By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Wednesday is hump day.
Ellen (Jane Fonda) is a single lady of thirty living in an apartment building in New York City that is about to be bought out. Ellen wants to remain there and the only way she can is if she allows the place to be purchased by millionaire John Cleves (Jason Robards) who will allow her to stay rent free just as long as Wednesdays remain available so he can use the place to bring in his lady friends for sexual trysts. John has been cheating on his wife Dorothy (Rosemary Murphy) for years and uses the excuse of ‘business trips’ to fool around with other women. John also has his eyes on Ellen and after he buys her place he succeeds in getting her where he wants her, but then young Cass Henderson (Dean Jones) drops in and much to John’s consternation starts to have an interest in Ellen and her to him. Things get really crazy when Dorothy also shows up and turns the thing into a madcap bed-hopping farce.
Although this is not one of her better known roles Jane is terrific. The character to me is believable. A young attractive woman living alone who is racked with insecurities and indecision is almost a given. In many ways she is like how the Cass character described her as a ’30-year old child’ and Fonda plays the part humorously with a very goofy whine and cry. Some may find the character offensive due to the fact that her only ambition is to get married and feels like she is ‘not a complete woman’ unless she does. She even asks Cass to marry her after only knowing him for a day, which may be extreme, but I felt in that era women were under that type of pressure and thinking process, which is why I bought into it.
The Cleves character borders on being highly obnoxious. He seems to feel that because he has a lot of money he can act arrogant and get anything he wants, which could easily rub most viewers the wrong way. Fortunately Robards manages to craftily infuse his charm into the performance, which therefore makes it tolerable.
Jones lends some nice stability and Murphy is surprisingly alluring. She was already 40 at the time, but is seen provocatively bathing in a tub, which was unusual since older women especially in that time period were never shown that way and she pulls it off in an interesting way.
Director Robert Ellis Miller tries to keep what was originally a stage play from getting too stagy yet the story really can’t hide its roots. I did like the bright vivid colors of the set and the way New York was captured in the spring time. However, the scene where Ellen and Cass go to a sunny park is initially nice, but I didn’t understand when they sat down on some swings that it had to cut away to them in front of a blue screen inside a studio. The blue screen technique, which is rarely done anymore, was always tacky looking. Here it was even worse because the actors were at a real park, so he should have just left them there.
The story itself is trite, but for the first half I found it enjoyable. An older man having an affair with a younger woman that at times acts like an adolescent was rather edgy for the period as was their open discussions about sex. The conflicts create some interesting tensions and character development, but falls apart in the second act.
The problem really comes when Dorothy finds out about the affair and instead of being upset by it treats Ellen like a friend and even lets her move into John’s mansion while Dorothy takes up residence in Ellen’s old apartment. However, nothing is ever shown in Dorothy’s personality to forewarn us that she would respond in such an unusual way and thus making this comic twist not as clever as intended. Yes, there is an amusing irony at having Ellen come back to her old place and feeling ‘betrayed’ at finding John and Dorothy in bed together, but having John rekindle his passion with his wife is forced and contrived ultimately making this as silly and forgettable as all the other fluffy romances from that period. Fonda’s terrific performance is the only thing that makes if slightly above average.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: October 13, 1966
Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes
Director: Robert Ellis Miller
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video