By Richard Winters
My Rating: 1 out of 10
4-Word Review: Relocating to another apartment.
Hiram (Elliot Gould) dreams of being a successful playwright, but is only able to find work writing sex stories for adult magazines. He and his wife Dolly are both bored in their marriage, but find no alternatives, so they continue to exist in a union that no longer has any zing. They also prepare to move into another apartment, but complications with the movers and repeatedly strange phone calls from a man claiming to be holding their stuff hostage, only increases Hiram’s ongoing anxiety. Just when things begin to look completely bleak he bumps into a beautiful young lady (Genevieve Waite) one day while walking a dog. Just like a plot in one of his sex stories she invites him back to her apartment for an afternoon of unbridled passion. Hiram enjoys the visit and returns the next day for a rendezvous, but finds she no longer is there and no one he asks knows who she is. Was she simply a fleeting stranger, or a product of his over-active imagination?
While I’m a fan of quirky, offbeat comedies from the early 70’s this one doesn’t hit-the-mark. It’s quite similar in theme and style to Little Murders, a dark comedy that dealt with the alienation of living in New York City and also starred Gould, as well as The Steagle, about a man who enlivens his otherwise mundane life by living out wild fantasies in his head. Both those movies had a far faster pace, which is what a zany comedy needs, and were able to distinguish the fantasy elements from the real-life. Here it gets confusing and you can’t tell it’s a dream until well into the segment. Since the rest of the movie is slow and boring the fantasy moments needed to be over-the-top to make-up for it, but instead they get underplayed making the whole thing a big, pointless mess.
Much of the blame could be squarely placed on 20th Century Fox who paid $85,000 for the rights to the novel before it had even been published. The studio execs apparently felt that the theme of apartment living in New York was trendy enough to be worth taking a risk on before even knowing if the story itself was workable. They labeled it ‘dirty Barefoot in the Park’ and gave the book’s author, Joel Lieber, who jumped to his death from his Upper West side apartment just a year later, the job of writing the screenplay. However, his lacking a background in screenwriting shows as there’s no cohesive structure. Assigning Stuart Rosenberg to direct, who up until then had solely focused on dramas, only helped to cement this thing into the disaster that it became.
I did enjoy the wild costume party that Gould goes to near the end where all the guests, many of them seen earlier in character roles, wear tasteless and provocative stuff, but the film doesn’t stay on this segment long enough to make sitting through the dull drivel that comes before it worth it. Waite, who’s the mother of Bijou Phillips and former girlfriend of Mama’s and Papa’s lead singer John Phillips, does offer some unique energy during her moments, which are alas too brief. Otherwise nothing else works. There needed to be more of a clear point to what we were seeing for instance revolving around all the crazy mishaps that can occur during a move, which could’ve been both funny and original, but examining the inner turmoil of the main character, in a medium that places emphasis on the visual, was a problematic idea that should never have been green-lit.
My Rating: 1 out of 10
Released: July 31, 1970
Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Studio: 20th Century Fox