Tag Archives: Jean Simmons

Divorce American Style (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple can’t get along.

Richard and Barbara Harmon (Dick Van Dyke, Debbie Reynolds) appear to have the perfect life living in a sprawling suburban home with two kids, a good job and paid housekeepers, but underneath the facade their unhappy. Neither of them can communicate with the other, so they decide to see a marriage counselor (Martin Gabel), but this just makes things worse. Eventually they get a divorce, but the alimony and child support are so high that Richard is forced to move into a small 1-bedroom apartment and drive around in an old beat-up car. Barbara begins dating an affluent car salesman (Van Johnson) but both find that, despite all their squabbles, the more they’re apart the more they miss each other.

The script was written by Norman Lear who went on to produce the ground-breaking TV-series ‘All in the Family’, but the edge from that one is completely lacking here. I’m not sure if it was the time period this film was made in and what the studios perceived the public was willing to accept, but the satire is mild to non-existent and becomes boring quite quickly. The subject of divorce is handled in such a sanitized way that it barely even touches the surface and in many ways this thing comes off more like a romantic comedy with divorce being only a side-story.

The two leads are incredibly bland. Van Dyke again just seems to be channeling his Rob Petrie character and seemingly unable to play any variation from that. While his squeaky clean image may have made him likable on TV it makes him quite dull and one-dimensional on film. Reynolds fares better, but as a couple there’s nothing unique or interesting about them and the issues that they fight about, which is mainly the fact that they can’t ‘communicate’, comes off as generic and pointless.

The supporting cast are far more engaging. Joe Flynn, who has no problems paying or sex with prostitutes and does not feel it’s cheating because it’s ‘not romantic’ and his wife, played by Emmaline Henry, who wouldn’t go back home to an unfaithful husband even if he ‘hanged himself’ have the type of edge that could’ve made this film far funnier and more memorable had they been made the stars. Even Jason Robards and Jean Simmons have potential playing a divorced couple where the wife still lives in affluence while the husband due to his high alimony and child support lives in the dumps, but dates a pregnant woman (played by Eileen Brennan in her film debut) anyways.

The comedic tone is inconsistent. At times it conveys a surreal flair like having an orchestra conductor come out at the beginning and pretend to direct the voices of all the arguing couples in the neighborhood like there’s a musical quality to it. Having the kids keep a scorecard to their parents fighting is funny too, but these segments get interspersed with long talky moments that drags the whole movie down and things would’ve worked better had it started out right away with the couple already divorced instead of spending the first hour dealing with their protracted arguing.

The anemic insights that it does make about divorce come off as dated and wholly out-of-touch with today’s realities. A modern day divorced couple will most likely find nothing relatable with the story. Tacking on a pseudo happy ending just adds further insult to the topic by making it seem like all marital disagreements can somehow be ‘worked out’ coming off like it was written and produced by those who really hadn’t dealt with divorce issues in their real lives and did very little research on it.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 21, 1967

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Mister Buddwing (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s lost his memory.

A man (James Garner) wakes up one morning to find himself on a bench in Central Park unaware of how he got there or who he is. He finds a crumpled up piece of paper in his coat pocket and when he calls it a woman by the name of Gloria (Angela Lansbury) answers, but talking to her makes him even more confused. He then spends the day wondering around the city while coming up with the name Buddwing after he spots the word Budweiser on a passing truck and then looks up into the sky and sees the wings of a jet plane. He bumps  into women who remind him of someone that he knows as Grace, but every time he meets someone it just leads to more dead ends and things get even worse when he gets mistaken as being an escapee from a mental hospital.

The film is based on a novel by Evan Hunter and initially holds some intrigue. I was impressed by the opening shot that’s done with a cinematic flair. I was hoping especially with its evocative black-and-white cinematography and jazz score by Kenyon Hopkins that this would have a strong cinema vertite feel, but any potentially artsy style gets lost by a draggy script that bogs down in Buddwing’s past romantic memories that amounts to nothing more than extended talky scenes that cripples the mystery angle until you end up not caring what the answers are.

Garner’s usual appeal gets seriously strained, which is probably why in his memories ‘The Garner Files’ he calls this “The worst movie I ever made” and then asks “What was I thinking?”. Normally I admire actors that are willing to go out of their safety zone, but his constant deer-in-headlights look becomes tiring and one-dimensional and the crying that he does while inside Lansbury’s apartment seems insincere.

The one’s that come off best are the four women that he bumps into as he wonders around. All are portrayed by famous leading ladies: the fore mentioned Lansbury as well as Suzanne Pleshette, Katherine Ross, and Jean Simmons who give outstanding performances and helps keep the otherwise rocky picture afloat. However, during the flashback sequences the different actresses all end up playing the same Grace at different times, which I found confusing and off-putting.

The explanation for Buddwing’s amnesia, which apparently ends up being just the result of having some stressful event occurring in his life, is highly suspect as I’ve not read of this happening to anyone in real-life, or if it does it is extremely rare. Not only does the credibility get pushed, but Delbert Mann’s direction, with the exception of the opening shot, lacks creativity, which makes this already flat story even more of a strain to sit through.

Released: October 11, 1966

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Delbert Mann

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Dominique (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dead wife haunts husband.

Dominque (Jean Simmons) is a woman suffering from a fragile mental state who is convinced that her husband David (Cliff Robertson) is trying to drive her insane. She eventually hangs herself and then her ghostly presence comes back to haunt him, which ends up driving him over the edge Dominique (Jean Simmons) is a woman with a fragile mental state who is convinced that her husband as well.

The film was directed by the talented Michael Anderson, but you’d hardly know it as the DVD transfer by Synergy, which is already known to produce some very low grade quality stuff and looks like somebody’s badly lighted, grainy home movie. Unfortunately this is the same transfer that gets streamed onto Amazon, so if you want to see this otherwise rare movie you’ll have to buckle-up and accept the substandard look.

As for the story, which is based on the novel ‘What Beckoning Ghost’ by Harold Lawlor, it’s not all that much better as the plot and characters come off as stiff and one-dimensional. There’s no backstory either, which I felt was needed to help explain why Robertson is an American living in England and what specific job does he do that allows him to be able to afford such a big mansion? There’s also passing mention of Dominique being in an earlier accident that might’ve helped explain her mental state, but it’s never talked about in detail, or better yet shown in flashback.

Initially it’s a mystery as to whether Robertson is trying to drive Simmons mad or if it is all just in her head. Finally towards the end he admits to it and supposedly it’s all just so he can get his hands onto her money, but wouldn’t it have been much easier to hire someone to kill her and make it look like an accident then trying to drive someone insane, which has no guarantee of working and could take years and years to accomplish? Also, if Dominique is already aware of what he is trying to do then why doesn’t she just leave him instead of turning to suicide?

The ghostly special effects consist of shots showing a piano playing by itself as well as a shadowy figure walking from a distance, which isn’t much and gets repeated at several different points, which becomes quite redundant. Both stars are wasted as well. Simmons is good, but she’s only in it at the start while Robertson much spends the entire second-half saying very little and instead relying on his almost constant shocked/scared expressions to help propel the plot along.

Despite all this it still manages to be moderately compelling and may appease those who are in to ghostly tales. The twist at the end is a definite surprise, but it also leaves open a lot of logic loopholes that makes the entire thing seem quite implausible.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Anderson

Studio: Astral Films

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

Mr. Sycamore (1975)

mr sycamore 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mailman becomes a tree.

Bored with his job as a mailman and unhappy in his marriage John Gwilt (Jason Robards) decides one day to turn himself into an oak tree. He digs a hole in his backyard and ‘plants’ himself into it where he stands there day and night waiting to become a tree while his wife Jane (Sandy Dennis) tries desperately to talk him out of it, his neighbor Fred (Robert Easton) laughs at him and his minister (Mark Miller) tries to have him committed.

The film, which is based on a 1942 Broadway play, has a certain whimsical tone to it that might be pleasing to some if in the right mood and there is a certain strange intrigue at wondering just how this thing will end and whether he will eventually turn into a tree or not. However, the material would be better suited as a film short and the offbeat quality gets lost in a script that deals solely with a long parade of people who come into contact with John and their predictably shocked and confused responses when finding out what he is trying to do. The low budget is also an issue and outside of showing the inner-workings of a mail processing machine at the beginning there is no visual style at all.

Robards is a natural for the part, but he had already played a nonconformist looking to drop out of society earlier in the film and stage play A Thousand Clowns making his appearance here seem almost like typecasting. Jean Simmons gets wasted in a small bit as John’s secret love interest. Dennis, who usually plays kooky characters, becomes the most rational one here, which ultimately is the film’s weirdest element.

This definite curio does have a few amusing moments, but it lacks a second act or interesting side story and eventually talks its strange concept to death until it becomes boring.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated G

Director: Pancho Kohner

Studio: Film Ventures International

Available: VHS

The Happy Ending (1969)

happy ending

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: The problems of marriage.

If there was ever a film with a misleading title it is this one. There is no happy ending here and in fact there is nothing in its entire 117 minutes that is happy as the film examines every negative and depressing thing it can think of about the institution of marriage and then rhythmically beats it into the viewer like a victim in a bar fight being pummeled by a brawler. The format works like a boring college professor lecturing endlessly about some tepid subject while tirelessly pinpointing every monotonous detail and not knowing when to stop.

The story is about Mary (Jean Simmons) who at one time was madly in-love with Fred (John Forsythe) and had extremely high ideals in regards to love and marriage when she married him. Now after fifteen years of living in a relationship that no longer has any passion she has turned into a depressed and disillusioned alcoholic looking for any way to escape the confines.

The film itself is intelligently done and well executed and makes some good hard-hitting points. The dialogue and conversations between the characters are realistic and well written and it is nice having adults acting and talking like real people. The only real issue is the question of why the filmmakers would think anyone would actually want to sit through something that is so endlessly downbeat. Sometimes these types of things work better in a satire format where they can still make the same points, but allow the viewer a few laughs as well. As it is the film is in desperate need of some levity and none is ever offered.

I also felt that film was too one-sided. I realize that there are a lot of unhappily married people out there, but there has got to be some couples that are happy with it. By never balancing it out and showing no other viewpoint makes the film come off like one long and unending rant.

Writer-director Richard Brooks infuses certain directorial touches that are novel to some extent, but heavy-handed as well. Showing clips of famous old romantic movies like It Happened One Night and Father of the Bride during Mary’s wedding is creative, but too obvious as is the segment when Mary is on a beach and a young couple asks her to take a picture of them and inside the camera’s viewfinder Brooks inserts an image of Mary and Fred when they were a young and in-love. There is also too much footage of Casablanca shown, which does nothing but make the viewer want to watch that over this dreary thing.

Simmons gives a strong performance and looks as beautiful as ever. She is also straddled with a few difficult scenes but does them well including a harrowing segment where she is rushed to an emergency room after swallowing some pills and has a hose stuffed down her throat in an attempt to vomit them out. Tina Louise is great in support as is Dick Shawn in a rare dramatic turn. Shirley Jones is also good as Mary’s jaded friend Flo and she is given some of the film’s best lines.

Forsythe is okay as the husband, but not too exciting though he never usually is. He should have had the big mole in the center of his forehead surgically removed as my eyes always seemed to fixate on it every time he was shown in a close-up. I got to admit I was amazed his character did not kill his wife on the spot when he found out that she had run up his credit card in one day on $11,421 worth of charges on clothes. This was 1969 dollars and I have no idea what astronomical figure that would be for today, but it would be beyond outrageous nonetheless. Of course he was caught fooling around, so I suppose this was her way of getting back at him and boy did she ever.

The film does have a few powerful scenes that I did like. The part where Fred defends Mary after she has run out on them and their daughter Marge (Kathy Fields) feels that her mother no longer loves her is really good as is the final conversation between Fred and Mary as well as Mary’s conversation with her mother (Teresa Wright) about the happiness of her mother’s own marriage. The moment when the very cynical Flo becomes all teary-eyed and excited when the married man that she has been fooling around with decides to divorce his wife and propose to her despite the fact that she has spent the rest of the movie considering the idea of marriage to be over-rated is savvy.

Like with the sappy and over-played Michael Legrand song ‘What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?’ the film goes on too long and there are just not enough good things about it to justify sitting through.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Brooks

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

The Grass is Greener (1960)

grass is greener

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: They all fool around.

Hilary (Deborah Kerr) is married to Victor (Cary Grant) and they are low on funds so they give guided tours of their castle in order to make ends meet. Then one day rich American businessman Charles Delarco (Robert Mitchum) stops by and takes an immediate liking to Hilary and her to him. Soon they are having an affair and Victor along with his friend Hattie (Jean Simmons) devises a plan to win her back.

The film starts out well with a funny montage of cute babies in goofy poises shown during the opening credits, but then things go rapidly and irrevocably flat. One of the main problems is that there is simply too much talking and most of it isn’t funny or engaging. In fact none of the conversations between any of the four leads is interesting. The best dialogue in the whole film is the ones between Victor and his butler Trevor (Moray Watson) who is doing the job while working on his novel.  I wished there had been more of Trevor and that the story had revolved around him as the rest is trite and predictable.

Mitchum just doesn’t seem right as the love interest. He is best in parts requiring a rugged or villainous character as his romantic appeal is lacking. I actually thought he came off as downright creepy especially with the way he barges into Hillary’s room unannounced and is reluctant to immediately leave when he realizes he has walked into the wrong place. Most women would have considered him a stalker and his squinty eyes don’t help things.

I also thought Hillary throws herself at him a little too quickly. He is a stranger who pops out of nowhere. The two have a boring ten minute conversation and then are in a passionate embrace. Victor tries like crazy to win her back while I’m thinking why bother keeping a woman who jumps at any man who has money. Might as well just hire a good lawyer and take the hussy for all she’s worth.

The fact that Victor immediately figures out about the affair was another negative in my opinion as it doesn’t allow for hundreds of potential comic scenarios of them carrying on behind his back. As it is scenarios of any kind are woefully lacking. There is one scene where Victor takes Charles out fishing and another where they have a dual, but both end up being much too brief. For the most part it is just a static filmed stage play with background sets that a boring and color that looks faded and washed out.

Of course I did like Cary it is hard to dislike him simply because he is so good at being Cary. If anything his charm manages to keep this waterlogged thing afloat. Simmons isn’t bad either. I loved her variety of outfits and spunky personality. Kerr though looks and acts tired and not able to keep up with the comic timing of the other two.

If you like an old-fashioned but still very tasteful bedroom farce then this would at best be passable although Grant fans may like it a bit more while others will find it stagnant.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 23, 1960

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Stanley Donen

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video