John and Mary (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex and then relationship.

Considered provocative at the time this film detailed the new phenomenon of the one-night-stand, a fad in the late 60’s early 70’s that quickly went out of style upon the release of Looking for Mr Goodbar in 1977.  The story here details a rather nondescript man and woman (played by Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow) who meet at a singles bar and then go back to his place for sex.  The rest of the film involves them considering whether it can grow into a relationship.

The first ten minutes are pretty good. It nicely analyzes all the expected awkwardness one must have of waking up the next morning and not sure who you’ve been sleeping with. I liked how the John character secretly goes through Mary’s purse to find out more about her while Mary does the same with his telephone messages. Unfortunately after this segment Director Peter Yates unwisely decided to put in voice overs of their thoughts. This adds nothing to the proceedings and ends up being heavy-handed. It also takes away one of the fundamental points of good film-making, which is learning about characters through subtle visual observation.

The film is also no where near as sophisticated or daring as I think the film-makers would like us to believe. I expected, and would have like, the male character to have been a life-long swinger who has had many of these flings and now suddenly finds himself attracted to this woman and wants to go in a different direction. Instead we get a Hoffman character portrayed as being someone who has never done this before and only does so at the coaxing of his much more liberated friend.  This leads him to act all shy and unsure and coming off like an extension to the character he played in The Graduate. The end result is getting a very boring, bland person who responds to things in all the predicted ways instead of giving us a fresh new perspective by delving into the mind of someone living a lifestyle many of us have not experienced.  I also got a strong feeling that the film-makers had done very little research into this topic, thus giving the viewer no new insight whatsoever.  It ends up coming off like one of those trendy ‘statement movies’, but with no idea of what statement it actually wants to make.

There is no chemistry between Hoffman and Farrow at all.  Nothing is shown that would indicate why these two would want to pursue this thing any further. I actually found the scenes involving the side-story of Farrow’s affair with an older college professor (Michael Tolan) to be more interesting and filled with stronger more snappy dialogue.

In the end this ‘provocative drama’ deteriorates into being an uninspired love story. It concludes with the tired, cliche ridden scene of having John madly driving around the city of New York looking for this mysterious woman who he is convinced he is in love with despite the fact that he still does not know what her name is.  It is easy to see how, in Hoffman’s very distinguished career, why this film remains one of his lesser known efforts.

On the technical side this film is actually well done.  I liked how it inter-cut between the present day and the past as well as analyzing the previous relationships of the two characters. This film also offers a nice chance to see a young Tyne Daly as Farrow’s roommate.  Cleavon Little from Blazing Saddles fame appears briefly as a would-be film director.  Olympia Dukakis  has an amusing, non-speaking bit as Hoffman’s activist Mother.  This also marks the film debut of character actress Marian Mercer.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

2 responses to “John and Mary (1969)

  1. Joseph Kearny

    Dull and uneventful

  2. John and Mary comes close to being David and Lisa. What’s wrong with these two? Pointless film with a New York City backdrop devoid of people.

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