By Richard Winters
My Rating: 2 out of 10
4-Word Review: Affair between married people.
Director Stuart Rosenberg was on a high note in 1967. He had just won rave reviews for his cult hit Cool Hand Luke and many felt he was well on his way to being Hollywood’s next top director only to follow it up with this incredibly vapid and stupid romance movie.
It involves a married man by the name of Howard Brubaker (Jack Lemon) who meets an attractive woman named Catherine Gunther (Catherine Deneuve) at a party. They spend the evening walking around outside and having nothing more than a casual conversation, which is enough to make him decide to leave his wife (Sally Kellerman) and child, quit his high paying executive job, and run off with her to Paris.
The story is pretty threadbare and filled with a lot of characters and situations that are not fleshed out at all. This almost seems like a partial treatment to a main script that never got completed. This movie provides no real tension, conflict, or subplots. Most movies dealing with potential romances usually has one or both of the participants second guessing themselves as to whether they should move ahead with the relationship especially when both of the people are married like they are here. These two fall in love so amazingly quickly that they make the art and act of dating seem completely unnecessary.
A much better idea would have been to have this quick romance act as only the starting point. The film then should have cut to 5 or 10 years later where we could have seen how this relationship fared, or evolved. This would have given much better perspective to both the movie and characters.
I also have never felt that two people having an affair is a real good catalyst for a love story because it seems to go against the whole ‘true and everlasting love’ theme that propels most romance stories. After all if someone can’t stay fully committed to one person what is to say that they will be able to do so with someone else. To give the argument that they are just ‘crazy’ about this new person doesn’t work because at some point they must have been ‘crazy’ about the person they are currently with or they wouldn’t have married them. So what is to say that in a few years time when the newness of the relationship wears off that the whole vicious cycle won’t just get repeated. I don’t have the exact statistics in front of me, but research has shown that people who cheat on one person are prone to doing it with their next partner simply because it is in their nature.
In some ways I could see why Catherine would consider leaving her husband, which is well played by Peter Lawford, simply because the guy is a womanizing lout in the worst way. It is understandable that she may have been initially mesmerized by his wealth and charisma and only had her eyes opened to his shallowness years later. However, Howard’s marriage didn’t really seem that bad and what is worse is the fact that he had a 5 year old son whom he seemed to have no problem abandoning without even a second thought.
The whole thing comes off like some uninspired idea by some studio head who wanted to make a ‘sure-fire’ hit by throwing together every contrived romantic element he could think of, piecing it together with a flimsy script, and then using the star-power of Lemon and Deneuve to cover up all the holes. Everything here seems forced and that includes the humor. Lemon’s duel with Charles Boyer is overdone and irrelevant. There is also a scene where Howard’s friend (Jack Weston) drives him to the airport while being completely drunk and weaving in and out of on-coming traffic. Today’s audiences would find this to be highly irresponsible and also terribly unfunny, which it is.
There are some potentially funny ideas that scriptwriter Hal Dresner never seems to think of. For instance Catherine ends up being the wife of Howard’s new boss. This could have been a goldmine of a lot of funny scenarios as the two tried sneaking around behind his back. The Lawford character does eventually corner Howard at the airport just as he is ready to board the plane and go off to Paris with Catherine, but even this potential confrontation gets botched badly.
I did really like Deneuve and her presence is the only real good thing about this movie. She looks radiant and I enjoyed the cool, chic way she responds to all the situations she is put in. This also marked her American movie debut.
Lemon though does not fare as well. He overplays the high-strung businessman persona until it becomes tiresome. He is nervous and befuddles every second that he is on the screen until you wonder how he was ever able to impress anyone enough to be able to obtain the prestigious position that he has at his company.
The supporting cast is stellar, but not used enough. Jack Weston has a funny bit as he explains the goofy way that he handled an affair of his own. Harvey Korman is amusing as a man who tries stealing the alluring Deneuve away from Lemon at the last minute. It is also fun to see Melinda Dillon in her film debut. She is best known for her supporting dramatic roles, but here she plays a giggling, ditzy blonde. She is paired up with comic character actor Kenneth Mars and the two have the makings of being a great hammy couple. Unfortunately they are not given enough screen time, nor enough good lines, to really make it gel. Myrna Loy and Charles Boyer, as a long-time married couple, are essentially wasted.
Besides Deneuve there were a few other things that I did like about the movie. The Burt Bacharach score is certainly pleasing on the ears. There is a funky, mod 60’s party that takes place at the beginning of the film that features a lot of weird art exhibits that are nicely realized by award-winning set designer Richard Sylbert. I found the exhibit that featured a faucet dangling in mid-air while running a constant stream of water to be fascinating. I also enjoyed the scene where Deneuve and Lemon go to a wild nightclub where they are handed pop guns as they sit down which they can use to shoot at the rear-ends of the waitresses when they want to get their attention. I thought this was a genuinely neat idea that should be used at every restaurant.
My Rating: 2 out of 10
Released: May 28, 1969
Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Studio: National General Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD (Import)