By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: 60’s style mate swapping.
Bob and Carol Saunders (Robert Culp, Natalie Wood) attend a group therapy session at a remote cabin location. There they encounter other couples who learn to become open with their feelings and sexuality. When they return home they find that their friends Ted and Alice (Elliot Gould, Dyan Cannon) are too repressed and need to open up more with their true selves. At first the other couple is reluctant, but after spending more time with Bob and Carol and adjusting to their new way of thinking, which includes allowing their spouse to have sex with other partners they slowly come around and eventually all four have sex together.
Paul Mazursky makes a splendid directorial debut. During the late sixties most filmmakers were trying to reflect the times by making movies that featured quick edits, zany plots, and surreal elements, but Mazursky slows it all down keeping the humor on a subtle level and making great use of silence. The envelope pushing subject matter is handled in refreshingly non-judgmental way. Some films from the era would take on some of the more racy topics of the day, but still feel the need to put in a ‘moral center’, but fortunately here that is not the case. Mazursky shows a respect for his adult audience by keeping the entire thing on an uncompromised sophisticated level. When I first saw the film over 20 years ago I felt it was too talky, but upon second viewing that opinion has mellowed and I now find the long takes gives it a nice improvisational feel.
One of the best moments of the film is the very beginning where we see an aerial shot of the remote cabin where the group encounter takes place as well as the open nudity by the participants and Bob and Carol driving up through the scenic locale on a curving road. Quincy Jones’s booming orchestral score adds to the already striking ambience. The scenes from the encounter group is handled almost in a documentary style analyzing not so much what it talked about, but instead on the different emotional reactions that the members have throughout it. The scene where Bob admits to Carol that he had an affair and instead of being angered by it she accepts it, which turns them on enough that they end up making love on their bathroom floor is funny as is the opposite reaction that Ted and Alice have when Carol tells them the ‘good news’. I also found Alice’s therapy session to be fascinating namely because it seemed quite authentic and was done by an actual licensed psychiatrist (Donald F. Muhich) who at the time was Mazursky real life therapist.
Wood gives a strong and amazing performance in one of her best and unfairly neglected roles. Having seen interviews that she gave I was aware that she was raised in a sheltered environment, so it is interesting seeing her in a part of a liberated woman embracing the new modern morality. The wild look in her eyes sizzles from the screen and she looks awesome in a bikini a well.
Cannon is good as Wood’s polar opposite a woman who is reluctant to let go of the values of her more repressed era and yet still curious about trying. Having the character evolve as the film progresses makes it interesting.
The two male leads are okay, but the underpants that Gould wears during the final scene where they undress are overly big to the point of almost looking like adult diapers.
The only real complaint that I have with the film is that the famous scene where the four characters all go to bed together doesn’t happen until the very end, which could prove frustrating to some viewers since that scene is the film’s most famous and one that was used for its promotion. I had no problem with the film showing the various events that led up to it happening as it was essential and intelligently done, but it does not show what happens to the characters after they do it. I felt a better structure for the film would have been to have the scene where they go to bed together happen right away at the beginning and then spend the rest of the film cutting back and forth showing what lead up to it as well as scenes showing how the characters went on with their lives and how they dealt with each other afterwards.
This is a great film because it shows the 60’s experience from a middle-aged person’s perspective and the confusion that it created. People observing the new free love generation from the outside looking in still straddled with the more repressive values of the past and unsure about how or even if they should jump in.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: September 17, 1969
Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes
Rated M (Later changed to R)
Director: Paul Mazursky
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video