By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Homely girl finds independence.
Natalie (Patty Duke) has been plagued all her life as being unattractive and overlooked time and again by other men. Her parents (Nancy Marchand, Phillip Sterling) promise her that way day she will grow up to be beautiful, but it never happens. When she finds out that they secretly promise one of her potential suitors (Bob Balaban) that they will pay for his education to become an eye doctor if he agrees to marry her she becomes deeply hurt and decides to move out. Things are not easy at first, but she manages to find a job and a decent apartment in Greenwich Village. It is there that she meets David (James Farentino) an older man who she falls deeply in love with only to find out that he is married.
Duke does well in the lead role although this was at the height of her bipolar disorder, which was untreated at the time and it caused many problems on the set between her and director Fred Coe that was later chronicled her autobiographic book ‘Call Me Anna’ and subsequent 1990 TV-Movie of the same name. On the looks department the character really isn’t that bad and her ‘ugliness’ consists mainly of some bad buck teeth that could probably have been immediately resolved with a good orthodontist and some braces.
It’s the character’s personality that is really unattractive. She is extremely whiny as well as being bag of insecurities that falls completely apart the second she is faced with anything unpleasant or unexpected. She is constantly judging other women on their looks even though she expects everyone else to look past her own physical flaws and resents them when they don’t. There is even a scene where she coldly rejects an overweight man who asks her to dance by calling him a ‘loser’. While I applaud the film for showing us a candid portrait of an individual that goes well beyond the manufactured politically correct persona of a protagonist that we are so used to seeing it still may be tough going for most viewers to have much empathy for her.
What I liked about the movie is that it starts out as an old fashioned kitchen sink drama of this lonely girl stuck in a drab existence and simply looking to get married and then blossoms into something completely different as she gets out into the world and experiences the big city and late ’60s attitudes. The film has a few memorable scenes including her job at a topless and bottomless bar in which the waitresses are required to wear all black that covers even their faces and then they are fitted with prosthetic breasts and butts that they wear around the outside of their outfits and glow-in-the-dark. They then walk around the darkened restaurant taking customer orders while looking like a collage of floating female body parts.
The one thing that really hurts the film as a whole is the musical score by Henry Mancini. Normally I’m a big fan of his, but here his melodic stuff sounds out-of-date and not in touch with the late ’60s or the young people living in it. Simply because one may be a great composer doesn’t mean he’s a perfect fit for every project and this was clearly one of them as the music has a 1940’s quality to it that made the picture seem highly dated even at the time.
The movie though does successfully make a great point, which is that one can only find true happiness from inner peace and not by being dependent on the reactions of others. It also marks the film debut of Al Pacino who is seen briefly as a young man who asks Natalie for a dance at a high school social and then immediately asks her if she ‘puts out’.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: July 13, 1969
Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes
Director: Fred Coe
Studio: National General Pictures
Available: None at this time.