By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Husband is a voyeur.
William (Richard Benjamin) seems to be living the dream having both a stable job and a beautiful wife named Lisa (Joanna Shimkus), but underneath he’s bored and as a source of escape begins to get involved in voyeuristic activities. He spends hours at an adult theater and uses any opportunity he can to spy on scantily clad women through his binoculars. Eventually Lisa, in a fit of frustration over William’s behavior, walks out on him and moves in with her sister Nan (Elizabeth Ashley) and her husband Chester (Adam West). Nan is very controlling and makes every attempt to keep Lisa away from William even as William tries to reconcile. Although her marriage seems fine on the outside it is actually as troubled as William and Lisa’s, which comes to a head when both couples get involved in a group therapy session.
The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Charles Webb, who was also the author of The Graduate, which became a hit film that was produced by Lawrence Turman who directed this one. Clearly Turman was hoping for the same success and this one begins well. The opening bit showing William bored with his job is funny as is his trip to an adult theater and the many thoughts that go through his head as he watches a nudie flick. The cinematography by Lazlo Kovacs captures the California coastline in a lush style and the overall narrative takes a refreshingly open-minded approach towards sexual fetishes as well as the institution of marriage while also questioning society’s conventional understanding of both.
Benjamin is good playing almost the exact same type of character living the same type of detached existence as the one he did in The Steagle. In fact this film could easily be considered an extension to that one and both movies were released less than a month apart. This one though fares a bit better as Benjamin gives a more well-rounded performance. In fact this may be better his best work second only to the one that he did in Diary of a Mad Housewife.
The beautiful Shimkus does equally well and I enjoyed the scenes with the two of them together. Ashley makes a strong impression as the meddling sister and has a few funny moments. West, who campaigned hard for the role in an attempt to shake his Batman image, seems a bit too transparent and there needed to be more of a backstory involving both his character and his marriage to Nan.
Unfortunately all of these good things get crushed by a script that doesn’t know what direction or theme it wishes to take. The scene with Tiffany Bolling is just one issue as she plays this really beautiful woman who for some indiscriminate reason decides to invite William, who is a complete stranger to her, into her house for sex after spotting him walking down the sidewalk. Why such a gorgeous woman would invite a schmuck like Benjamin into her place on a sexual whim makes very little sense and seems too much like a male sexual fantasy that demanded much more of an explanation to be believable. I realize this scene was part of the story arc to show William’s dissatisfaction with having sex with women who were strangers and thus propel him to try and win Lisa back, but the same point could’ve been made in a more realistic way had he done it with a hooker that he met on the street instead.
The ending is the biggest letdown as it employs too much of a feel-good, happy curve that comes out of nowhere. The two main characters suddenly turn into frolicking, youthful lovebirds that do not in any way resemble the same people that we’ve been following for the first 90 minutes. It comes off like a cop-out that is jarring to the overall tone while undermining all of the other issues that the film had previously brought up.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: August 19, 1971
Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes
Director: Lawrence Turman
Studio: 20th Century Fox