter, which is even more tragic because we know how much Vance strives to be a mini-T.C.

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JL: Ultimately, Vance swindles daddy out of all of his TC “notes” and takes full control of the ranch. The story gets a little nebulous on to the specifics of “how” she does it, but there are some delightful montages of her traveling from bank to bank throughout the southwest and ending up with Rip helping her out at the all important Anaheim bank. She succeeds with plenty of charm with both the owner and his wife, Mrs. Anaheim (Beulah Bondi).

TB: It’s interesting that the casting of this picture includes so many Hollywood lesbians. Judith Anderson, Blanche Yurka and Beulah Bondi were all supposedly gay. And Stanwyck herself was rumored to be a closeted lesbian. So to have Stanwyck interacting with these women at various intervals in the picture, we get an added dimension. I am sure the casting of this picture is not accidental and done by Mann to suggest other meaning.

JL: Ironically the film (in its writing) caters to the new post-war mentality of Rosie the Riveter returning to the kitchen and nursery; and it adapts this logic to the 19th century story.

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After we modern viewers enjoy seeing Stanwyck’s Vance succeed so successfully on her own against daddy and men in general, we get a very compact ending with dull-as-dishwater Wendell Corey’s Rip saying that he will make her “my” wife and talk about his son taking over the ranch later. Had this been made in more recent decades, she would have been the one in control in the end, just as she always was in control of daddy.

TB: Exactly, the premise is flipped over on itself in the end, to appease the production code office probably and ensure profitability with conservative moviegoers. It’s a bit disappointing that they’ve done so much to suggest ways in which Vance Jeffords is not your average typical female, for it all to be undermined at the end like this.

JL: Speaking of daddy, it is fitting that our last scene with Walter Houston on screen shows him dying in grace, as he no doubt did off-screen three months after filming ended. T.C. says: “There will never be another like me.” I quite agree.

TB: And there will never be another like Vance either.

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THE FURIES may currently be viewed on YouTube.

 

Essential: FORTY GUNS (1957)

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Part 1 of 2

TB: We’re wrapping up our month-long look at westerns in the 50s starring Barbara Stanwyck. This week our focus is FORTY GUNS, a 1957 entry that teams the actress with writer-director Sam Fuller and leading man Barry Sullivan again.

If it’s okay I am going to share my impressions today then turn it over to Jlewis tomorrow. A lot of thoughts crossed my mind as I watched this film last night. First, I wanted to point out that Leonard Maltin gives it 2.5 stars, out of 4, and he seems to think the story is a bit too over-the-top. Actually, it’s one of the things I like about the movie, that it is camp and it is over-the-top, as this makes the story much more entertaining than it probably has a right to be.

While I would not give FORTY GUNS four stars I would probably give it three solid stars. I agree that it could have been a much more perfect masterpiece. Still it’s a competently made product. It starts with an exciting on-location sequence featuring Stanwyck and her men on horseback.

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A few things prevent FORTY GUNS from achieving its full potential. I think the biggest fault with the movie is that it’s too ambitious a story for a modestly budgeted production. This is where 20th Century Fox should have stepped in to increase the cash flow. You can tell it does not have an adequate budget when an actor accidentally stumbles going up some steps, as Gene Barry does in one scene; and when Dean Jagger fumbles a line but quickly recovers the rest of his character’s speech in a dramatic confrontation with Stanwyck; and these flubs remain in the movie. Obviously, Fuller couldn’t afford to do many retakes, if any at all. And he didn’t have the time or money to fix these goofs in post-production by editing them out with cutaways to other shots.

I think the lack of retakes also causes him to rely too much on long tracking shots. After that exciting sequence at the beginning, we quickly grow weary of the Fuller’s repeated use of tracking shots. Also, we get too many long scenes where the characters move around and recite all their dialogue without any cutting to their faces to get close-up reactions. As a result of the sloppiness of some of the staging, we have a somewhat uneven film. However, this rogue or maverick feel which lends itself to Fuller’s “vision,” does work to the story’s advantage. But it still seems amateurish in spots when it shouldn’t. And I think that if more money had been allocated for retakes and a chance to record more reaction shots, we would have had a much more compelling and flawless narrative.

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Don’t get me wrong it is still compelling. But I think its dynamism comes from the performances and from Fuller’s script, which is certainly high concept. However, Fuller’s dialogue is downright silly in places which gives it those campy vibes, especially when we have Sullivan ask Stanwyck if she wants to spank one of her men. Like that would really be said by an investigator to a powerful woman he just barely met.

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Aside from Stanwyck and Sullivan, the performance that really stood out for me was Dean Jagger’s work as the corrupt sheriff. I love this sort of villain. I think I love this character so much because of the way Jagger imbues him with slimy but still “heroic” traits. The sheriff knows that Stanwyck’s character Jessica has been corrupt and could be brought down by a former ranch hand, so he takes matters into his own hands and kills the dude in a prison holding area, so she doesn’t have to worry.

Of course, she insists she didn’t want the guy murdered. But the sheriff seems to believe it was necessary, and he certainly enjoys doing the dirty work. Particularly if it endears him to her for a favor or two. Jagger’s sheriff has sort of his own code when it comes to protecting people, and to his way of thinking, this is what a man does for the woman he loves.

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Jagger has an interesting death scene a bit later, when all his efforts to hold on to the woman he loves have failed. He hangs himself in Jessica’s home. This is an unexpected development, but in retrospect it’s certainly something we should expect from Fuller the flamboyant storyteller. It’s a totally over-the-top death.

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I also like John Ericson’s performance, playing kid brother to Stanwyck. In fact, he’s probably young enough to be her son. Jessica Drummond has always bailed out little Brockie, but Brockie goes too far at the end and pays for his transgressions with his life.

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Supposedly Fuller wanted Jessica to die in the climactic scene where Griff Bonnell (Sullivan) shoots her so that she will fall and he can get a clean shot at Brockie. But the studio insisted that Fuller make the character live so she could have a happy ending. I think the movie probably would have been more powerful if she had died. Griff’s real love is the law, and his career certainly would have come ahead of sparing Jessica and making her his wife. It’s sort of like expecting Marshall Dillon on Gunsmoke to put the sister of one of targets ahead of everything else, including the law, which of course he would never do.

As for the title, I think the forty men or forty guns that Jessica keeps employed, is mostly just a gimmick. Not many of them are fleshed out and we don’t know them as individual characters.

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Fuller’s thesis is that life and death exist side by side. In the blink of an eye, roles can reverse so that the living are now suddenly dead, and the seemingly dead might spring back to life.

In many ways, this would be a great companion piece to Peckinpah’s RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY. Especially since both films have violent wedding scenes in them. I would suspect that Peckinpah was influenced by Fuller even if that has never been corroborated anywhere. I would also suspect that many makers of spaghetti westerns ten to fifteen years afterward, were inspired by what Fuller accomplishes here.

Again it’s a picture I enjoyed very much. Though I don’t think it’s exactly the masterpiece it could have been or should have been.

***

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Part 2 of 2

JL: Nice to see Barbara Stanwyck team up again with Barry Sullivan…and getting a fade-out with him in a possible romantic happily ever. As Jessica Drummond, her primary sin is having a bad brother named Brockie (John Ericson). Yet she is hardly an angel herself a.k.a. THE FURIES and must accept the fact that Sullivan as a reformed gunslinger Griff Bonnell must arrest her brother for the “common good.” (Initially he comes to town to arrest another member of her “forty guns” gang, Charles Roberson’s Howard Swain.)

Two of the previous Stanwyck westerns had strong daddy-daughter themes but, this time, the focus is on brotherly love and hate. Jessica and Brockie’s relationship is an intense one, going back to her helping in his delivery when their mother was dying giving birth.

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Speaking of brothers, Griff himself is one of a trio of Bonnells that include Wes (Gene Barry) and Chico (Robert Dix), all sons of a righteous doctor type who gets discussed in hindsight a bit.

While Griff starts a relationship with Jessica that involves saving her in a tornado, the other two have love interests of their own. Sadly the rather formal and traditional Wes doesn’t succeed in wedding (possibly before officially bedding) the town gunsmith’s daughter (blond bombshell Eve Brent) before fate intervenes in a shocking scene. Chico goes the less traditional route, rolling about in the desert sand with Sandy Wirth, and getting reprimanded by his big brother for drinking too much whiskey. Yet he winds up pretty settled in the end, taking on the job of marshal after Hank Worden’s John Crisholm and his fallen brother.

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I like how Stanwyck as the primary Alpha Female of the piece runs the show. She is introduced galloping in with the force of a tornado, not unlike the one Griff later saves her from. When Griff comes to her western mansion to arrest Swain for mail robberies, she supervises from her post at the end of a long dinner table.

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Out on the open range close to a cattle herd, we see Griff and Jessica have some mental-challenge wordplay with her dressed in solid black on top of an all-white horse, suggesting she has both a “dark” and “light” side to her persona. “I need strong men to carry out my orders” is her plea to get Griff on her side.

She even buys off Sheriff Ned Logan (Dean Jagger) despite his tearful pleas, since these men are so smitten by such a strong woman. An interesting fade-out of her face as she says “I will do everything I can to see him live” (concerning her brother when arrested) occurs over shots of the “forty guns” riding on horseback.

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Despite being a western with the same two stars as THE MAVERICK QUEEN, so much about this production is as different from the other as night and day. The other was in glossy color and presented fairly straight-forwardly without a whole like of complicated background history among the characters. This one, directed by one the Big Names of fifties cinema, Samuel Fuller, has plenty of action in the central western town but tends to be more methodical and fussy in how it shows it.

The crisp CinemaScope monochrome showcases a rural landscape of Tombstone in the style of a European road picture; obviously the Hollywood studios like 20th Century Fox were competing with all of the art-house imports invading American screens at this time.

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This is a very “artsy” film, opening with exciting shots of horses and men in action, taken from ground level, and a few rather lengthy tracking shots that were just starting to get fashionable with Hollywood productions during this period, the funeral song sequence being a notable stand-out. Griff’s warrant and gun battle with Charlie Savage (Chuck Hayward) is shot from a myriad of camera angles, mostly from either high up or so far below that you feel like you may get stepped on by Griff’s boots.

I saw this scene before, despite not seeing the entire film, and wasn’t aware at first when and where. Then I realized it was a favorite scene of Martin Scorsese’s and he and others brought it up in various documentaries.

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Oh… and there are a lot of chickens on view. Also still more chickens, including some roosting over the coffins in the town’s mortuary. Not sure how many lost their lives as dinner for the humans, but I am sure they had gotten quite used to seeing humans kill each other.

Despite all of the gun tooting, the men in this town are quite clean. We get multiple bath “tub” shots. Made me remember Sundance’s problem in the previous film.

Music (credited to Harry Sukman) is used more sparingly to add a more authentic feel, with the emphasis on the sound effects. Yet it does appear in various doses. It gets rather maudlin and nostalgic-for-the-old-days when Griff tells a sobering up Chico that his way of life is now considered freak-ish and out of touch with the changing times of 1881. Like some of the fifties clothing and hair fashions lurking amid the 19th century setting, the melodies do date the film a bit.

Overall this is a very well made movie, but I did not exactly warm up to it. Had to re-watch parts in order to keep track of the complex story with its changing positioning of characters on different sides of the law.

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Ultimately…and this is the main point of the movie and my review…we once again see that Stanwyck’s Jessica is a good woman at heart and she gets her just reward with a new man after losing That Other Man, this time being her brother instead of her father. “It is very hard to forget the man you love” as she tells Louvena Spanger in mourning after Wes’ death.

FORTY GUNS may currently be viewed on YouTube.

Essential: THE MAVERICK QUEEN (1956)

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TB: We’re looking at another western that Barbara Stanwyck made in the 1950s. This time she ventured over to Republic Pictures, the first and only time she worked for Herbert Yates’ illustrious studio. She plays a larger than life saloon gal who has ties to an outlaw gang. On screen Stanwyck is reunited with Barry Sullivan, with whom she had previously costarred in MGM’s psychological drama JEOPARDY. Sullivan is well suited to the western genre, and he has a nice easy rapport with Stanwyck. In fact, they would team up a third time, for 1957’s FORTY GUNS, which we will review next week.

I think what I like about THE MAVERICK QUEEN is that it’s really Stanwyck’s show. She is surrounded by Sullivan and other audience favorites like Wallace Ford, Jim Davis, Scott Brady and Mary Murphy. But she’s clearly in command of the proceedings.

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JL: At this point Republic Pictures was using their widescreen process Naturama. Director Joseph Kane and screenwriters Kenneth Garnet and DeVallon Scott are adapting from the always reliable Zane Grey whose books were as commonplace in libraries throughout the 20th century as Webster’s Dictionary. Colorado poses as the Wyoming Territory and it is presented fairly well in Trucolor.

We get the infamous Butch Cassidy and Sundance as an added plus, being played by Howard Petrie and Scott Brady who may not be as glamorous as Paul Newman and Robert Redford but are also likely better matches to the 19th century originals. Mind you, this is still fictional make-believe with a “what if?” scenario that suggests Sundance died much earlier than he did in real life and under completely different circumstances.

TB: Tell us how Stanwyck’s character crosses paths with them.

JL: Barbara Stanwyck is portraying a somewhat “bad” character here in cahoots with them, but she becomes a “good” heroine later on when she severs her ties and helps those battling them.

TB: She has an especially close bond with Sundance.

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JL: Kit Banion is a fascinating character: a successful hotel owner and “queen” of cattle rustlers at a time when there weren’t many women occupying such roles. It’s interesting how the theme song by Joni James contrasts with the story; she is so soft and feminine in her delivery, suggesting our leading lady is quite demure and wholesome despite “stealing your heart.”

TB: But of course Kit is tough, as only Stanwyck could play her.

JL: In various ways, these Barbara Stanwyck westerns are stepping stones of sorts to the later TV roles that established Stanwyck with an audience that was too young to see these theatricals in their initial release. Namely, The Big Valley, where she stars as the matriarchal widow. Plus The Thorn Birds, where she’s cast as the ruthless Australian sheep ranch owner Mary Carson, also a widow.

TB: (smiles) I should interrupt for a second. Our readers don’t know this, but you and I often debate the merits of alluding to other films or television projects the stars also appeared in. Though I’m sure you are going somewhere with this…

JL: Well…I will defend myself here in referencing these other titles because I do see some similarities worth noting. More often than not, Stanwyck does not need a man in her life as a support system because she operates quite well solo as her own “man in charge.”

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TB: Good point.

JL: Yet she does find a man purposeful for other reasons…ahem…as she clearly points out to Richard Chamberlain’s Father Ralph in The Thorn Birds. Intriguingly the “good” Stanwyck, even the type who is shady in her actions as in THE FURIES and FORTY GUNS, gets a man as her “reward,” but the “bad” Stanwyck like Mary Carson and Kit Banion must suffer unfulfilled.

TB: In other words, the lead character of this story is not exactly going to have a happy ending.

JL: Yes. Kit (short for Kitty, not unlike Kitty in Gunsmoke, another lady who has been around the block) makes no secret that she has plenty of experience with men on an intimate level– and, yes, that makes her “bad” in other ways if we view her through a prim and proper Victorian Age lens. As as she puts it, “I did what I had to do to get where I am.”

TB: I think this suggests an evolution for Stanwyck in the western genre. (Now it’s my turn to reference another work.) A decade earlier she had played a saloon gal in Paramount’s CALIFORNIA. But while it was implied the character in that film had obviously used sex to get ahead, it’s not as explicit as it is here. Therefore, Lily Bishop, the woman she plays in CALIFORNIA, does get a happy ending– provided she leave a life of sin behind. But in THE MAVERICK QUEEN, Kit Banion is a known “maverick” and must not be rewarded for that.

Has she been corrupted by Sundance and his gang? Or did she corrupt them? We’re sort of left to figure it out for ourselves.

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JL: Kit does not want the Sundance Kid as much as he wants her: “Oh for heaven’s sake, take a bath first! You smell like a combination [of] brewery and horse stable!” Later she gets even more acidic by questioning his, um, functioning abilities in some rather sharp Freudian dialogue that miraculously got past the censors: “That was twice in two days that you lost your gun. You’d better carry it in a sack.” His obvious response: “You shush your mouth!”

She is aching for something more substantial in her conquests, telling him “somewhere along the way, sometime, I will meet a better man like the kind of man I used to know.”

TB: Of course we have to wonder if she really did know any better men before Sundance, or if she’s just saying that to mess with his head.

JL: Unfortunately, she realizes it is too late for her to have what she wants and she can’t turn back the clock. In traditional Hollywood style, only good and moral ladies get what they want in the end. And although she can’t be part of a Hollywood boy-meets-girl-and-fights-the-obstacles-to-keep-her scenario, she does make her best efforts before her final departure on screen and at least gets cradled in a man’s arms.

TB: It should be pointed out that there is more than one triangle occurring in this story.

JL: Yes, the main love story here involves Barry Sullivan, as an undercover Pinkerton detective posing as “Jeff Young” of the gang whom a deceived-for-a-time Kit aids (“always nice to meet the better man”), and Mary Murphy as Lucy Lee.

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TB: Incidentally, Mary Murphy was a contract player at Republic. And typically, she was cast in “A” westerns as the sweet-natured love interest. She obviously did not have the star power Stanwyck possessed, but in this story, she is still given the main romantic storyline. Ultimately Murphy’s character wins the guy, because Stanwyck’s character is deemed too tough, too immoral, too far gone to be saved; and she cannot be allowed the happily-ever-after fairy tale ending.

JL: There is some courtship between Lucy Lee and Jeff early on so that we know Kit’s own displays of affection, including some passionate kissing, do not stick to Jeff and he remains free for Lucy. But Lucy temporarily plays the damsel in distress with sweaty and shirtless Sundance ( who apparently is far more unsatisfied in his libido than even Kit).

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Personally I feel that the actor Barry Sullivan is better matched as a partner with Stanwyck than with Murphy, not so much because of their almost 19 year age difference as performers (and it shows on screen) but because they spend less time together than Sullivan does with Stanwyck.

TB: Probably the audience would have expected Jeff to redeem Kit, and for Lucy to redeem Sundance, so that more age-appropriate couplings occur. But we know that Sundance is not the type to be tamed, and apparently, neither is Kit. This leaves wholesome Lucy the only viable match for Jeff, despite his being old enough to be her father.

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TB: Thoughts about the visuals?

JL: In terms of visual style, I kept thinking of several westerns I had seen that were made well before the talkie revolution, including those featuring William S. Hart. I was especially reminded in the rather prominent shots displayed here of characters running swiftly from the cover of one building to the shadow behind another, with half-faces appearing as doors open and the rather abrupt way people jump into action with limited restriction.

This does not suggest that this movie is behind the times. Quite the contrary, it suggests that Republic Pictures and its well established crew of longtime veterans were great at taking what worked so well decades before (don’t fix what isn’t broken) in keeping viewers tight in their seats suspense-wise. They kept it going well into the fifties quite successfully. With the coming of the New Wave Sixties, a lot would change, especially in the western genre, and there is a sense that some well-learned lessons were forgotten along the way. Although bigger budgeted than the earlier Republic programmers and serials, THE MAVERICK QUEEN is still a good representation of vintage “action-packed” entertainment.

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TB: Thanks Jlewis. THE MAVERICK QUEEN may currently be viewed on YouTube.

Essential: THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963)

“I’m not an actress. I’m a housewife.”

Doris Day as Beverly Boyer, wife of Dr. Gerald (James Garner), says this initially to aging advertising tycoon Tom Fraleigh (Reginald Owen, whom we’ve seen in quite a few essentials discussed). They had been watching a TV commercial for Happy Soap featuring a blonde Jayne Mansfield imitation (Pamela Currin as Spot Checker, the “Happy Girl”) undressing in a bubble bath. She croons “There are so many things a girl must learn before she can become a glamorous movie star.” Previously Beverly was struggling with her own nudie cutie in a bubble bath, the pint-sized Maggie (Kym Karath, a year and a half before being cast as the youngest Von Trapp in THE SOUND OF MUSIC).

Mr. Fraleig’s son Gardiner (Edward Andrews, a regular on many TV shows that decade, including a couple BEWITCHED episodes) and his wife (Arlene Francis) are both expecting a baby despite advancing middle age. I have to make note of Arlene’s wonderful comic timing over the opening credits, expressing how happy (as soap) she is discovering that she is pregnant and taking an elevator full of curious men. (Interesting fashion statement: by late 1962, when this was filmed, most American men had pretty much stopped wearing hats in public due to President Kennedy seldom wearing them. Yet she is wearing one, perhaps suggesting that women were not changing their lives and fashions quite as fast as the men were.) Overjoyed by Dr. Boyer’s aid as the obstetrician in relaxing them (suggesting a romantic cruise and so forth) so that she can officially get “on the nest”, they invite the Boyers to dinner at the big mansion, where Daddy is much impressed by Mrs. Boyer. Of course, her first time for the cameras is a disaster… hard to believe, considering this is Doris Day.

Being a doctor’s wife is “career enough” for opinionated Gerald, who objects to all of this interfering with his life. In hindsight, this could be seen as ahead of the curve as feminist social commentary. Not that I myself consider her new career as a TV spokeswoman for hausfrau essentials (and I didn’t quite understand all of the German jokes here a.k.a. Nazi story in a Playhouse TV show, a German housekeeper who replaces Olivia, etc.) much of a deal for that time, compared with, say, being a female obstetrician (more on that below) or the interior decoration and advertising jobs that she was quite accomplished with in the earlier PILLOW TALK and LOVER COME BACK. As much as I enjoy these Doris Day comedies, they were essentially Disney comedies made for the over thirty crowd and did not intend to rock the boat any more than SON OF FLUBBER.

In fact, I feel that this film took a few steps backward in comparison to her earlier films going back to CALAMITY JANE and including the Rock Hudson co-star hits. It all ends with the man in charge and she is all too happy to return to him as “a doctor’s wife”. This is despite all of the interesting talk about “our” money versus “your” money, he being called Mister Beverly by accident after her new found fame and, most dramatically, she alone delivering the Fraleigh baby in a Rolls Royce. Why not allow her to work alongside him after some additional medical school training? Personally, if I was a little Maggie Moyer watching this, I would be getting mixed messages as to what this movie is telling me what my future holds.

Leading to all this is the usual slapstick involving a battle of the spouses. In a fit of anger, Gerald kicks Happy Soap into their built-all-of-the-sudden backyard pool (where he drove the car into previously) and, as a result, we get one of the show pieces spectacle-wise involving soap suds galore. (“It’s beautiful… like heaven.” In a film full of references to female anatomy, one sud is commented by the all-male construction crew as resembling a naked lady.) There’s a subtle nod to Jerry Lewis, whose comedies resemble this in some ways with the slapstick: a movie shown playing at the marquee is “The Respectful Professor” since Universal-International did not have the rights to showcase the Nutty kind (and intriguingly filmed during the same time as this one but I am sure the studios were well aware of what their rivals were doing).

Gerald must also stoke her jealousy and get her to stay home more by pretending to be “unfaithful”. Although some of the gags here are intentionally far-fetch (a.k.a. he plants a candid of him with some unknown woman at a restaurant and applies lipstick to his clothes), only in a comedy like this would you get a surreal line like “I’m surprised at you letting me go into the shower without my underwear.” Oh… they do sleep in twin beds since two kids are enough for now. This may have been among the last major screen features showing this since the times were a-changing.

Yet it all works out in the end since Gerald is not all that Victorian of a husband as he states and at least understands her career needs. Would he have survived the seventies revolution? I think so. Gerald appears to be pretty good at adapting to what he isn’t used to at first, including a working woman getting more pay than he does.

Quite a few other familiar faces in the supporting cast worth mentioning. Carl Reiner, co-writer of this box office hit, gets into the act with some hilarious on-TV cameos and as the cop arresting Gerald for stopping suddenly on a highway. ZaSu Pitts from the earlier Hal Roach comedies and countless other classics plays housekeeper Olivia; sadly she would pass away during the production of IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, which succeeded this. Alice Pearce (another veteran from classics like ON THE TOWN and BEWITCHED) also appears briefly. Curiously Brian Nash as the other Boyer child only enjoyed limited success as a child actor, not getting blessed performing with Julie Andrews on something seen by the multitudes like his on-screen sister.

Despite the fact that Norman Jewison directed this and he would make some interesting forward-advancing features as the sixties progressed (including a most famous Best Picture winner covering race relations), I was a trifle disappointed with this movie much like you were with MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON playing it safe with Frank Capra’s all-male U.S. Senate. There were, in my personal opinion, some lost opportunities here that could have been developed much further. Then again, as I stated above, this film was made merely to please the masses without making them too uncomfortable. It is a sixties film still somewhat stuck in the fifties… and that is what audiences did want at the time, making it an 11 million dollar hit at the box office.

Essential: CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA (1954)

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JL: This is one of the better RKO releases of 1954. It does not get off on a particularly great start with some curious narration by its star, Barbara Stanwyck (who is good in her delivery but isn’t given good material to read) and she is shown on horseback against a way-too obvious back screen of cattle ranching stock. Yet we soon have some pretty on location scenery to get my enthusiasm rallied up more. Plus I do love her name: Sierra Nevada Jones.

TB: It’s a great name. And one almost imagines a mountain girl with windswept hair. But it seemed obvious to me that Stanwyck had a studio perm right before she appeared on camera.

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JL: With her in her opening scenes is “Pop” Jones (Morris Ankrum). This daddy-daughter relationship is peachy great with her constantly calling him “dad.” We all know what this means. He is doomed to die soon and all of her happiness is shattered.

TB: Of course you’re right about that. It’s almost funny how thick they pour it on. Woman loves father so much she will be devastated when he’s killed off a short time later. Though I must say I do like Morris Ankrum in this rather brief role. He’s a character actor I never paid much attention to before, and he’s well suited to the genre. He also seems to elicit a vulnerability in Stanwyck that she seldom if ever displays in her other motion pictures.

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JL: Yes. And her revenge will be against his murderers and finding justice.

TB: Let’s talk about Stanwyck’s leading man in this picture.

JL: Ronald Reagan is the major co-star, playing Farrell, undercover investigator late-19th century style. When observing her skinny dipping, he Is much more subdued in his reaction than Kirk Douglas was in THE INDIAN FIGHTER. He may not be the aggressive wooing type, but we can all see right away that he is a good guy who has her best interests at heart…and she will need a new man in her life eventually, with Pop gone.

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TB: I had remembered reading somewhere, awhile back, that Reagan enjoyed working with Stanwyck immensely. She had also costarred with wife Nancy, when she was billed as Nancy Davis, in EAST SIDE WEST SIDE (1949). Stanwyck and her ex-husband Robert Taylor were close pals of the Reagans and shared similar political views. Apparently, when Reagan was about to leave the White House, the last film he screened as president during his last week in office in January 1989, he and Nancy screened CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA.

JL: In the beginning, we don’t get a flattering picture of the “Indians” but it changes quickly. They are still considered as a separate species from all of the “white man” and we get plenty of Broken English on the soundtrack by a cast that…well, at least they sport nice suntans.

TB: Yeah. Fake painted-on tans. One thing that crosses my mind when I watch those scenes is how much time the actors playing natives must have spent in the make-up chair.

JL: When her beloved daddy dies, Sierra Nevada suddenly assumes the worst and yells at the natives visiting the scene: “You savage sons-of-a…Come finish the job! There is one of us left!” Yet she is informed that she will get help from them in finding out who is responsible. Anthony Caruso plays Natchakoa, the “bad” Blackfoot, and Lance Fuller is the dashingly handsome “good” one, Colorados.

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We have a potential triangle romance in the making involving Colorados with Sierra Nevada and Yvette Dugay’s Starfire, who tragically dies later after expressing some jealousy to her rival (who insists the contrary in her intentions).

TB: While I found the depiction of the good natives admirable, even ahead of the times, I found the plot with Stanwyck’s character and Fuller’s character a bit far-fetched. She really hadn’t been there long enough before her father died for her to become so close to Colorados.

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It felt like a plot device, so that Sierra Nevada had a few allies against the land baron (played by Gene Evans) that was actually responsible for her father being slaughtered and her land being taken away from her.

JL: Even if the races are all sticking to their own kind in the end, there are some interesting set-ups here.

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When Sierra Nevada and Colorados go into town, the residents are shocked by the two shown in cahoots; this being an interesting commentary on the racial prejudices of both circa 1888-89 and 1954 (i.e. Brown vs. Board of Education was stirring up the status quo). Later this theme is built up more with her defending herself, with Farrell’s help, against uppity ladies with their own opinions about the Blackfoot tribe.

TB: I must admit I liked the town scenes very much. They gave us a much-needed break from the land war raging between Stanwyck and Evans. Plus it was interesting to see how Stanwyck’s character lacked support from other women, which in some ways reinforced her resolve to be one of the boys if she was going to survive.

JL: The primary villains here are Natchakoa and sneaky Tom McCord (Evans), who steals an important document from Pop’s body at the scene of the crime. Thus, we have heroes and villains on both sides with plenty of action.

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Aside from Lance Fuller appearing shirtless in a fist fight, I guess the one Pride Month interest-of-sort is Stanwyck showcased in trousers, never a dress, throughout and displaying strong masculine resistance against a wooing schemer who tries to take advantage of her at one point. However she still winds up courting Farrell in the end and, while there are no talks of marriage and kids just yet like THE FURIES, you will be expecting it soon after “The End.” In short, all is well in the strictly heterosexual frontier known as Montana.

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TB: Final thoughts. What did you think about the directing?

JL: Allan Dwan was a wonderful director of action flicks with a filmography going back far enough. Remember ROBIN HOOD with Douglas Fairbanks? To be fair, he was 69 at this time and quite overworked with at least three back-to-back productions that year, so this may not represent him at his freshest. It is enjoyable for what it is, matinee entertainment.

TB: Thanks Jlewis. CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA may currently be viewed on Amazon Prime.

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Essential: BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE (1969)

JL begins:

Paul Mazursky’s big directorial debut (and wonderfully co-scripted by producer Larry Tucker) is basically in the same league as GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, also produced by Columbia, and other quintessential good-if-not-great crowd pleasers of the sixties that tapped into what moviegoers were most curious to see at the time. It may end a bit too abruptly and not milk its subject matter for all it is worth, but I still enjoy it after multiple viewings. Even today, it has plenty to say about relationships and honesty, fidelity versus infidelity.

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Although three of the names in the title commit…gasp!…adultery (more of a no-no back then than today), this is a surprisingly chaste film that lies somewhere in-between a Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedy (Dyan Cannon wears as much eye liner and lip gloss as Doris under the sheets) and a Russ Meyer nudie-cutie with just enough bare tops on display, but not involving our star actresses, to warrant an R-rating. As with a number of box office successes, there was a feeble attempt to create a TV series out of it years later.

TB: Yes, I think the TV series was pretty much a flop. Definitely “tamer” since it had to contend with broadcast standards censorship. It aired around a dozen episodes in 1973. A young Robert Urich and Anne Archer played the main couple. Archer obviously was cast on the strength of her resemblance to Natalie Wood.

We should point out that the cast of the original movie features Robert Culp, who had made films, typically in supporting roles. But he was known more to audiences as a television performer in the late 1960s.

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JL: Robert Culp, who was famous at the time due to I Spy but less familiar today than his co-stars, and Natalie Wood, who needs no introduction, play the liberal-minded Sanders, Bob and Carol; he being a documentary filmmaker and she a rather bored, but pampered, housewife. They spend a weekend at a place resembling (and maybe is) the famous Esalem, a California retreat for new age yoga, relaxation, nude sun bathing and psychological therapy.

TB: You gotta love how they fit all the therapies in. It’s a one stop place for bourgeoisie healing.

JL: Bob is a trifle skeptical at first but Carol is more open to this getting-in-touch-with-your-feelings that starts out with the soft spoken leader (Greg Mullavey) getting them all to look at each other directly in the face and display total honesty about everything.

Meanwhile, Dyan Cannon and Elliott Gould play the Sanders’ more earthbound (read: uptight) friends, Ted and Alice Henderson.

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At first they merely are amused by this great weekend transformation during a discussion at an Italian restaurant, especially after Carol demonstrates “total honesty” with the waiter (Lee Bergere) by asking if he “genuinely” hopes that their food is satisfactory and even later tries to re-explain herself and apologize to him in the kitchen.

By the way, I absolutely adore Natalie Wood in her blue denim mini-skirt. Not to mention Dyan in her solid yellow with matching hair ribbon, repeated in red/black combo, virginal white, sky blue and as pink as a Playboy bunny in her later scenes.

All continues hunky dory until after a late after-party get-together involving a bit of marijuana smoking and stirred libidos. As the Hendersons leave, Carol bounces out with some all important information. She recently learned Bob had an affair, he was totally honest about it, she forgave him and she thinks it is all “beautiful” and worth sharing with her best friends!

TB: To be honest, this part of the plot seems rather absurd to me. In fact it seems like a sitcom plot, where the main character promises not to lie for a week and is honest to the point of being painful. We’ve seen it on dozens of shows with Lucille Ball and John Ritter. In this case, Mazursky is doing it as a bit of a device to draw the Hendersons more into the story…so that they are now part of the Sanders’ process of “truth” and “discovery.”

JL: Ted is amused, but Alice is disgusted beyond belief. I think Alice represents roughly 75% of the moviegoers seeing this in 1969 since most at them were well beyond their thirties and couldn’t quite grasp all of the new “freedoms.”

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JL: Back in the bedroom, it is obvious that Alice is no longer In The Mood while Ted is feeling frisky. After all, Bob’s affair and Carol being so candid and comfortable about it is as traumatic to Alice as her own mother’s death! Oh pleeeeeeeze.

Actually I greatly enjoy this lengthy bedroom conversation between these two (a key reason both were nominated for Oscars in their supporting roles) with her at first not wanting him to touch her, then they negotiate about whether or not to “do it” despite all of her rage over Bob and finally culminating with his telling her to not touch him!

TB: I agree the scene works rather well. But one of the problems I have with this set-up is that the filmmakers are not quite sure at times which couple should be most in focus. Or if the two couples deserve equal prominence since they may be reverse images of each other. Despite the “confusion” over which two are the main characters, or if all four are main characters, we do get some satiric moments and the comic potential of the storyline is exploited rather well.

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JL: Later Alice tries to get things out of her system with her psychiatrist (Donald F. Muhich). He displays a rather stoic reaction as she talks about “my” (instead of “our”) five year son whom she “loves.” Meanwhile she only “likes” her husband. She can’t handle sex and body parts, using nicknames instead of medical terms. When she has her “Freudian slip” mentioning Bob instead of Ted, it becomes apparent that she is worried her husband will do a no-no like Bob’s despite always being faithful to her.

TB: When I watched this particular scene I couldn’t help but think of Otto Preminger’s SUCH GOOD FRIENDS (1971) which came out a few years later. Again Dyan Cannon is submerged in an upper class melange of psychological and sexual dysfunction. I guess Preminger was a fan of her performance here in Mazursky’s film, causing him to cast her later in his film which covers some of the same “issues.”

JL: On a plane bound for Miami, Bob makes the mistake of suggesting to Ted that his affair was no big deal and, heck, you might as well take advantage of golden opportunities. Intriguingly, Bob himself decides NOT to have a second affair when given the opportunity on another trip at home, but he later confronts Carol herself having one of her own with a much younger and hunkier tennis instructor named Horst (Horst Ebersberg).

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TB: The old “what’s good for the goose” routine…! The tennis instructor is a soapy stereotype and since he’s so much better looking than Bob, you have to wonder why Carol would even look twice at Bob again.

JL: What I like best about this movie is that it puts the shoe on the other foot so that the man, who takes such things for granted, must now reconsider his own feelings of possessiveness and jealousy. We get Culp’s best acting scene but, of course, you know he is a dedicated liberal type who “does not use violence in this house” so he invites Horst to stay for a drink.

TB: I guess this keeps the tone light and prevents the film from descending into histrionics, which is what happens in THE GRADUATE when Elaine learns Benjamin’s been having an affair with her mother. But that’s another story!

JL: In Las Vegas, where everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, Alice has had plenty of time with her shrink and is no longer judging her best friends by “my morals” and the foursome enjoy themselves in the executive suite.

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TB: This of course leads to the film’s most “celebrated” and “liberating” image of the four of them in bed together. If you do a Google search of the film, nearly 80% of the images come from this portion of the movie. It’s quite the identifier.

JL: Everybody is now more amused than shocked to learn about Carol being even with Bob with her sex-capade, but then Ted decides to confess to his affair with a mouthful of yummy nuts! This sends Alice through the roof and she instantly starts undressing and demanding to swap hubbies with Carol, insisting that Bob must find her attractive enough to go to the sack with her. The great O word is expressed, which I can’t print here.

When they finally all decide to go to the next level, we gets some great comic scenes with Elliot Gould in particular.

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I find him much more more likable in this movie than in M*A*S*H. He fusses in the bathroom in preparation and takes way too long getting his undergarments off… under the covers. He is even more modest about his body than his own wife!

TB: This is where I think the film becomes a very immature thesis on sexual relationships. Yes, this is a comedy and we’re supposed to find some of it tongue-in-cheek, but ultimately it’s just a bunch of overgrown “kids” who don’t know the first thing about real adult interactions.

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And the fact that Ted’s confession forces Alice, who has been rather reserved up to this point, to suddenly want to get it on with Bob– that seems very contrived to me. Like Mazursky and fellow screenwriter Larry Tucker couldn’t actually come with a realistic way for them all to copulate together.

And then, ultimately, because they cannot venture into X-rated territory and remain commercially marketable, we don’t see them having sex with each other. Plus, I think in this situation, with everyone relaxed, there’d be some bisexuality playing out. But this film, as you said earlier, is chaste. It’s timid. And adolescent. Not as frank or grown up or adult as it could have been. It is an American film trying to do what provocative European films do, and not being able to pull it off, pun intended.

***

JL: So did they “do it” or not? A little video segment on YouTube has Quentin Tarantino suggesting that maybe they all all “did it,” but I kinda think they “didn’t.”

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TB: Yeah, they didn’t do it. The film leads up to the promise of sexual liberation but then it chickens out and tries to act vague and clever about it.

JL: We get a questionable scene of Bob looking up at the camera as he kisses Alice, which Quentin thinks is him shooing away the audience for more privacy. I think Bob’s expression is more along the lines of “maybe I should not go through with this since the concept was more exciting than the reality.

TB: Yep. I’m with you on this interpretation. Ultimately the film needed to have a moral ending for American audiences. Where the two marriages remain intact and their foursome goes nowhere.

JL: In the end, it is all about the Jackie DeShannon song. What the world needs now is love sweet love. Likely these couples won’t stray further in the future, but if they do, they will always be honest in true Me Decade fashion (and this does feel more like a seventies film in the end rather than a sixties film). The surreal parade scene is every liberal’s dream of a world united in multiple races and genders.

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TB: Sorry to burst your bubble, but I still don’t think this film measured up like it should have. It often takes the easy way out. It doesn’t allow the characters to become fully fleshed out, faults and all. The characters aspire to nothing basically and become amoral in a glib sort of cute way. What these four individuals are going through, is not presented in a meaningful treatise, examining possible consequences in a realistic light.

It’s clear to me they had to keep the characters likable at the end, or else these stars’ careers might have come to a screeching halt. I think one of the couples should have gone too far, should have reached the end of their marriage; while the other couple became more reasonable and saved from the debauchery. That is, if they are meant to be true reverse images of each other. Again I think a more mature European filmmaker would have done justice to the story.

Even though it was filmed in the post-code period, it still seems bound by remnants of the production code. And it seems to be too much in keeping with “good taste” which ironically causes a very dishonest version of what this story is. Anyway, since you obviously enjoyed the picture more than I did, I will let you finish things up with a few positive remarks…

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JL: Much of this film’s charm for me personally lies in its time-capsule appeal. So many little things on visual display represent what was so “trendy” back at the time of its principal photography (November-December 1968), but now look like ancient relics of a bygone era. Obviously Las Vegas has changed immensely since then. We get at least two subtle digs at the presidential election with one visitor at the California retreat reading a newspaper lampooning LBJ and Nixon (perhaps this scene was shot just after the latter defeated Humphrey and Wallace), followed later by two minor characters discussing whether or not they should have bothered voting (a question expanded upon later in Hal Ashby’s SHAMPOO, set during this exact same time period but filmed post-Watergate).

Meanwhile, a trio of possibly (oh…heck, any modern viewer can see that they definitely are) gay men listen in on a conversation about love and honesty at the restaurant pre-Stonewall. We even get a bit part by Daniel Striped Tiger at a time when Fred Rogers was among the newest faces on TV.

The fashion show is especially impressive, with the false eyelashes and Nehru sweatshirts (not jackets anymore) going out of style between the time cameras stopped rolling and the time it finally hit theaters in September 1969.

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Of course, Bob must make sure his love beads are on, shirt or no shirt. However everything that Natalie Wood wears is hip and ahead of its time, especially the plaid pants in our early scenes that would not take the nation by storm for another two years or so. Plus Bob and Carol’s swinging California pad is pretty groovy with a huge dictionary (!?) opened up in the living room. I am guessing that Natalie says “groovy” at least five times on screen, but I will let the experts analyze that specific detail further.

The movie always leaves me with this warm afterglow that is hard to define. I guess it has to do with the wide-eyed innocence of the characters and the movie’s intentions, especially in that final scene of solidarity among all kinds of people. What could be worse to watch on screen?